Use Your Compost Pile All Year

Use Your Compost Pile All Year


Unlike your yard and garden, your compost pile doesn’t go to sleep for the winter. Or, at least it doesn’t have to. Certainly, frigid temperatures can slow down the decomposing process, but it need not stop entirely even during a cold snap. [1]

Plastic bins can do an excellent job of insulating compost and keep the “fires” burning within. You’ll want to take care removing the lid as subzero temperatures can crack plastic that has frozen. If your compost pile is open as with a wooden slat bin, placing a tarp over it will help retain heat better. During the winter you may not come anywhere near the recommended 130 to 150 degrees required to compost effectively, but the process can continue even at lower temperatures. Turning the pile as temperatures begin to drop will help your compost pile resume its work.

Carbon Nitrogen Ratio

What is critically important for compost success is for you to keep the carbon to nitrogen ratio steady. Melissa Fery, writing on behalf of the Oregon State University Extension Service, says that a 30:1 ratio is best year ‘round. Carbon is derived from the main bedding materials used in compost piles while nitrogen can be supplied by manure in urine, something you have readily available with coffee grounds. [2]

Ask your local Starbucks store its waste coffee grounds — the company has a policy of readily making this available for gardeners through its “Grounds for Your Garden” program. [3] Coffee contains about 2 percent nitrogen, making for a good substitute when manure and urine are not readily available or desired.

As you have been doing since you started your compost pile, layering remains important. Chopped up leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps and twig debris should form one layer. Your second layer should consist of the nitrogen product followed by a layer of top soil. Keep repeating these layers and you’ll have a rich mix of compost soil available next spring.

Winter Insulation

If composting slows down to a standstill during the winter, you may need to surround it with insulation. Natural insulation such as hay bales can be helpful. Or, use other materials such as plywood to block the wind and to create a barrier to help hold in heat. Remove snow throughout the winter so that you can keep adding layers and stirring same.


[1] Oregon State University Extension Service: Keep the Compost Cooking This Winter; Melissa Fery; Winter 2007

[2] Science Daily: Coffee Grounds Perk Up Compost Pile With Nitrogen; July 10, 2008

[3] Starbucks: Recycling & Reducing Waste



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About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Auto Trends Magazine", an online publication. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and weblogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".