Can you compost during the winter? My compost pile doesn’t seem to be breaking down.
-Cassidy R., Boise, ID
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.