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Because You Asked

Because You Asked: Can I Compost in Cold Weather?

By Recyclebank |

Bears aren’t the only creatures that hibernate during the winter.

Dear Recyclebank,

Can you compost during the winter? My compost pile doesn’t seem to be breaking down.

-Cassidy R., Boise, ID

Dear Cassidy,

It’s bacteria and other tiny living creatures that convert food scraps and other organic matter to nutrient-rich compost. The process is really decomposition, which, if you’ve ever walked past a trash can in a hot summer, you know is greatly accelerated by warmth. In addition to water and oxygen, the organisms in a compost pile need heat to thrive. The optimum temperature range for compost is 90 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is generated by the break-down process but aided by the surrounding temperature. So in the face of cold or freezing temperatures, the composting process will slow down or cease.

That being said, you can still take steps to compost during the cold season. You can insulate your compost pile by surrounding it with a thick layer (at least a foot deep) of leaves or bales of hay. Maintaining a large pile helps too, since the center of it can stay warm and active even when the outside appears inactive. And while sometimes winter seems to drag on, spring will come, bringing life-sustaining warmth that will restart your compost. Keep adding scraps now and in a couple of months the composting organisms will return to a feast.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Do you still add scraps to your compost pile during the cold months? Share your winter composting tips in the comments below!

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  • vincent k. 3 years ago
    i cover my piles with old carpet so it has some insulation, and can still get air and some moisture. just flip back the carpet and add scraps and some saved leaves, then just recover so not to disturb the core.
  • Donna T. 3 years ago
    I freeze my compost in the freezer when the compost pile is too deep in snow!
  • De A. 3 years ago
    I do... but I'm glad to know that it will not "mess up" the compost pile...
  • Deb K. 3 years ago
    Great information! I never knew this was here. So glad I found this composting here I come. :)
  • Dolores M. 3 years ago
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