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  • making compost at 8500 ft

    Created by Del Lynd on

    We live at 8500 ft altitude in the Colorado mountains and the temps are cool or cold most nights. Even in the Summer, night temps can get down to the low 40’s.

    My efforts to make compost have not been successful. I have tried activators, starters and other additives to no avail. I have a plastic round bin about 3.5 ft high and 3.5 ft in dia. How can I get the contents to heat up? It rarely gets warm.

    I do aerate it and I use stream water. I am trying to insulate the bin, but since it is round that isn’t easy. Can I add a strong fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen, or what can I do?


  • Author
  • #198152

    Eric Vinje

    Hi Del –

    It sounds like you’re doing everything right, but are having trouble due to the cooler temperatures! Regardless, I feel certain that we can get your bin heated up. Below I’ve included some tips and techniques that I hope help.

    The bacteria that work to break down organic garbage into compost do not do well in freezing temperatures. One thing you can do to offset the cold is to keep your compost pile in a black bin in direct sunlight or you can insulate it using organic materials like hay bales.

    Nitrogen: Since most piles are short on nitrogen, not carbon, adding nitrogen will generally help a pile heat up quickly. (If the pile starts smelling like ammonia, you know you’ve gone too far.) Quick fix nitrogen sources include blood meal, organic cotton-seed meal, alfalfa pellets, and manures, especially chicken manure. Sprinkle, don’t dump, one of these here and there in the pile as it accumulates.

    Micro-Organisms/ Activators: Since it’s the micro-organisms that do the bulk of the work in an active pile, adding extras will hurry the process along. Dig down a layer or two, and sprinkle some of the dry mix into the damp center of the pile, in several different places. If you put it on top, be sure to water it in as it won’t become active until damp.

    Shredders: Smaller pieces provide more surface area for the micro-organisms to attack. If you chop, shred or grind your compostable materials before adding them to the bin you in effect do some of the beasties’ work for them, which saves time. Some people toss the day’s compost into a food processor or grinder; some use a paper-shredder on newsprint and office paper; some use chippers or a machete on twigs and branches; some use a mulching lawn-mower to shred leaves and other compostables.

    Oxygen: Turning is the time-honored method of providing oxygen to a pile. It’s also a good idea to turn the contents since it rearranges the decaying material. With a little care, you can move the less decomposed material on the outsides to the middle of the pile to heat up.

    If your bin still does not heat up you may want to consider a worm bin or a bokashi system to help break down your organic materials.


    Good luck!


    I have a composting question. My compost bin has a good mixture of small leaves, day-old cut grass and kitchen fruit/veggie scraps. We have a small lily pond nearby with lots of ropy green algae. Can I add some or a lot of this to my bin? Your thoughts, please.



    My advice is just to keep on piling it on. You’re not gonna have it heat up until you got a mound going. I worked on one for a while back when I lived in Texas. Yes, it was hotter in Texas but at the same time it still didn’t generate any heat until it was almost 7ft tall and even more feet around. Once it accumulates enough crap then it’ll start to heat up. It’s not something that happens in a year if you’re just using materials around your property.

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