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Winter Composting in Milwaukee

Temperatures are dropping outside, and we’re doing our best to keep things warm in our piles. Consistent temperatures below freezing, as we experienced last winter, are very tough to fight off in your pile unless you are working at a very large scale. But for most people composting in backyards and community gardens, this time of year is all about season extension, or delaying the deep freeze as long as possible. As composters, we try to squeeze every last week out of the active season of decomposition.

Here are some simple tips for keeping things active in your compost pile over the winter.

  • Take advantage of warmer days, when they occur, to turn your pile, get things aerated and moved, and make space for more material.
  • You can try insulating the perimeter of your pile with bags of leaves, bales of hay, or sheets of cardboard, anything to keep the frost from biting too deep.
  • Winter turning is a gamble. A still-active pile may reheat after turning, but the act of turning also releases stored heat in the core.
  • Coffee grounds have excellent heat value and are high in nitrogen. A proper mixture of dry leaves and coffee grounds will heat up quickly.
  • Local coffee shops are generally happy to part with their daily pounds and pounds of spent coffee grounds, which are heavy and wet to haul to the dumpster. Stop by your favorite shop, leave them a bucket, and give your pile a winter heat treat it won’t soon forget.

Want to learn more? Stop by one of our public turnings and compost education events. We’ll be at the Friends Community Garden at Auer and Dousman on December 6 from 12 to 1 p.m. Free cider and donuts.

On December 20, meet us at the Scooter Foundation Garden off Buffum and Wright at noon. We’ll be turning compost, chipping ice off the wood chip piles, talking dirt, and delighting in the fellowship of hard work in the pursuit of black gold. Hope to see you there.

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