How to Prepare Your Compost Bin for Cold Weather

compost binPlan to Put Your Compost Bin to Bed with These Simple Tips

Winter in New England can be both a joyous wonderland and a miserable exercise in tolerating discomfort. When a foot of wet, sloppy snow drops overnight, the last thing I want to do is slog out to the compost bin to perform the weekly turning. With warmer weather, this of course isn't an issue as I love visiting my compost bin and checking in with the progress. But snow is snow, and to move past this dilemma, I prepare my bin in late Fall with a few preventative maintenance tasks. I will only have to go out back when absolutely necessary, and can spend more time in front of my crackling fireplace.

Stage a Smaller Bin
 
compost binAgway store for around $5. The cold weather slows down the decomposition of organic material, and therefor inhibits smells in the short term. This is a good thing, trust me. The lid stops unwanted debris from mixing with my kitchen scraps, and deters critters such as racoons, opossum, and squirrels from finding a free lunch. With a smaller 'collector' compost bin on the porch, I only have to trudge through the snow once a week, instead of every day or so.
This is as simple as placing a half-or-full gallon bucket with a tight lid on my back porch for daily kitchen scraps deposits. If I can't seem to locate a suitable bucket in my garage, I'll pick one up at my local

Pulling Weeds
 
In my vision of a perfect world, weeding wouldn't be necessary. But that's not the case with many backyard compost bins. I have mulched heavily around my bin, so there aren't many weeds to consider. Maybe a Japanese knot-weed or two. I take a few moments to pull the ones growing around the bin, as well as the little buggers that might be sticking their heads out of my precious black gold. If I could, I'd make a burn pile, but that's not an option in my urban garden. Instead, I toss them in with my leaf collection bags, which the city hauls off every week in season. Whatever I do, no matter how time-saving the disposal may seem, I don't re-introduce these plants to the compost pile.

Empty The Compost Bin
 
backyard compost
It's time for one last turn of the compost mix before putting it to bed. I shovel the entire pile out in front of the bin, and begin to refill with layers in mind. Every four-to-six inches or so, I'll add an additional 1" layer of brown material without mixing. As fall brings it's share of fallen leaves, I use the ground clippings from my last mow. There's a little grass that will add nitrogen to the mix, and plenty of well-mulched oak and maple leaves. This layering ensures a solid balance in my compost bin, and promotes a healthy 'cooking' heat through the cold weather months. I'll sprinkle in a dash of lime per layer as well, as if seasoning a roast, to help along the decomposition process. If my compost is a little dry, a hint of water will raise the moisture level - just enough to work as a catalyst for the composting action.

Check The Compost Bin Lid
 
The last thing I want is for the lid to collapse from a heavy snow load. I check for weak hinges and potential buckling areas. If I find any, I'll shore them up with a jerry-rigged cross-frame of 1x4s. This helps the compost bin carry large snow loads during the winter months, and reminds me to buy a sturdier model next Spring. This has happened to me only once, and I suggest that if this happens to you, don't toss out your old bin. Look to re-purpose it instead. I ended up washing down my old composter and placing it in the garage, where I use is as a scrap wood collector.

With these chores completed, I can look forward to a warm and comfy winter indoors. Enjoy!

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