If you thought your garden chores were at a virtual standstill with winter, you’ll want to read on because there are a few important things you can do toward nourishing your garden even now.
Keep Your Microbes Warm!
Composting is a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus to your garden to encourage increased plant growth and restore liveliness to depleted soil. The best part of composting: it’s free and easy! However, if you have already established compost pile, extra precautions should be taken during cold weather to ensure that your compost pile remains functional and productive.
With cold-weather already present and continuing, it is important to take a few minutes to plan a way to protect the most important factor in your compost pile.
Microbes account for the most decomposition activity in any compost pile.
As temperature drops in the winter months, microbe’s metabolism slows down.
As a gardener, your job is to:
- Help microbes maintain a high metabolism
- Provide the ideal habitat for these microbes to feast
- Provide healthy, nutrient-rich humus for your spring gardening needs
So, how can this be accomplished?
Similar to any other living creature, microbes need a well-balanced diet. Any compost pile requires a good mixture of carbon and nitrogen rich materials, commonly known as “browns” and “greens” among composers.
Compost 2/3 “browns” (carbon), to 1/3 “greens” (nitrogen).
A good rule of thumb is to use ⅓ green (nitrogen-rich), to ⅔ brown (carbon-rich) materials. Microbes use carbon as a source of energy and nitrogen for building cell structure. So, a shortage of either material could result in inefficient microbes and a struggling compost pile.
Green composting materials include grass clippings, food scraps (from non-meat and non dairy sources), coffee grounds, manures and fish emulsions, blood meal.
Brown composting material for carbon come from sources such as dead leaves, straw, non-treated sawdust, wood chips, wood ashes (in moderation), small branches and twigs and shredded cardboard.
Microbes use carbon for energy.
Another important factor to consider is the particle size of the organic matter that is being added to a compost pile. Microbes (similar to many humans) can become sluggish when temperatures drop. By shredding the material into smaller pieces, the pile heats up uniformly, and the small particles form a mat that helps shield the compost pile’s core from the external cold temperatures.
Humidity and winter winds can largely affect the amount of moisture that is available within compost piles. The ideal moisture content for a compost pile should range from 40 to 60 percent.
Ideal Compost Moisture is 40-60%
Microbes need moisture to survive, and if the moisture content of a compost pile falls below 40 percent, microbes can become dormant or inactive. To assist microbes in maintaining productive compost piles, moisture-deficient piles should be watered at warmer times within the winter months.
Avoid turning a compost pile in cold weather to help ensure an insulative layer remains on the surface. Extra insulation precautions may also be taken to ensure your microbes have the ideal environment for turning waste into nutrient-rich garden humus.
Placement in full sun can benefit compost pile temperatures during cold weather. However, some piles may need other physical insulation precautions, such as tarps, straw bales, and trenches.
And then there’s spring! Imagine entering spring garden season with ripe and ready compost. So keep those bugs warm!
I’m Ashley Winfrey, a beginning freelance writer, lifetime farmer, and dedicated agriculture education teacher from southwest Missouri. Gardening has been an interest for many years, and I currently teach basic plant science, horticulture, and landscaping. I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture Education from Missouri State University in 2013, and am pursuing a Master’s through William Woods University. I also enjoy traveling and cooking.