Sunday, July 27, 2014

How to Prepare Your Compost Bin for Cold Weather

compost binPlan to Put Your Compost Bin to Bed with These Simple Tips

Winter in New England can be both a joyous wonderland and a miserable exercise in tolerating discomfort. When a foot of wet, sloppy snow drops overnight, the last thing I want to do is slog out to the compost bin to perform the weekly turning. With warmer weather, this of course isn't an issue as I love visiting my compost bin and checking in with the progress. But snow is snow, and to move past this dilemma, I prepare my bin in late Fall with a few preventative maintenance tasks. I will only have to go out back when absolutely necessary, and can spend more time in front of my crackling fireplace.

Stage a Smaller Bin
 
compost binAgway store for around $5. The cold weather slows down the decomposition of organic material, and therefor inhibits smells in the short term. This is a good thing, trust me. The lid stops unwanted debris from mixing with my kitchen scraps, and deters critters such as racoons, opossum, and squirrels from finding a free lunch. With a smaller 'collector' compost bin on the porch, I only have to trudge through the snow once a week, instead of every day or so.
This is as simple as placing a half-or-full gallon bucket with a tight lid on my back porch for daily kitchen scraps deposits. If I can't seem to locate a suitable bucket in my garage, I'll pick one up at my local

Pulling Weeds
 
In my vision of a perfect world, weeding wouldn't be necessary. But that's not the case with many backyard compost bins. I have mulched heavily around my bin, so there aren't many weeds to consider. Maybe a Japanese knot-weed or two. I take a few moments to pull the ones growing around the bin, as well as the little buggers that might be sticking their heads out of my precious black gold. If I could, I'd make a burn pile, but that's not an option in my urban garden. Instead, I toss them in with my leaf collection bags, which the city hauls off every week in season. Whatever I do, no matter how time-saving the disposal may seem, I don't re-introduce these plants to the compost pile.

Empty The Compost Bin
 
backyard compost
It's time for one last turn of the compost mix before putting it to bed. I shovel the entire pile out in front of the bin, and begin to refill with layers in mind. Every four-to-six inches or so, I'll add an additional 1" layer of brown material without mixing. As fall brings it's share of fallen leaves, I use the ground clippings from my last mow. There's a little grass that will add nitrogen to the mix, and plenty of well-mulched oak and maple leaves. This layering ensures a solid balance in my compost bin, and promotes a healthy 'cooking' heat through the cold weather months. I'll sprinkle in a dash of lime per layer as well, as if seasoning a roast, to help along the decomposition process. If my compost is a little dry, a hint of water will raise the moisture level - just enough to work as a catalyst for the composting action.

Check The Compost Bin Lid
 
The last thing I want is for the lid to collapse from a heavy snow load. I check for weak hinges and potential buckling areas. If I find any, I'll shore them up with a jerry-rigged cross-frame of 1x4s. This helps the compost bin carry large snow loads during the winter months, and reminds me to buy a sturdier model next Spring. This has happened to me only once, and I suggest that if this happens to you, don't toss out your old bin. Look to re-purpose it instead. I ended up washing down my old composter and placing it in the garage, where I use is as a scrap wood collector.

With these chores completed, I can look forward to a warm and comfy winter indoors. Enjoy!