Another year of composting is under my belt. I made around 1000 gallons of screened compost this year which I used throughout my vegetable and flower beds. I usually make more but I did not have the time to turn the bins weekly so I had to be satisfied with turning them when I got around to it. This season I had the opportunity to help around 35 families get into composting with new bins. I really enjoyed delivering the bins and seeing the garden happenings in their yards.
This time of year I get a lot of questions about how to prepare compost bins for winter. Composting is truly a year round operation but once the nitrogen sources become depleted (mainly grass clippings), then it is really hard to keep the 3 to 1 carbon to nitrogen ratio needed to keep the bins heating up. I will explain how I end the composting season with the goal in mind to have screen-able finished compost for early spring planting.
I have a four bin compost system in my backyard. I would ideally have six bins but I don’t have the room. My bins are twelve years old and still going strong.
The first thing I do is screen all the material in my fourth bin. Any material that does not screen I throw back in the third bin. I use all of the screened compost to mulch my raspberries, garlic and roses. Once I have an empty fourth bin I turn all the bins to the right. Thus, I then have an empty first bin and three mostly full bins. I fill the empty first bin with leaves and spent gardening plants in as close to a 3 to 1 ratio as I can.
I raise and utilize red worms throughout my four bin system so it is essential to mulch the bins heavily with leaves (topping each bin with a big pile of leaves), to keep the worms insulated from the cold.
The material in the bins will continue to decompose and shrink down during the winter. The internal temperature of the bins will remain above freezing although the top foot or so will freeze. I will continue to place my kitchen scraps in the first bin throughout the winter and I will top the bins off with more leaves during the winter as the piles shrink in volume. Come spring I will pull off the top layer of leaves and I will screen the entire fourth bin and use the contents on the spring planting beds. I will turn all the bins to the right, leaving an empty first bin to start the new composting season.
As I have stressed in previous composting posts, now is the time to stock pile as many bags of leaves as you can find room for in your yard. Nature does not provide much brown, carbon rich material in the spring and summer so if you don’t save it now you won’t have the necessary material to mix with your green grass clippings and kitchen scraps. If you don’t save leaves you cannot make a large volume of compost.
It is never a bad time to start composting. Organic matter is a critical component for healthy garden soil and the sooner you get going the quicker you will have your own “black gold”. Why buy bags of expensive organic matter when you can be earth friendly and recycle your own household and garden waste for free. Composting will save you a lot of money and there is a lot of personal satisfaction in creating your own soil and feeding your family from your soil. Growing your own food is truly the only way to really know where your food comes from.