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Compost in the Winter?

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Compost in the Winter? Empty Compost in the Winter?

Post  middlemamma on 5/7/2010, 2:50 pm

Newbie here...(that's code for: Caution! Dumb question ahead!)

I am starting compost for the FIRST time. From what I have read compst needs heat and air...so wondering what happens to my compost pile in January in the Idaho panahandle?? (I am new to Idaho too)


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Post  camprn on 5/7/2010, 4:34 pm

It freezes and thaws and composts slowly. I just pile up all kitchen scraps through the winter then use when I am building a new pile, layering it all in with the green and brown matter.

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Post  boffer on 5/7/2010, 7:10 pm

Composting can be as simple or as involved as you want to make it. Compost doesn't necessarily need heat to work, but it needs an opportunity to get started heating itself. Either by sheer volume or by adding catalysts like fresh manure or alfalfa, etc. I've spent a bit of time up your way in the Clayton and Salmon areas-it gets cold there! I visited a rancher in the area who had a huge compost pile. He ran water pipes through it and then to a greenhouse radiator. The inner part of the pile produced enough composting heat to warm the greenhouse-at 5 degrees F outside.

I would guess that most of us in four season climates don't bother much with our compost piles in the winter, if we can even find them under the snow! The freeze/thaw cycles help break down stuff a little bit, but it also starts to get too wet. That can be fixed in the spring by the addition of new material like camprn suggested.

I know that when you're just getting started, you can't make compost fast enough. But in a year or two you should be able to get ahead of the curve-this year you'll be making compost for next year. Once the pile thaws out next spring, it's ready to use.

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Post  middlemamma on 5/7/2010, 7:34 pm

LOL everyone keeps saying how UNCOMPLICATED compost is....

But when I read the beginners guide that was posted in another thread to help me I am a little scared of this exact mesurement of inches of layering?? My hubby bought me a tumber today. Costco has a $329 tumbler there for 99 bucks. So now I have to figure out how the hoopla to use it!!! AHHHH!

So I have no hay, no leaves, no grass....right this second. So do I go buy it? Wait and in the meantime start collecting the kitchen garbage like peelings etc? We have some dead trees I could break up some sticks from those. And when hubby mows next time I could have that. But the brown layer seems to be what I am lacking.....

And then the question is do I tumble daily? Some sites say the more you tumble the better it is, but then others indicate you only should turn every 14 days? So i am not sure which is right?

I'm so confused and the more people say how easy and ucomplicated it is the more confused I get!! Compost in the Winter? Affraid

Thanks everyone for helping the village idiot. ROFL


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Post  trukrebew on 5/7/2010, 10:36 pm

PLEASE DO NOT PUT STICKS INTO YOUR NEW COMPOSTER!! Unless you want to keep looking at them for the next year or two!! Something as thick and hardy as a wood stick takes extra time to break down. Even the tiniest twigs can linger longer than you care for. Try to use softer browns, like leaves or thatched grass, instead.

Definitely save your lawn clippings each mow, or hit up your neighbors for some. I try to keep two trashcans full of leaves from last fall to use all summer. I know not everyone has that kind of space. But if you need some good brown to start out with, take a bag into the woods! There will be plenty around for FREE. Just try not to grab any sticks or twigs!

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Post  middlemamma on 5/8/2010, 12:00 am

OK! Smile thank you for telling me. Smile

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Post  Chopper on 5/8/2010, 12:19 am

Sticks are ok if you can chop them up first - and by that I mean in a chipper. I am seriously considering getting one this year. I end up with a lot of woody material that would be great in the pile were it in teeny weeny pieces.

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Post  plb on 5/8/2010, 5:25 am

Some "browns" that you can easily use are shredded cardboard (the plain, brown one , not the shiny one), crumpled newspapers (check that they use soy ink, which most of them do nowadays), and paper kitchen towels . If you can find dry leaves it's great too.
Don't buy anything - wait until the grass clippings are available, and ask your neighbors if yours are not enough (but make sure they don't use any nasty stuff on their lawn if you want to grow organically).
The more often you turn your compost, the quicker it will be ready (still, not a quick process...).

