People have been adding compost to their soil for thousands of years in order to help crops grow. Compost is incredibly beneficial to soil, and many farmers and keen gardeners make their own supply throughout the year. But composting can be a tricky process, especially during the winter. This guide will help you understand the benefits of compost, as well as how to facilitate the composting process during the cold season.
The benefits of compost
- Compost improves the structure of most types of soil. This increases its ability to retain valuable nutrients, air and moisture. All of this contributes to the growth of healthier, more resilient plants.
- Compost attracts earthworms, red worms and centipedes, which enhance the soil as they pass through it.
- Compost contains natural suppressants, which help to decrease the number of insects, including pests like aphids, beetles and flies. Compost also helps prevent the spread of numerous types of problematic fungi. You may also like to read this BBC resource detailing all of the pests and diseases that affect gardens in the UK.
- Compost also contains micro-nutrients, such as copper, manganese, iron and zinc. Not present in garden-centre compost, these micro-nutrients are vital to the growth of healthy plants. Only very small amounts of micro-nutrients are needed.
- It is cheap and environmentally friendly to make your own compost as it saves you buying it from a garden centre, and enables you to recycle household waste such as peelings, newspapers, coffee grounds and tea bags.
Composting in winter
Composting is the decay of natural material by creating an artificial environment that speeds up the decomposition process. The actual decomposition is carried out by bacteria and microbes as they consume and excrete the compost material.
The decomposition process generates heat in the centre of your compost pile. This heat is necessary to the process, as it serves to keep the bacteria active. That’s why composting is a little trickier in the winter. However, there are strategies for encouraging your compost’s rate of decomposition during low temperatures, and we have included a few of the most effective techniques below:
- In winter, always cover an open compost pile with carpet or tarp, as this will keep ice and snow away while also insulating it, keeping in most of the heat the pile generates. However, watch the moisture levels, as covering it will prevent rain from getting in and hydrating it naturally. If your compost is a little dry just add some extra water.
- Do not turn your compost pile too often, as this breaks up the core and allows the heat to spread out and dissipate. If the compost gets too cold, the decomposition process will slow down significantly, and might even stop.
- If it’s feasible and your compost is held within a stationary structure, you could insulate your compost with hay bales.
- When you are deciding where your compost pile/bin/tumbler will go, ensure it is somewhere that gets a lot of direct sunlight. This will warm it naturally — even in the cooler months.
- Invest in a compost tumbler, as they allow you to flip your mixture on a daily basis while still keeping it warm within the barrel. Shifting the core around in the tumbler creates more efficient conditions for the decomposition process.
- If you already have a compost tumbler, moving it inside a garage or shed will protect it from frost and snow. This will speed up the process, ensuring you get a good rate of decomposition throughout the winter, leaving you with rich, black compost in the spring.
- Vermicomposting (using worms) can be a brilliant alternative to the standard compost pile during the winter months. Fill a container with bedding (peat moss, soil, straw and shredded paper) then add a pound of redworms. These redworms will process your kitchen scraps in three to four months. Placing your vermiculture indoors, in a garage or shed, will facilitate the process. If you’re interested, you can read much more about vermicomposting here, on Mother Earth News.
- Another great way of composting during winter is to dig a deep pit in which to place garden debris and kitchen scraps. Cover it with soil and let the compost make use of any heat stored deeper within the soil.
We hope you’ve gleaned a few great techniques for looking after your compost pile this winter, and that you have a luscious pile of black compost come springtime.