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  • Writer's pictureBill

The Cold Hard Truth About Hot Compost

A lot of backyard composters assume the freezing temperatures of winter keep their piles from heating up, and the cold does make it harder to do thermophilic composting.

But the chart here shows you can get a pile cooking, even when temperatures stay below freezing for weeks on end.

The pile was built at our farm in Kingsbury on Jan. 24, and struggled to get going, but around Feb. 5, the microbes really started to take over and build the heat. It becomes a snowball effect from there. The heat is actually created by the activity of the microbes, independent of any sunshine or warm temperatures outside the pile.

So why can commercial composters get hot piles going, while backyard compost piles sit frozen through winter?

It's not any "secret sauce" or special skill. It's all about volume. You need a minimum amount of "greens" or nitrogen material to get the microbes feeding and reproducing (and heating up the pile). Here's a photo of the pile - way bigger than any backyard composter would make.

But don't despair if you are trying to compost with a small pile in winter. Even if it doesn't heat up, it will still be breaking down and actually be more "appetizing" to the microbes when the pile thaws. The freezing and thawing cycle ruptures the cell walls of green waste, so decomposition is already starting, and the material will be that much easier for microbes to process in the future!

Of course, if you don't want to be bothered dealing with compost in the winter (or the heat of summer, or really anytime) you can sign up for our curbside composting service in Glens Falls, Queensbury, Hudson Falls, Lake George or Moreau. It's as easy as throwing your compostable waste into a bucket instead of the trash. We'll do the rest.

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