Winter composting made easy

Marion Owen asks, “Have you ever wondered about composting during the winter?”

Now that we’re well into winter (as mild as it is), have you ever wondered how to compost during the winter, even if don’t have compost bins or a tumbler?

If the thought has crossed your mind, but you didn’t know how to get started or what it entails, you’re in the right place.

Turns out, one of the most common questions I get this time of year deals with winter composting. Here’s a question that arrived in my inbox last week from Wendy L. of northern Vermont:

“Hi Marion! I’m interested in knowing how you keep your compost pile working in the winter. I have an enclosed black box for a composter. In the winter I just have veggie scraps and spent grain from our home brew to add. Sometimes I can turn it but most times it is frozen. Thanks for your help!”

Before I answer Wendy’s question, let’s talk about what winter composting IS and what it ISN’T:

1. Winter composting is NOT about maintaining a hot compost pile.

2. Winter composting IS about using one of your household’s most valuable assets: food scraps.

Notice I didn’t say food WASTE or kitchen GARBAGE?

Thing is, what we toss out as “garbage” every day — in the way of coffee grounds, burnt toast and banana peels — is to cheat your garden from a valuable resource.

 Really? What can we do instead?

Compost ’em.

That’s right. Even in the winter ...

So let’s go through the process step-by-step and debunk a few myths while we’re at it...

STEP 1: Set up two collection containers.

• Container #1 belongs in the kitchen. This can be a coffee can, re-used laundry soap bucket … something to hold kitchen scraps.

• Container #2 sits outside, within easy access. This can be any size, from a 5-gallon bucket to a Rubbermaid tote or 55-gallon garbage can. Either way, a secure, LOCKING LID is a MUST.

STEP 2: Collect food scraps.

Onion skins, moldy cooked rice, egg shells, wilted lettuce ... you get the idea. No-no’s include salad dressings, meat, French fries and cheese. (Not sure what you can and cannot compost? Send me an email to and I’ll hook you up with my special report: “220 Things You Can Compost.”)

STEP 3: Maintain a stash of fluff.

By “fluff” I mean shredded paper, newspaper, cardboard, leaves, straw, hay and so on. I’ll explain in a moment ...

STEP 4: Mix food scraps and fluff.

When Container #1 is full, take it outside and add it to Container #2 while tossing in handfuls of fluff at the same time. IMPORTANT: This is critical to keep things aerated and thus avoid a slimy, stinky mess.

STEP 5: What’s next?

Come warmer weather, incorporate everything into a new, full-sized compost pile which, when done right, will reach 145 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s all there is to it.

Takes only a few minutes and you can do it in your BATHROBE!

Now, you might be wondering ...

What if the mixture freezes?

That’s OK. One of the beauties of composting ANY time of year is to re-purpose your kitchen scraps because they still have life left in them. And so, the main goal of winter composting is to keep collecting food scraps.

What about dogs and other pests?

No yard or garden in the world is without critters, large or small. In Kodiak, with brown bears as neighbors, it IS possible to compost year-round in one way or another. Bottom line: Be bear aware and let common sense be your guide. (By the way, if you neighbor’s dog is getting into your garden, there are ordinances that address such infractions.)

No room for containers outside?

No problem. You have options: There’s vermiculture (worm composting) in a garage, basement or heated shed. Or maybe you have a friend (does the landfill composting facility take kitchen scraps?) who is more than happy to take your scraps.

Oh, I almost forgot: You can always store your food trimmings in the freezer ...

How else to compost during the winter?

Try the DIG AND DROP method — something you can do year-round. Whenever your soil is friable, simply dig a hole, toss in your scraps and cover them up. Done. Earthworms and other tiny heroes will get right to work breaking them down as you sleep.

Cool, right?

Okay, I’ll leave you with that for now ...

Have a great rest of your week. Be safe, be well,



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