A Guide to Urban Composting This Winter

Joi Ito/ Flickr

Having been an urban composter for almost 2 years, I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s easier than you think. And don’t let the encroaching Winter season scare you away. A variety of composting options are available to those living with or without green space in Pittsburgh at any time of the year. Composting is a great option for gardeners looking to prepare nutrient rich soil or those looking to decrease their trash output. Read on to find out how you can start composting by the end of the week.

Anyone with a small outdoor space can build their own compost bin. We’ve put together a how-to on Winter composting to help you do away with food waste and create your own organic soil for the Spring. For those living in apartments or looking for a less hands on approach, Shadyside Worms offers a Compost Exchange that operates much like any trash/recycling pickup service. For more information on this program check out Shadysideworms.com.

3 Reasons to Compost Through the Winter

1. It’s the most economical way to get ready for the Spring gardening season.
2. Compost bins provide a natural heat source for greenhouses so you can keep growing throughout the coldest time of the year.
3. You’ll be reducing your landfill contributions and, during the winter, you won’t have to worry about your compost over heating or drying out.


Container: This will depend on your household needs. Anything from a small plastic storage container to a larger metal trash can (which can be found at any home and garden store) will make an effective bin. If you have a larger outdoor area you can also do a heap or pile that will require a bit more maintenance but will guarantee your compost has room to breathe. To find out more about container options click here.
Wood chips: Fresh wood chips acquired from a local source work best and will promote both heat and more rapid decomposition in your bin.
Insulation materials: Depending on your resources, these will vary. Keeping your compost warm is essential to its survival when the temperatures begin to drop below freezing. Lining a box with cardboard is a great option for back porch composts. Another option is to dig a hole for your bin and cover it with hay or leaves.

Building Your Compost

Once you have your container (or designated heap area) prepare your wood chips by thoroughly soaking them. Shadyside Worms recommends piling up at least one yard of woodchips (3’x3’x3’). Adjust amounts depending on the size of your container.

Distribute wood chips in an even level and complete insulation.

Start composting! During the Winter we recommend having a small bucket or enclosed container to collect your scraps in during the week inside your home. This way every trip to your compost bin will be a plentiful contribution and you won’t be letting too much heat out.

Keeping the carbon in your compost high is essential to creating a quality soil. This calculator will help you figure out what to put in your bin as it gets colder and colder.

To find out more about maintaining a healthy compost year round, visit Shadyside Worms.