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Extension Notes: Don’t forget – you can still compost in winter

By: Rebecca Konopka
Carter County Extension Agent

Even though it is wintertime, are you continuing to compost?  Some people give up the exercise in winter due to cold temperatures and resume in the spring when it warms up.  Just because it is cold outside, you probably still have plenty of compostable kitchen items, and you can continue to successfully compost in winter regardless of the temperature.

Composting provides you with a rich, organic material to spread on your soil to aid in crop growth. Since many compostable items come from leftover food scraps, you are reducing your environmental footprint by keeping unnecessary trash out of the landfills when you compost.

Even if you are new to composting, you can pick up the practice in winter.  The decomposition process obviously slows down when the temperatures drop, but it doesn’t completely come to a halt, or at least not for long.  Bacteria, fungi and other microbes, as well as large decomposers like earthworms and insects, will survive year-round in compost piles. They will begin to break down organic matter when things warm up again.

Decomposition will completely stop when everything in a compost pile is frozen.  But if your compost pile or bin is large enough, the organic matter inside should stay warm enough to avoid freezing and will allow decomposition to occur, even in winter. 

You might want to gather leaves or pine needles in the fall for use in composting.  Leaves and pine needles are excellent brown, carbon-rich materials that can improve compost pile aeration and reduce odors.  Stockpile leaves in yard waste bags or bins throughout the year for use later in compost. Try to keep leaves from getting wet and matting together.  If you don’t have access to large amounts of leaves, try to stockpile other brown materials such as straw, sawdust, woodchips or shredded paper.

It is important to harvest finished compost to make room for the materials you add in winter.  Compost can pile up quickly in winter because decomposition is very slow.  It is especially important to harvest if you are composting in small bins or tumblers.  Compost is ready to use if the original materials are not recognizable and the compost is dark and crumbly with an earthy odor.  Compost can be spread on your garden, or saved for use in the spring.  It may be helpful to keep the finished compost in containers with lids or cover with a tarp to keep it from getting wet.

Do not worry about turning the compost pile in winter, like you would in the warmer months.  Turning it in winter will result in heat loss in the interior of the pile.  It will slow the decomposition process.  Instead wait until spring to turn the pile when it is completely thawed.

Contact the Carter County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service for more information on composting in winter.  Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

Upcoming Events:

  • Beef Quality & Care Assurance Training – February 11 @ 2:00 PM – Call 474-6686 to register. 
  • Northeast Area Livestock Association – February 22 @ 6:00 PM – This month’s topic “Meats 101 & Current Issues” will be presented by UK Meat Science Specialist Dr. Gregg Rentfrow. 
  • Produce Best Practice Training – February 24 @ 4:00 – Call 474-6686 to register.  
  • Estate Planning (Transitioning Property) – February 24 @ 6:00 PM.  Call 474-6686 to register.
  • Virtual Tobacco Production Meeting – February 25 @ 10:00 AM.  Call 474-6686 to register. 
  • Berry Plants – The Extension Office is accepting orders through February 25th for strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry plants.   Call 474-6686 to request an order form. 
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