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Post  new2this on 5/8/2010, 8:52 am


I am composting for the first time too. I was really overwhelmed at first, but then I just jumped into it...not worrying too much about the specifics.

I use an old garbage can with big holes drilled all over it.

I set a kitty litter pail on my deck to collect acceptible food scraps.

I live in a 'newish' development, where there are no mature trees, so "browns" are not so easy for me to come by. But when I'm at my DD's piano lesson, I have my other kids collect dead leaves (the piano instructor LOVES that we rake her yard!). Also, if you drive around town, you may notice people who have garbage bags set up next to their garage. It wouldn't hurt to ask if they are leaves and if you could have them. I've found just asking prodeuces good results! I have a friend with a chicken coop, so I asked her for the poop and she was more than willing to bring me a pail full of it - jackpot!!

I am still unsure if I'm doing things "Right", but it's fun and I enjoy it - so it's all good!

Just go for it, you'll learn along the way!

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Post  trinabambina on 10/27/2010, 3:35 pm

Hi all! I am new here...just wrapping up my first year in my SFG...it was fun and crazy and there is soooo much to learn!

I got one of those Costco tumbling compost bins last winter....and here is what I have seen. "We" set it up (the royal 'we'...actually, my Dad did it for me Very Happy ) last December and I started putting stuff in it right away. We had a cold, snowy winter here in CO, so it pretty much just sat there all winter, even though it sits in a warm, sunny spot. The real problem I see with this composter is that if you are putting lots of green stuff in (which we do) then you never get to the good, composted soil. I think that you really need two tumblers...get one to a certain point, then start putting stuff in the other one. Once the first one is "done", then empty it and start over, letting the second one sit/tumble.

I loved the idea of saving the fall leaves to use through the summer - gonna get on that right away, since my maple tree is dumping loads of leaves right now.

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Post  graficow on 10/28/2010, 7:55 am

Dont forget to put in all those wonderful food scraps (no meat please)
and peelings and I turn my composter once a week and make sure
you keep it moist,not wet. Egg shells dont decompose quckly so I put
them in the blender with some water. The smaller the pieces the faster
you will have compost - have fun with it

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Post  The Cat's Other Mother on 10/28/2010, 8:20 pm

If kitchen scraps is going to be most of what you use, have you considered an indoor worm bin? I am thinking of putting one together myself and tucking it into a corner of my basement.
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Post  Old Hippie on 10/28/2010, 8:35 pm

If you have a sawmill or cabinet shop nearby or know someone who does lots of woodwork, get them to save their sawdust for you. It is great to add for browns. Newspapers are awesome too. Paper from the paper shredder at work. I beg for all kinds of stuff from my neighbours and the people I work with. LOL! They laugh at me and think I am nuts.

In the summer time, flies can be a problem but I have found they are less of a problem if I dig a hole in the pile and dumb the yummy food scraps that they like in the hole and then cover it up. Then some extra newspaper, leaves or grass clippings on top, keeps them away.

The more often you turn the pile the more it seems to heat up. The more it heats up and the more you turn it, the quicker it breaks down. However, if you are not in too much of a hurry, it will do everything all by itself without you even turning it once. After all, who turns it over out in the forest and if you look under the top layer of leaves you will find wonderful rich stuff that nobody except Mother Nature herself did anything to.

I can't get to my compost bin in the winter so I use a couple of garbage cans with lids to put stuff in. However, they get REALLY heavy so don't fill them up all the way. I had a difficult time getting the smelly stuff into the compost bin when the snow melted without getting it all over myself. What a Face

It does sound a lot more complicated than it really is. There are so many ways to compost. And you are right to just start. The more you do it the better you will get. your garden will love you for it.

Old Hippie
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Post  quiltbea on 10/28/2010, 11:10 pm

I have a tumbler but I wish I had the one with the crank that stands up about 2 feet from the ground. It would be much easier to turn when it gets half full.

I have me grandson rake up the fall leaves and put them in black trash bags and I store them behind the composter after poking some holes in them so air and water can filter in a bit. When summer comes, I add those old leaves to my composter as my brown, along with kitchen scraps, newspaper, alfalfa meal from the feed store and whatever is useful.
I had a full barrel the first fall that I was able to add to my raised beds and rake in to overwinter til this spring.
Check your neighbors when they put out the trash. They may have some bags of leaves you could have.

