Winter Composting in NH

flynnmy(4)September 7, 2013

I'm sure we've all seen the impending winter forecast for the Northeast. Bitter, freezing cold with above average snowfall. I'm concerned about my tumbling compost bin. It's breaking my organic matter down quite nicely and I want to continue using it throughout the winter. Is this even possible when below freezing temperature take hold? Will all the good nutrients be lost when freezing temperatures hit and last for months at a time? Any tips or advice are greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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diggerdee zone 6 CT

flynnmy, I'm not as far north as you, but since no one has responded yet I will share my experience. I don't think nutrients, etc. will be lost (although honestly I never thought about that) but composting will slow down during the winter, and most likely, in a compost tumbler, it will stop altogether. But things will start right up again when temps warm up.

If you were to build a bigger pile on the ground, it might keep warmer longer, but since I use a tumbler and bins and garbage cans, I can't say for sure. I have seen photos of large piles that folks cover with carpet remnants, etc., to help keep them going.

You really should visit the compost forum. I don't post much over there, but I learned a heck of a lot from those guys. Lots of great info.

One thing I can say is that I've read that you should NOT turn your tumbler when things are frozen. It can damage the tumbler. You can add to it, but shouldn't turn it.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 10:41PM
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Oops, I wrote this before Diggerdee's response, but didn't hit the submit button. I think she covered everything, so this is mostly just in agreement with her post...

Nothing is lost, exactly, during the long cold winters, but the process is slowed down - or stops completely, depending on your weather and the location of the unit (if it's in sun, it might thaw a lot more).

I empty my spinner into a secure bin in the fall before the really cold weather arrives; that way I can keep adding to the spinner all winter - although its contents are sometimes frozen solid and don't tumble around when/if it's spun.

Not much happens to the raw compost during the winter, really, unless you have a very big pile, in which case there might still be some activity in the center of the pile. In the spinner, though, everything just sits there over the winter; when spring arrives the stuff decomposes pretty quickly, and I guess the freeze/thaw cycles contribute to that.

This post was edited by diggingthedirt on Mon, Sep 9, 13 at 8:17

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 8:14AM
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In zone 4 your composting will totally stop for the winter as it is too cold for the organisms to be active, but it will start up again without nutrient loss in the spring. You can keep adding stuff all winter as long as there is room. If you have an area that stays above freezing like a heated garage or cellar that can fit your tumbler, composting will continue, with speed determined by temperature.

Or you could check into getting a worm bin for vermicomposting indoors in the winter.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 10:54AM
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Since we're on the subject - I've been thinking of getting a tumbler. My main motivation is that I could keep it up near the house in the winter to keep me from putting on snowshoes to trudge all the way back to the compost pile. DH is concerned that it will smell. So - how smelly is a tumbler in the winter?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 4:08PM
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Not very smelly, except maybe if/when it's thawed.

And, when it's thawed, it will leak if/when you rotate it, and that liquid probably doesn't smell very good. Also, when you're ready to empty it, there will be a lot of half-rotted material that may not be very easy to remove (I keep switching between a shovel and a pitchfork when I empty mine, and neither works very well).

So, yes it could be a good idea, just be prepared to take some trouble siting it, and some care when emptying it in spring.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 7:25PM
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Thank you everyone!!! I really appreciate it. I was most worried the freeze would kill nutrients. I'll keep adding throughout the winter. :-)

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 11:53AM
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Thanks for the specifics dtd. I have just removed a tumbler from my wish list. And replaced it's wl spot with a better pair of snow shoes.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 12:02PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Pixie lou, I might be in the minority, but I love my tumbler! I don't have big piles (as I mentioned above I usually compost in bins and garbage cans) so I can't compare the tumbler to big piles, but I find things break down more quickly in the tumbler, and while removing things might be a bit difficult, one could always just dump the contents out on a tarp and then shovel it up.

Just my 2 cents! :)


    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 7:13PM
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