Winter Composting: Is It Possible?

Winter Composting: Is It Possible?

When winter rolls around and temperatures begin to drop, life starts to change a little bit.

However, when it comes to your composting efforts and the pile you’ve been working on all year, it doesn’t spell the end.

Although it can be trickier to maintain, you can still compost in the winter, and do so successfully, provided you’ve been preparing for it.

The colder temperatures do make things harder but there’s no need to pack it in and give up for a quarter of the year, and if you’re willing to commit the planet will thank you for it.

Can you compost in the winter and how do you do it the right way?

There are three key elements to consider when composting in the winter including insulation, moisture, and the right mixture of materials, so with all of these sorted, there’s no reason you have to stop.

Being prepared for the change in the weather will help you get ready for it, and have your pile back in normal shape when the temperatures rise again.

We’ve created a simple guide to composting in the winter, including most importantly how you can keep your pile going strong. With our help, you’ll be prepared for the drop in temperatures and know exactly what your compost pile needs in the colder season to continue to thrive.

Can You Compost in the Winter?

An active compost pile is one that thrives on a range of organic matter, whether that is brown leaves and grass clippings from your yard, or the vegetable and fruit scraps that you’ve thrown away.

When the temperature drops around wintertime, it might seem hard to maintain an outdoor compost pile, but it’s still possible to keep it active and thriving.

Even in colder parts of the country where snow and frost are common, you can still have a pile going, as the freeze-thaw cycles that occur will help break down whatever has been added to the pile.

When spring arrives, these things will decompose faster than usual, so your pile will get a good head start and be ready for action once again.

Some locations won’t notice much of a difference in winter, and there might be no need to do anything different.

By keeping track of the temperature and noting any changes with your compost pile, you’ll be able to establish whether winter preparation is needed and take the steps required to keep it thriving.

Some things might turn people off from using their compost during these colder months, like walking out to their bin in freezing temperatures or having to keep animals away.

However, you’ll find that critters are less attracted than usual to the pile because when it’s frozen, the odors are masked, so this shouldn’t create a problem.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about braving the cold weather outside, which can be a bit of a pain, but you can try to reduce the trips you do outside by storing scraps in a larger container inside.

Keeping the Compost Going in the Cold

The key to a thriving compost pile in winter is being prepared and knowing what to expect.

There are a few tips you can follow that will ensure a healthy and active pile that is ready to carry on when spring arrives, so check out these ideas for how to keep yours flourishing.


During winter, it can get cold enough in some places for the microbes to become so frozen that they’re no longer active. Without active microbes, your compost isn’t being broken down and will be ineffective.

To prepare for this and keep your pile at its best, remove the usable compost in the fall so you can make room for the new stuff. Build up your tumbler or bin again, starting with cardboard, leaves, and straw on the outside, so that the active ingredients are working harder and warmer on the inside.

Feeding the Compost

There’s no need to change what you’re feeding your compost during winter, provided you have the right carbon to nitrogen ration. If you’ve found your previous food and scrap choices worked, stick with them, otherwise consider making some adjustments.

Don’t forget to keep adding brown matter like dried leaves or shredded paper, otherwise, you’ll end up with a very wet and runny compost pile when spring rolls around.

If you’re new to composting, don’t start a pile in winter, but rather wait for the earlier months so you can perfect your ratios, and then they’ll be ready to tackle the colder temperatures.


In areas where there’s a lot of rainfall during winter, you might experience an excess of moisture that can be hard to maintain. If you think this rain could get into your pile, you’ll need to develop a cover of some sort to prevent it.

While it’s not usually a problem in warmer months, having cold and rainy weather isn’t good for decomposition, and could prevent the good bacteria from getting to work. If you use a pile system that attracts moisture from the ground as well, think about covering this part of the pile as well.

Monitoring a Compost Pile’s Temperature

Monitoring a Compost Pile’s Temperature

The temperature of a compost pile has a huge impact on how well it performs, so, understandably, in winter this can be a concern.

Temperature is one of the most important factors of a pile’s performance and depending on the ventilation, contents, aeration, and air temperature outside, this can fluctuate quite a bit.

As discussed earlier, preparation is to key to success, and the same goes for any type of gardening. By ensuring your pile is insulated and keeping check of the temperature using a compost temperature probe, you can see how it’s performing and if you need to make any changes to it that will help.

If you wish to have a break from composting during winter and the temperature is cold enough that it freezes your pile, there’s nothing to worry about.

When the weather warms up again, you can start to aerate the pile and add to it again, and you should find that it comes back to shape easily enough when spring arrives.

Composting in Winter Made Easy

Composting in Winter Made Easy

Although some people like to keep things simple and have their compost in a heap in the backyard when the temperatures drop this won’t be as easy to manage.

The two best options for winter composting are a tumbler or bin setup, and here’s a bit more about what each of them offers.

Compost Tumbler

A compost tumbler is a large bin that can be spun around using a handle.

The purpose of this is that you can easily aerate the contents inside and make sure they’re getting enough oxygen to decompose correctly.

Composting Bin

A composting bin is a cheaper alternative but requires you to aerate the mixture by yourself now and then.

These bins are ideal if you want to utilize worms in your composting efforts, as you can’t have them in a tumbler.

Related Questions

Managing a compost bin in the backyard comes with so many benefits for you and the planet to enjoy, but it’s a learning curve for some.

If you’re brand new to the idea of composting and want to know more about how it works, check out the answers to some FAQs that can lead the way.

Can I Put Moldy Fruit in My Compost?

The purpose of a compost pile is to break down and compose foods in the backyard, which can then be turned into nutrient-rich compost that you can use.

Therefore, adding some moldy fruit and vegetables won’t be a problem, as the mold cells are also an organism themselves, and can help to break down the food even further.

What Will Make My Compost Decompose Faster?

If you find your compost pile is taking a long time to break down food, it could be to do with your carbon to nitrogen ratio.

A good compost pile works on a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 20:1 which means a larger majority of carbon materials like straw, dry leaves, and shredder paper, compared to a smaller amount of fruit and vegetables or freshly clipped grass.

Can Cooked Rice Go In My Compost?

Although it might seem like adding cooked rice to the compost is harmless enough, it should be avoided where possible.

Rice and other similar foods will attract rodents and cockroaches, but will also lead to bad types of bacteria growth. Therefore, stick only to fruits and vegetables as well as the other recommended foods for composting. 

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