Tips to keep your compost pile working in winter

After the fall, many homeowners wonder what to do with the leaves that have accumulated on the ground.

“Composting can be a beneficial process to manage yard waste,” said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Andrew Holsinger. “Proper planning and effort can provide the opportunity to generate organic matter beneficial to the soil.”

Composting is defined as the transformation of raw organic materials into biologically stable humus-like substances suitable for growing plants. Organic matter improves soil quality in a number of ways, including moisture retention, the ability of the soil to hold nutrients, and recycling nutrients taken up by plants back into the soil, Holsinger explained.

Compost materials are made up of a proportion of carbon to nitrogen in an organic material. When these materials are combined in proper proportion and in combination with air, water and warmth, it creates a proper environment for decomposition.

“Unfortunately, during the winter months, some of these key components may be lacking to achieve the success desired in decomposing your organic waste,” Holsinger said.

Temperature: Compost piles should be covered in the winter to exclude excess rain or snow, which can make the pile too wet. Insulating the pile in the winter has the benefit of reducing cold air, which can decrease microbial activity.

The carbon to nitrogen ratio: There are two main components of organic waste that are transformed to compost: the green materials (nitrogen) and brown materials (carbon).

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