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Winter / Cold Weather Composting

Hi folks! I have read 10 pages of this (composting) forum and have not seen cold weather or winter composting as a topic. I am sorry if I missed it. :)

I have bins setup and have slowly filled one over the past couple days in prep for raised beds this spring.

They are 3x3x3 on the ground made from wood frame / slats.

My question is, can I expect them to run "hot" if I continue to keep them moist and turned despite the cold weather?

I think today was our last 60 degree day for quite a while here in Iowa.

Thanks!

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rainbowgardener
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Welcome to the forum! Appreciate your diligence in reading a lot of what's already here. We have had a little bit of discussion of winter composting, but mixed in to other threads, so probably not easy to find.

The answer as frequently is true in gardening is it depends. If you run a hot compost pile any way, with lots of nitrogenous materials, lots of turning, and high temps, then it can probably keep itself going perhaps even all the way through winter. The member called Soil reported this on p. 2 of the I've got Leaves thread. He is a large scale composter and expert at it. Then again he is in Northern California and winter there is NOT the same as winter in Iowa!

I do more passive composting, the pile it up and forget it kind. My pile doesn't usually get real hot and come winter it freezes solid. I keep throwing stuff on it all winter anyway. It sits there and does nothing, but as soon as spring comes, it all starts working again.

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I keep compost hot all winter. In SC it's possible to keep winter rye for green. I bag leaves and grass and it's not a problem to keep a hot pile. We have about 20 nights in the mid to low 20s, 5 in the teens, and the rest from 30 to 50 degrees on average would be my best SWAG. But the pile is always hot. I don't know where the northern gardeners would find greens in all that snow. :)

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Thank you for the welcome AND the replies!!

RG, I have done the same with cold piles in the past, but as I intend to use compost early in the spring, I'm a bit behind.

I will continue with turning and adding moisture and will post results. As long as I don't have to work around snow, it shouldn't be that hard to turn.

I have plenty of material to "stoke the fire". We'll see how long we can keep it going and how much we can create.

Thanks again!

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righty-o. hit 32 last night and we have heat!!!

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YAY!! Good work!

My pile had pretty well slowed down, I think because after very rainy spring and summer, it's been a dry fall. Compost pile probably dried out. So while I was out watering today, I gave the pile a good watering and poked around in it a bit, to let the water into the middle. Maybe that will help it start up again.

I don't really care though. Not going to do anything with it at this point until spring (except keep adding stuff). By then there will be plenty of composted stuff at the bottom of the pile.

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It was 20 degrees last night here in Vermont and when I checked the compost pile this morning, it was running a little better than 135 degrees. It really is amazing how those little guys can generate so much heat.
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I'd make sure to keep snow off of it. My grandfather in Iowa had a compost bin on his farm(he recently sold the farm unfortunately) that was buried under a hill so it stayed warm through deep snow. All you could see was a small little hill with a wooden door in it, and he'd just throw everything in there and wait til spring to mess with it.
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I'd keep it on the ground, not on crates. The ground gives off heat that the pile will need......add sugar products and wood chippings when ya can and keep it moist not soaking wet.

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Yeah, mine are on the ground and cooking well. Added some more greens today and soaked it as well. Moisture really is the key I see.
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rainbowgardener
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Yup moisture is key. If the pile dries out, it stops cooking. Mine ran hotter than ever this year, because we had such a wet spring and summer.

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when it gets soaking wet just turn it.....soaking wet compost doesn't do much. I try to turn mine after every rain.

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Really great question halfway. We did not go above freezing for weeks and have JUST had our first day well into the forties in a while (but still barely twenty at night). My usual kitchen scraps bin has frozen and despite SOMEWHAT warmer temps is still a lump; can't get the aerator in to save my life. A shame as it was ticking along nicely before the freeze. The bulk piles thawed nicely and got turned two days ago, so for the moment that's where scraps are going. A few lumps in the tumbler (been using that for adding to the kitchen scraps), but still tumbling nicely...

My stuff has a good deal of pine in it so it does not get very hot; a more bacterial thermophilic compost could be kept hot; pile size, turning, inputs; lots of variables there, but VK is doing it right through weather like I described...

HG
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I'm in the same bot as HG we didn't get above freezing for a month. I think it was last weekend it was finally warm out, but my compost was still mostly frozen. I tried to turn it with a shovel, yea right no go there. I broke out the tiller and gave it a good stirring that way, this worked fine. Could be me wanting it to do good but I believe it actually shrank a bit during that cold snap since i turned it last year.

It is looking pretty good and I know that when, if, it warms up again it will be all good again. Actually thinking about going out there right now to check on it, the sun is out but it's about 28* right now. At least the snow stopped.

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I know I'm always touting acid fermentation but...

Since it rots so hot, fermented material would be perfect for keeping a pile hot all winter. You could build up a supply and mete it out over cold month. Basically it's small scale ensilage to feed a pile instead of a herd of cattle.
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Toil wrote:I know I'm always touting acid fermentation but...

Since it rots so hot, fermented material would be perfect for keeping a pile hot all winter. You could build up a supply and mete it out over cold month. Basically it's small scale ensilage to feed a pile instead of a herd of cattle.
Please expand upon this.
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I think wiki has an article on ensilage. What I do is called bokashi, maybe check the anaerobic thread here and the permaculture bokashi thread.

