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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!

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • NAncy Lee B. 2 months ago
    We stir ours every few days in the winter, even more than in summer to keep the center active and breakdown continues just slower.
  • Audrey N. 2 months ago
    I rent so I I’m not really familiar with composting but have a couple questions. Do they smell like rotting garbage in the summer? Also do wild animals tend to get into them?
  • janice f. 2 months ago
    It's cold here in the winter, but I still toss my scraps in the bin. It's OK if they don't compost until spring.
  • Christine N. 2 months ago
    I live in Boise, ID and toss fruit and vegie scraps into my two compost bins every day of the year. It is used in our garden in May.
  • Hana A. 2 months ago
    Yup yup yup,
    We compost year round, which we are thankful for. It makes our veggies, flowers, and of course soil so much more rich than the past. :)
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