How (And Why) to Compost in Winter

home compost bin
Compost can reduce or increase greenhouse gas emissions, depending how it's done. (Photo: KaliAntye/Shutterstock)

The coffee grounds from three weekend mornings straight of holiday party hangovers; scraps of the cardboard box containing the Snuggie sent from your Aunt Rosemary; pine needles fallen from the parched Douglas Fir shoved into the corner of your living room; orange rinds; chestnut shells. Sound like the ingredients for some kind of witchy-poo holiday brew?

These trash-bound odd and ends may seem prime candidates for a stinky seasonal potion concocted at the Hogwarts School, but in reality they’re ideal for a compost bin or pile, not a cauldron. Excess trash from large meals and even larger parties is an unfortunate holiday tradition for most. This makes winter composting a great, green project for those with the space, time, and the willingness to venture outside to tend to a big steaming heap of muck.

I’m not a composter myself but from what I've gathered, outdoor composting during the chilly months requires attention to detail, particularly to heat, fuel, and insulation. That said, a Southern Californian winter is different from one in Quebec, so it all really varies on your climate. And, of course, whether or not to start composting in the winter can also depend on your waste output. If you’re generating a noticeable amount of organic waste material, then composting may be a good call.

The Compost Guy has posted a great primer on some of the ins and outs of winter composting with a video (below) tracking his successes (and missteps) trying to compost during cold Canadian winters. The accompanying soundtrack is a bit late night cable-esque but for basic info, this guy is a true wizard.

And for newbies looking to learn more about composting in general, Compost This has a great list of what items you can and cannot compost.

City slickers looking to get in on some urban decay action are also in luck. Cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Seattle, and Philadelphia all offer home programs to educate compost-curious residents. To find a composting program in your area, try turning to your local department of public works, extension program, or gardening organization.