Hot Versus Cold Composting

Every once in a while folks prod me into writing editorials = expressions of personal opinion (as opposed to scientific fact).  These missives are designed to provoke public discussion and research.   Thoughtful responses are welcome.

High temperature composting = thermal composting is an “alien” technology inconsistent with the biology of this planet.  Nature does not decompose organic matter at high temperatures.  Natural decomposition processes ALWAYS occur at low = ambient temperatures.  So why do Humans make great steaming compost heaps?  Are we smarter than Mother Nature?  I don’t think so.

Excepting the biology of volcanic springs, all natural chemistry on this planet takes place at low temperatures.  Thermal processes are artificial creations.  High temperature chemistry wastes vast amounts of energy.  Ambient temperature biochemistry is energy efficient.  Nature is a much better chemist than Man.

Is compost made at 165 degrees Fahrenheit “better” than the same materials decomposed at air temperature?  Should wastes be piled up or spread out?  Is there a difference in the biological or nutrient quality of the finished compost?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I have not been able to find any scientific papers on this topic.  Until definitive research is published, I intend to keep my pitchfork in the shed.  Mulching is easy.  Turning compost piles is too much work.

POSTSCRIPT:     Yes, I know about plant diseases, insect pests, parasites, and pathogenic bacteria, but Nature has a way of dealing with these problems.  High temperature composting is a low-technology way to pasteurize potting soils for greenhouses, nurseries, mushroom farms and other specialty horticultural operations.  Every year I use thousands of tons of thermal compost for reforestation projects, to fill raised beds for intensive vegetable production, and to inoculate mine sites and other barren lands without topsoil.  So please don’t beat on me for being “Anti-Organic”, even though I also use hundreds of tons of chemical fertilizers annually.  Compost or chemicals, I use what works best = “the right tool for every job”.

Is hot compost the right tool for every agricultural problem?  I have managed commercial vegetable farms with nothing other than mulch, irrigation, and donkey carts.  Crops were grown in raised beds.  Wastes were thrown into the aisles to rot.  Rough compost was forked up into the beds as needed.  No hauling, shredding, piling, or turning needed.  Try working a farm by hand and you might think differently about the necessity of large scale thermal composting.  Low temperature decomposition = sheet composting = cold composting = mulching saves costly labor.

Conventional practice requires manure be composted before use.  I have managed vegetable farms and tree nurseries where all plants were grown only in crumbled, dried cow manure — no composting necessary.  So much for mindless obedience to the experts.

The next time someone says you MUST plow, spray, compost, or perform some other agronomic ritual, have a good think first.  Do not be afraid to be contrarian.  The “received wisdom of the ages” is often wrong.   

Would You Like To Know More?     Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information on composting or mulching.

Please visit:  — or —  Send your questions to:     Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:     Eric Koperek =

About The Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).