Composting during the wintertime especially in colder climates such as ours can be a tricky endeavor!
The biggest challenges are keeping the compost pile warm enough and making sure the microorganisms have enough food. In areas with large snowfalls, composting can become a serious challenge. The main task is to keep the snow from having direct contact with your manure pile. Tarps or roof structures should be placed over the piles to ensure that snow is not getting into the compost. Snow can very quickly cool down the composting process and halt it completely. However, when snow is separated from the system via a tarp it can provide insulation to the pile and actually increase temperatures slightly. Surrounding the piles with straw bales can also act as an insulating mechanism to maintain higher temperatures. If snow does happen to get onto the compost, don’t turn it, as this will cool temperatures dramatically.
Additionally, the microorganisms or ‘bugs’ that are in the system need to have a constant source of food in order to continue the composting process. In Manure and Pasture Management for Recreational Horse Owners (2000) they suggest putting down a layer of wood chips 6 to 8 inches deep at the bottom of the system. Then you should follow this up with 3 feet of leaves and alternate manure and bedding. By the time spring rolls around the leaves will have decomposed and the pile will need turning, but the composting process should be nearly finished. This is especially important if you are unable to access your system due to excessively wet weather or heavy snowfalls.
Making sure that your compost bin stays nice and warm and that the bugs have enough food will help in maintaining your compost process throughout the wintertime. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to contact your regional Manure Maven.