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Reader Question: Cold Weather Composting – Is it possible?

by on January 28, 2013

compostQUESTION: I’ve always heard that composting requires a lot of heat to work. Is cold weather composting possible, and if so, how?

It is true that compost needs heat. The heat produced by a compost pile is a byproduct of the breakdown of the compost material on a microbial level and temperatures can vary quite a bit depending on several variables. While ambient temperature does affect the temps of your  compost pile, so does the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio (“browns” & “greens”, respectively), moisture level, and airflow. You may not be able to do much about the ambient temperature outdoors in January, but you can control the other factors.

Your compost pile should be moist but not wet. It should have little to no odor and be warm-to-hot in the center. Odor is a signal that you have too much nitrogen, so you need to restore a good balance of C:N. Ideally most compost will thrive with a ratio of about 25:1 brown (Carbon) to green (Nitrogen).

Still another way to help your cold weather composting along is to use a commercially-available composter like the warehouse composters we’ve mentioned before from the UrbanFig Shop. A compost tumbler like these makes easy work of the process because it will act as a barrier from wind and excessive moisture, incubating the compost while also making it much easier to aerate by turning the drum.

Of course you don’t need a warehouse composter. People have been composting for centuries and nature has been doing it without our intervention since the beginning of time. We like the composter solution because it is cleaner, keeps the compost pile from being an eyesore to neighbors, and it makes the process a lot less of a headache, especially when it comes to cold weather composting.

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