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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 140-160 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
  • Javier M. 17 days ago
    I am reminded of this little ditty: "And the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
    The worms play pinochle on your snout
    They eat your eyes, they eat your noes
    They eat the jelly between your toes"
  • Tracey R. 17 days ago
    I have been composting in WNY for over 30 years. My piles are still working in 10 degree winter temps!
  • Mark F. 18 days ago
    Don't forget about vermicomposting. Here in Maine, it is a better solution than shoveling out to the compost pile. has great information for free.
    • Susan S. 18 days ago
      We started one last year. In TN it gets a little hot so we had to be sure to shade them well. No one wants fried worms. The "worm juice" is magic for my plants!
  • Mac K. 1 year ago
    How about rough plans for constructing the pictured pallet bin?
  • Seana F. 2 years ago
    Have composted year round my entire life and never insulated it. When I have the luxury, I stop adding new stuff to the pile in the fall and use it start a new pile. The old pile gets spread on the garden during the spring and rototilled in and the newer pile gets added to until it becomes the old pile in the fall. I've also never really stirred a pile and always had excellent, rich compost.
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