It is acid fermentation by facultative anaerobes like lactobacilii. For one, it preserves matter. Just like sauerkraut. Literally like kraut. But then when exposed to air and soil or compost, it cooks like manure. I discovered this when first feeding it to worms in a small bin and seeing them in a circle at the surface. Not avoiding the bokashi, pH around 3.5, just avoiding the center. It was cooking! It never did that with fresh scraps.

So I figure it will preserve you yard waste or barley or whatever until you want to use it, but still be pre digested to cook fast. You could use sealed bags kept indoors or build a little silo? I'm sure you could think of something. Just needs to have very low oxygen an not freeze too hard.
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Very cool Toil. Fascinating from what I am reading.
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Finally convinced the missus that we will be composting our pet waste ( :!: ), and we will likely use lactic acid fermentation (my sourdough starter need a regular refresh and you throw some out; had been going in regular compost but as soon as the ground thaws I'm digging the pit).

YEAH!

ANd I think these high nitrogen inputs in a 4' hole in the ground with effective microbes like Lactobacillus (yep, my sourdough starter is exactly what toil has been talking about) should keep cooking through the cold...

HG
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Awesome hg! Welcome to the facultative dark side. Will you be extending your sourdough?

Anyone withou sourdough who wants to stay diy, you can catch the little guys right out of the air. If I'm not mistaken, that's how sourdough starter get ruined. So that's kinda what hg is doing. I have an article I can pass on describing the Diy process.

I actually ingest the stuff. If you brew from molasses it is sweet and sour and very bright tasting with a crisp finish.
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Way off topic here but I remember seeing a show somewhere that was saying a good ball of sourdough starter can be very old wanna say 20 yrs old even more maybe can't remember exactly. How cool is that. 8)

I really want to say like 40 yrs+- but I won't, oh wait I just did. :lol:

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In France they have starters passed from generation to generation. Many were lost during industrialization an homogenization. But the practice I returning now.

Imagine moving somewhere for the local yeast and bacteria?
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I will start a sourdough post on Everything Else...

HG
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Please tell me that your sourdough starter is NOT made from dog poo, as you seemed to be saying upthread a couple of posts....

Cynthia H.
(I got some *bread* starter to 3 years old before we both got sick...)

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Umm... in a word...

What? Have you lost your mind woman :?: :!: :lol:

No, other way around.

I was trying to save us this (the other sourdough conversation is proofing here) but the lactobacillus in the sourdough makes for a fine culture to start digesting the doo-doo. As you usually throw out half of a starter when you maintenance feed (for if you do not, the estimates I have seen say you will be feeding a swimming pool sized batch by the end of a few months) it seems sad to waste it. I have been baking a lot instead, but the wife is about fed up with the constant kitchen chaos, so I've shifted to maintenance feedings (plus my culture needs work; I am doing this myself instead of purchasing a starter, and the flavor is great but the rise is still a little lame).

It had been going to the kitchen scraps bin (mixed with water into a slurry and dumped on, a practice likely to continue), but now I have foodstock (eeeww :P ) more in need of facultative anaerobes, so there it will go. I will likely get some EM cultures as well, but suspect I could get by just on sourdough if I needed to. In the interests of kicking up the culture I added the "juice" from the feta cheese to the last feed and got a very nice doubling, despite low temps (in the mid-50's at night) which means the culture is getting right. I had started it with just the cultures from the wheat flour, which was too lame to bake with after a week, so I added a teaspoon of old yogurt. Better, but still not a great rise; I had to add yeast, so the purist angle was out and the flavor not as good.

So now the feta, which I will try soon; a bigger gas bubble already, although it is quieting down. Perhaps some kefir, or some Stoneyfield yogurt (the most cultures I know of) if I need to keep going. I will just keep adding lactobacillus strains until it does right. And by the way before you all run out and follow my lead, this is all mad scientist territory. I was warned on several sites about this leading to heartbreak and bad bread, but I persist, because I feel I am close. Should I get this up and running, then we will discuss this methodology that makes scientific sense to me but remains unproven, but for the moment, I walk alone where all men fear to tread.

In search of wild bread. That can double as poo goo :wink:

HG
Last edited by The Helpful Gardener on Tue Mar 09, 2010 4:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
Scott Reil

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Finally above 30 for a few days and had a chance to spend more than a minute looking over the pile. The last several times I added it was below zero wind chill, LOL!

The core looks to have cooked and then frozen. I had a chance to air it out while turning it to the other bin. Long ways to go!!

I added several shovels full of snow to try and kick start it as it melts.

Any frozen piles starting to heat up out there?
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STILL an icy spot in the kitchen heap, but the big pile is loose and starting to cook. Too much moisture from the bread leavings I think just made for a ice core. Live and learn.

HG
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It's been hitting forties up here during the day, Finally able to get into the core. Mine seems liked it cooked and then died out while the exterior just froze.

Hmm, compost with a frozen shell....here's a good joke in there somewhere.

Finally starting to get heat on all the winter add on though.


AND I CAN SEE THE GARDEN BEDS!!!!!!

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My pile was pretty frozen in some spots very thick. But that being said the pile in general did decompose quite a bit over the winter. I would say 40-50% maybe more. I broke it apart and threw the majority of it on my new bed, there was a LOT more than I thought I had. The end result looks lovely mostly broken down yet some hay and whatever still in there for future breakdown. I think it will be a decent bed considering it's only a week old.

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