Practical Guide To Successful Winter Composting

composting in winter
It is absolutely possible to continue composting successfully during the winter. It is even possible to begin composting during the winter months. The decomposition process slows down when the temperature drops, but it does not completely cease, at least not for long.

Can you compost in winter?

As composting relies on heat to function properly, you may think it is impossible to compost year-round. This could not be further from the truth. In most places, composting can continue even during the winter months.

Winter composting is completely possible, and most composting methods are perfectly viable unless you live in an area with extremely cold winters.

Once the organic material in your compost pile reaches freezing temperatures, the composting process ceases.

Composting, however, naturally generates heat. In other words, while the outer layers of your compost piles may freeze during harsh winters, the middle of the pile will likely continue to decompose.

Winter compost requires more brown material than nitrogen-rich green material (kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, food scraps, kitchen waste, peels, and other organic materials). As a result, the compost is activated, moisture is reduced, and the pile is prevented from freezing.

Increase the volume of compostable materials (brown) in the compost pile by adding more dried leaves, clippings, garden waste, twigs, and branches from your landscaping collected and stored from the fall in large pails or 5-gallon buckets.

Can you worm compost in winter?

It is a good idea to compost using worms or vermicompost during winter when your outdoor compost pile is dormant.

Many people let their compost piles go dormant during the winter months rather than continue to work the pile when new yard materials are not readily available.

How cold is too cold for a worm bin?

If the temperature in your worm composting bin is too cold, worms may congregate in a ball that resembles ground hamburger meat to keep warm.

Worms will die if the temperature drops below 40° Fahrenheit (4° Celsius) for an extended period of time.

Choosing a winter composting method

Composting in the winter is similar to composting in the summer, but it occurs slower. The process simply stalls in cold weather, and the food scraps freeze. The process is resumed when the temperature rises above freezing. 

Composting outdoors is more complex than indoor composting, and you should prepare your outdoor compost heap or bin for the winter months. 

In contrast to indoor compost devices, outdoor compost piles or bins are subject to poor weather conditions and low temperatures. Therefore, the maintenance of an outdoor compost bin is far more involved than that of an indoor compost bin.

You can choose from either indoor, outdoor, vermicompost, or bokashi method.

How to keep compost warm in winter

It is important to remember that composting relies on heat to function. In general, the warmer the material, the faster the decomposition process will be. 

Any material that reaches the freezing point (32°F or 0°C) will cease to decompose. You should therefore take steps to insulate your winter compost bin against the elements.

A few basic measures will suffice in milder climates or for pre-insulated bins. If your compost bin is not equipped with a tight-fitting lid, you will likely have the materials you require to properly insulate it if you live on a large property or near a farm.

Winter weather insulation can be done in a few simple ways:

  • You can cover your compost with a tarp, old blankets, rugs, fabric, and/or flattened cardboard boxes.
  • Surrounding compost with insulating materials, like hay or straw bales.
  • Use mulched leaves, sawdust, or wood chips to pad your compost.

If you live in a harsher climate or just want a faster compost, you may have to combine some (or all) of these options.

Should you turn compost in the winter?

During the winter months, turning the compost pile is unnecessary, as doing so will result in a loss of heat in the pile’s interior. This way, organic matter can be further slowed down in the decomposition process.

Wait until the pile has completely thawed before turning it in the spring.

Should you cover compost in the winter?

If you live in a cold climate, it is recommended that you cover your compost during the winter months. Winter compost piles require a cover to prevent them from becoming too wet.

The following are a few reasons why a compost pile should be covered.

  • There has been too much rain. Covering the compost pile may prevent waterlogging if you live in a rainy region or are experiencing a wet year. This results in a lack of air inside the pile, causing the death of the bacteria responsible for breaking down the materials. It is at this point that a compost pile becomes slimy and putrid.
  • Compost is urgently needed. If you need compost quickly, a covered pile is the best option. By covering the pile, the heat is retained, which helps the good bacteria to work more effectively. With the cover in place, the composting process is effectively sped up, resulting in a reduction of weeks (and even months) from the overall production time.
  • Get rid of weeds. When a pile is covered, it tends to heat up, resulting in the conditions necessary to kill weed seeds or diseases.
  • Increase the length of the season. Compost piles in cold regions eventually freeze, which halts the composting process. Even in colder climates, you can raise a crop of “black gold” all winter long by covering a compost pile.


Discovering composting as a way of life or even better, as nature’s way of recycling, Ana dedicates her time to trying out new methods of composting at home. Her goal is to share everything that she’s learned in the hopes that it will help others discover the amazing rewards of composting.

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