Many homeowners think that composting is just a spring and summer activity, but a well-groomed compost pile needs attention all throughout the year. That may sound like too much work, but it's quite easy if you follow these simple steps to care for your compost pile throughout every season.
Spring is When to Make the Most Out of Your Compost
Most experienced gardeners use their matured compost pile in the spring to add to new and existing plants. Even if you are currently using your old compost pile as manure, it is important to remember that you will need to start a new one once your compost supply has depleted. Rising spring temperatures help the compost cook, and regularly turning the pile over in the spring will help air circulate throughout. If you don't have any old compost to use in the new planting season, consider purchasing some compost bins that can create usable compost in as little as three weeks.
Composting Heats Up in Summer
Hotter weather means there is more action happening in your compost pile. Microbes and worms are active and will need some added nutrition to continue doing their jobs. Purchasing a compost conditioner at a local garden store can help to increase the quality of your compost by giving those organisms a boost in energy. Another way to add nutrition is to regularly feed your compost pile kitchen scraps in order to continue adding energy. The warmer summer temperatures mean that your compost pile should be turned at least once a week with a pitchfork in order to blend all of the materials (or use a Joraform Compost Tumbler for super easy compost turning). Be aware of the moisture content in your compost pile during the dry summer months as too little moisture will slow decomposition.
Autumn is the Best Time to Start a New Compost Pile
Starting a brand new compost pile in the late autumn is the ideal time to begin working on building compost for your future spring planting. Foliage and trimmings from a full summer harvest can be great in starting a compost pile this time of year. Alternating green layers (vegetable scraps and grass clippings) with brown layers (corn stalks and dead leaves) helps to prevent matting.
When focusing on your yard, Autumn is also a great time to overseed your lawn if you have sparse areas of grass. Composting can be extremely helpful during this time. Spread a thin amount of compost directly onto the areas that you will be overseeding to help provide a boost of nutrients. Be sure to collect dead leaves in a separate bag during the fall in order to save and use them during the winter. Placing a tarp or lid onto your compost pile during rainstorms can help to keep the compost from getting to soggy. Regular weekly turning is also needed to help create much needed air pockets within the pile itself.
Tips for Tending to Your Compost in Winter
Compost piles thrive in warm conditions, so wintertime can be hard as the composting process slows down with the arrival of colder temperatures. If your winter temperatures are above freezing, the composting process will continue but you may experience a stall in composting if your area experiences sub-freezing winter temperatures. However, your compost pile won't be dead as microorganisms will start to work their magic once temperatures begin to rise. Continue adding kitchen scraps and those saved dead leaves during the winter to encourage the composting process. Adding wood ash from your fireplace during the winter is a great way to raise the quality of your compost pile as well. If your compost pile becomes too full, consider starting a new one with varying layers of green and brown matter that will start to compost once spring temperatures arrive. And don't forget to cover your compost during the winter to prevent rain and snow from making the mixture too wet!
A compost pile can be started at any time of the year. Creating a new compost pile can seem overwhelming, but compost piles are very forgiving. As long as you give a compost pile heat, air, and energy it will continue composting along with the help of microorganisms and worms from your yard. Remembering to feed your pile scraps and organic matter - while also turning the pile over on a regular basis - will create rich compost to use in your garden.
Kristina Phelan is a freelance writer. Her parenting column, Mama Bear Moxie, is printed in a few newspapers across the country. She lives on a farm in the Midwest with her husband, three kiddos, and too many animals.