If you try worm composting, you can keep them in your bathroom or a warm spot in your garage or in the basement. You don't want them to freeze in the winter. They do NOT smell and its a handy place to put all your leftover kitchen scraps from making dinner each nite.
Compost in the Winter? 12-01-10
Here's my CanOWorms set up in the bathroom. I put it under the trees in the spring, summer and fall and only have them inside from Oct to April
Compost in the Winter? 09-17-10
Here's my first bucket of castings last Sept. Rich worm castings filling a 28# kitty litter bucket. You only have to harvest the castings every fall so they aren't time consuming and they're easy to feed.

Good luck with your composting efforts. It'll be well worth your time.

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Post  Newsongfarmer on 1/16/2011, 3:57 pm

I too am new to SFG but not gardening. I have used little compost but what I have found to work well for potted plant soil is to go into the woods and locate an area that has old timber, no logging in the known past...ect. When you rake the leaves away you will usually find 1 to 2 feet of compost naturaly. My mother would have me bring this stuff in by the bucket loads and she would add cow "stuff" and pete moss to it and I think some other material and her plants would be super nice and full. I will ask her just what her magic is and post the results. I intend to get a truck load from a corner of our place and see if I can get a jump on this compost thing.

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Post  Odd Duck on 1/17/2011, 11:30 am

That would be "leaf mould" which is a terrific, natural compost caused primarily (according to the really smart folks) by fungal action on the fallen leaves. It certainly is a great supplement that most would envy. When you build your own compost, for most people, it contains a more balanced bacterial and fungal compost that veggies supposedly like better.

The leaf mould is a GREAT place to start, but building your own compost (theoretically) will be even better. So, by all means, start with the leaf mould, but if you can make that just one of your compost sources, you will be glad in the long run to have more variety.
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Post  nancy on 1/17/2011, 4:07 pm

I noticed a few weeks ago that winter is a very easy time to get Starbuck's grounds. I never had any luck last summer - someone always beat me to them. But I got several gallons worth from them recently and my compost bin loves them!

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Post  WardinWake on 1/18/2011, 5:19 pm

Howdy Folks:

Yes, hot compost can be made in the winter. This past week my son and I turned two of the four compost beds by using bed number three to hold bed number two then turned bed number one into bed number two.Bed number four is empty awaiting more goat poo and number one is waiting for finished compost from the town recycling center.

All four beds are join each other and are 4 feet wide, six feet high and 5 feet deep and have removeable slats for the front to allow for easy access.

When the beds were turned steam came pouring out with each pitch fork load even though the first two inches of the bed were frozen and had some snow on top. The beds have fresh horse poo, shavings and spent hay plus a goodly amount of brown leaves, coffee grounds, spent grass from last summer and other various goodies.

If the weather will allow get out there and turn turn turn.

God Bless, Ward and Mary.

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Post  cabinfever on 3/5/2011, 10:13 am

If you use the tumbler type of composter can you continually add ingredients, or do you add everything at once, let it compost, then empty it, then start over?

I've seen some bins that have an exit shoot for the finished product, or a drawer at the bottom to remove the finished product, but I'm a bit confused about the tumbler type.


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Post  Odd Duck on 3/7/2011, 3:31 pm

I've gone to doing only batches with my tumblers or you will be adding practically forever, it seems. I keep any relatively dry ingredients in rescued tall, wheeled trash cans until ready to mix, because I sometimes have more browns or coffee grounds than compost bins available. Sometimes I have empty bins waiting for stuff to accumulate.

You won't want to put "greens" in a tumbler without "browns", you will get a soupy, anaerobic mess. You can put the browns in first, then add greens as you get them. It will take longer to get to a finished state than if you can mix a full batch and start tumbling.

You can sometimes get away with only greens in a regular heap, as long they're not too wet or attractive to wildlife. For instance, spent broccoli plants are a green, but squirrels aren't going to try to haul them off. I wouldn't put squash or melon waste (for instance) in a heap without covering them well with browns. Hope this helps.
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