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Composting in winter, dry climates

DSCN1670 Baby, it's cold outside. Portland is in the midst of a rare bout of freezing, snowy weather with no end in sight (as I silently weep in realization that the kids probably won't go back to school until January). Anyhoo, we've had folks email us about composting in winter and what kind of yard debris to use in dry climates.

First, winter. Yes, cold weather does slow down the decomposing process but it doesn't halt it completely. Part of the "heat" that helps break down food comes from the process of combining carbon (browns) with nitrogen (greens). So you will continue to make compost in winter, but at a slower rate. We haven't had a problem overflowing our compost bin in winter, in part because we tend to eat less fresh produce in winter, but also because the breaking down process is still working. A number of sites on composting will tell you that the optimum ratio of browns to greens is 2:1 for achieving decomposition. To be honest, I just toss in about the same amount of each because I'm a lazy composter.

Someone asked what people in dry, desert climates, who seldom generate any yard debris at all, should use for their brown matter. This is a question I'll put out to you: have you ever had to purchase or rustle up some carbon for your compost bin? What do you use and where do you get it? Aside from dead leaves, here are some other items you can use:

Pine needles, wood chips, ashes, corn stalks, shredded newspaper, shredded cardboard, sawdust, straw, peanut shells

 I'm looking at this list of high carbon ingredients and thinking you can certainly purchase these items (wood chips) but couldn't you also take them off someone's hands (like sawdust)? I guess the other thing to be careful about is that these wood by-products haven't been 'treated' with any kind of chemicals, because if you're planning to use the compost in your vegetable garden, then yuck. Does anyone use cardboard or newspaper for the bulk of their browns? Does it work well?

Do people living in cold climates have any simple tips for composting in winter?


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