Winter Composting: Plan B

Nov 24, 2014

My compost pile and I have been lulled into lethargy with this warm fall weather.  But the first hard frost reminds me that I need another plan for kitchen scraps and organic waste over the winter.  I can keep putting material in the compost pile, but it will decompose VERY slowly, not reach temperatures that will kill pathogens or weed seeds and may leach nitrogen into groundwater. Now's the time to cover my compost pile to prevent leaching in winter rains and let it rest til spring.

I've raked up leaves and used them as mulch in my gardens to insulate roots from freezing.  Some of the drier oak leaves were run through a chipper, bagged, stored and will become mulch or compost in the spring.  My dead squash vines, bean and tomato plants went into the burn pile since composting won't kill the plant mosaic viruses associated with those vegetables.  If you can't burn, then bag and dispose of those plants.

And lastly, my kitchen scraps now go to my worm bin.  Keep your worm bin in an area where the bedding remains between 55-75°F and your worms will happily turn your scraps into castings for your spring garden.  I find it easier to keep worms in the winter - they don't dry out or overheat - as long as you keep their bin from freezing.   You can always set up a temporary worm bin using some lucky worms from your compost pile, rescued from their cold-weather torpor.   They may not be the preferred redworms (Eisenia foetida) for vermiculture, but they can spend the winter in your worm "spa" and go back to the compost pile in spring. 



By Carol Fall
Author - Trinity County Master Gardener Instructor