Composting Through the Winter

First things first: You need to have your compost bin close to the house or be willing to shovel the long path out to it. Although most composting will stop during the winter, you can continue to build the pile. The best method is to set up a second container, such as a covered garbage container, next to your compost bin. Before the heavy snows arrive, fill the container with "dry browns" – leaves, twigs, and dead plants from the garden. When frost sets in, pile 12 or more inches of dry browns with atop the compost pile, leaving a hole in the middle for your food scraps. Each time you put in food scraps, cover them with two to three inches of browns. Repeat as the hole gets filled. After the spring thaw, turn and water as you normally would.

For option 2, you need containers with a tight closure, such as five gallon buckets. Store this where it is readily reachable in an unheated area. In case we have a warm winter, consider putting sawdust in the bottom to absorb liquids and sawdust or compost on top. You should have an immature compost pile or stock of browns available to build a new pile when warmer weather returns.

If neither option 1 nor 2 appeals to you, consider starting an indoor worm composting bin for the winter. Worms function best at normal room temperatures, so a cold cellar will not do. Starter worms may be available from your solid waste district or alliance, or you can purchase them from several websites. Worms eat more than one-half their weight daily and produce excellent compost.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that an average family can compost 400 to 600 pounds of organics per year. If you’re a composter, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

Learn all kinds of composting tips and techniques at from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at