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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!

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  • Mac K. 5 months ago
    How about rough plans for constructing the pictured pallet bin?
  • Seana F. 1 year 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.
  • NAncy Lee B. 2 years 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 years 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?
    • Seana F. 1 year ago
      If compost is done correctly, it smells very earthy and not rotten. Keep meat and dairy out of it as that's what attracts wild animals. I live in an area with deer, bear and so on so my compost pile is inside the fence that my garden is in. Sometimes, a chipmunk, mouse or raccoon will dig through but even when I lived in an area with lots of raccoon and no fence around it, it was never an issue as long as it was just veggie matter in it.
    • joanna j. 1 year ago
      A tumbler style compost pile is closed (and easy to turn) and if you have the right mix of greens (veggie peelings) and brown (leaves) it won't smell at all
  • janice f. 2 years 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.
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