Did you know? The average family can produce enough food waste to compost about 400-600 pounds of organic material each year. Composting is an environmentally friendly way to reduce waste as you produce a nutrient rich food for your garden. When winter arrives, cold weather, snow and ice may make it difficult for you to reach your compost heap. Arctic temperatures mean composting becomes more difficult, but there are still ways that you can recycle your kitchen scraps during the winter and reap the benefits in next year’s garden.

Maintaining a larger compost area

In the upper Great Lakes region, most home compost piles freeze during the winter. If you have a very large compost area it will generate more heat than a smaller pile, and may continue to decompose, but at a much slower rate. You can still add to the pile, but composting will be delayed until temperatures rise. Before the snow flies, build up the heap with leaves, twigs or other “brown” material, leaving a hole in the middle for food scraps. As you deposit scraps in the pile, cover them with brown material after each addition. In the spring, water well and turn the pile like you usually do.

Keeping an indoor compost bucket

If you can’t make it outside, you can still save kitchen scraps throughout the winter. A countertop composting pail will hold several days- to weeks-worth of vegetable trimmings, eggshells and coffee grounds. The carbon filter allows air in but keep nasty smells at bay. Fruit rinds, cores, tea bags or leaves, vegetable parings and coffee and paper filters, onion skins and wilted greens can all be stored in the crock. Never compost dairy products, meat or fish, fats, sauces or oils. As the crock fills up, transfer the material (in plastic containers or bags) to your deep freezer to be added to the pile next spring. An easier solution is to procure a few 5-gallon buckets (or similar container) with tight-fitting lids. In the bottom of each bucket place an inch or two of sawdust or shredded newspaper to absorb liquids. Place the bucket(s) in an unheated area that is easy to reach. Directly outside the kitchen door, or inside the will allow you easy access. After your countertop crock fills, move the scraps to the outdoor bucket. The cover will keep out pests and allow the material to begin composting during thaw cycles. In spring, or after a melt, transfer the contents of the bucket to your outdoor pile.

Using a tumbling composter

A tumbling composter is fun for the family to use, and allows you to keep your compost materials closer to your home, off the ground and away from pests. This sturdy tumbler allows you to throw in your compostable material as it becomes available. A spin of the barrel keeps the material turned to allow the decomposition process to accelerate. In areas with harsh winters, the tumbler-contained compost will still probably freeze. Placing the tumbler is an area with adequate light and airflow may help you keep the compost working through all but the most frigid months.

Composting using vermiculture

Vermiculture is the process of composting with earthworms. Creating compost from food scraps with red worms is growing in popularity around the country. This procedure can be done in your home in an area that has a steady temperature between 55º and 77ºF. Many vermiculturalists use their basement, heated garage, breezeway or even kitchen to maintain the bins. Vermicomposting, when done properly, produces very little offensive odor.

Containers can be built out of large plastic bins, scrap wood and lumber and even old wash tubs. Earthworm compost exclusively uses redworms (Eisenia fetida), which may be purchased at bait shops, vermiculture websites, or other composters. This variety of worm consumes half its weight in food every day. Be sure to not use any other varieties and do not release the worms into nature, as they are not native to this area and may disrupt the natural ecosystem.

Once you decide on bin material and size you can use shredded paper, a bit of sand and some water to provide bedding material for the worms. Once the worms are added, they’re fed with food scraps. As the scraps are eaten, the worms digest them. Add more bedding material as the worms go through it. You’ll be rewarded with rich, dark and earthy-smelling compost in a few weeks. It’s great to use in the garden, or on your houseplants.