Dear Dot: How Can I Compost in The Winter?

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Dear Dot,

I started a compost pile in my backyard and it’s been doing its thing. But it’s now cold where I live and I noticed that the food waste I’m putting in is just sorta frozen. Should I stop putting anything in my outdoor compost until the weather warms up?

Sonya

Dear Sonya,

I took your compost query to Kristen Raney, a blogger and gardener who lives near Clavet, a village in the province of Saskatchewan with a population of 467, according to 2021 data, and average winter temperatures from highs of 18°F (-8°C) to lows of 3°F (-16°C). Kristen knows a thing or two (or three) about winter composting. 

Though “winter composting,” Kristen clarifies, is a bit of a misnomer. “In cold climates, it’s simply too cold over the winter for any sort of breakdown to occur outdoors,” she says. Instead, we’re really just stockpiling compost ingredients over the winter for decomposition in the spring when warmer temperatures arrive. For a moment, my thoughts hearken back to a simpler time and I picture pioneer Dots maybe probably composting like champs through bitter Canadian winters. But I am a wimpier Dot. A summer-loving Dot. Though I’m also a compost-loving Dot. Can’t I just wait for spring to lure me back to my compost heap?

I could indeed. The Vineyard makes it easy — take your food waste to IGI throughout the winter, or to town transfer stations. (It’s $2 per 5-gallon bucket except for Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Chilmark, where it’s free).

But this Saskatchewan gardener who routinely faces even greater cold than I suggests a different option: If your compost bin is too far away or the snow has piled up too high to get there, Kristen tells me, put some outdoor containers closer to your back door — make sure they have lids to keep animals out. And make sure the containers aren’t too large, she says, offering up the reminder that I’ll have to carry it — frozen or melted — to my bin when the weather warms.

Ultimately, however, “the best solution for winter composting in freezing temps,” Kristen says, “is the one you’ll actually do.”

Realistically,

Dot

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