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Four Types of Compost Bins: Which Is Best for You?

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Different types of compost bins can help you make your own black gold. And if you’re a home gardener, then having your own source of compost on hand is a very good thing. 

With a composter, you can repurpose kitchen waste and yard clippings and turn it into nutrient-rich organic material for your garden. Doing so reduces your throwaway garbage … and at the same time gives you a wonderful soil addition for your garden at low- or no cost.

And while there are hundreds of composter styles and dozens of brands, they boil down to four main types of compost bins. Each is useful to the gardener in a different way.

4 types of compost bins: which is right for you? #HomeGardening #GrowingTomatoes

Understand the 4 main types of compost bins

1. Stationary compost bins

Stationary compost bins are built to stay in one place. They’re also called “continuous composters” because you can add material to them continually over time. A stationary bin allows you to add organic matter, turn the pile, and remove the mature humus to use in the garden once it is ready. You can add material and use mature compost all from the same pile.

Some stationary bins are built with a divider or two. This allows you to alternate using two piles. You can add new material to one section while the decaying organic matter in the other breaks down.

They’re made from a variety of materials – wood, wire, plastic, or composite. Some are simply open bins. Others have filters that allow composted organic material to filter to the bottom and sealed lids to keep out critters.

But regardless of those variations, stationary compost bins have a few features in common:

  • Stationary compost bins handle a variety of material from yard waste to kitchen scraps to shredded newspaper and cardboard.
  • Stationary compost bins are added to over time, simply by layering on organic material.
  • Stationary compost bins take time to produce compost – often months – which helps you to understand why they’re called “continuous composters.”

Just how long does it take to get compost from your stationary bin? It depends how often you aerate it. Small piles can be turned with a pitchfork. Large piles can be turned and moved by tractors. Both take a bit of work but turning your compost pile speeds up the decaying process to few months for hot composting (turning the pile to aerate it) and cold composting (leaving the pile and forgetting it).

When should you choose one of these types of compost bins?

  • When you have a good amount of yard and kitchen waste
  • When you have space for the bin
  • When you’re not rushed for compost (as in, next spring or summer will be fine.)

2. Compost tumblers

A compost tumbler is a closed barrel or drum that is set on a stand with a handle, allowing you to rotate it. As you turn the unit, you aerate and mix the organic matter inside. All that air and movement accelerates the decaying process.

Some compost tumblers contain more than one compartment, each separated from the other. Two compartments allow you to process one batch while still having a place to put ongoing kitchen waste. You can add new kitchen waste and yard clippings to one side while the other is processing what’s been there longer. Meanwhile, you rotate the entire unit. The compost is ready in batches, which is why compost tumblers are also called “batch composters.” (Check out different compost tumbler models.)

And to make sure the process is aerobic (rather than turning into an anaerobic, smelly mess), a good compost tumbler has a vent. Look for a model with drain holes on the ends, too.

Compost tumblers have a couple of distinct advantages:

  • You don’t need to manually turn your compost pile, but rather simply turn the tumbler.
  • Your compost pile is contained, rather than open to the elements, rodents, and pests.

Just as stationary compost bins are available in all shapes and sizes, so are compost tumblers. There are horizontal units and vertical units. Tomato Dirt’s best recommendation: get the biggest compost tumbler you can.

Composting can get underway quickly in your tumbler when you add commercial starters, manure, already finished compost, or garden soil, thereby infusing the mixture with microbes that kickstart the decaying process. Turn the tumbler two or three times a week, you can have fresh, rich compost in about a month.

Or, if you’re not in a hurry you needn’t add anything at all.

When should you choose one of these types of compost bins?

  • When you want to compost outside but you want the organic material to be contained
  • When you want to make compost fast
  • When you have a moderate amount of kitchen and yard waste
  • When you want to supplement your stationary compost pile with the ability to make smaller amount of compost quickly

3. Worm composters

Worm composters (also called vermiculture composters) convert waste to fertilizer by using – yes, you guessed it – worms. These types of compost bins operate on a simple principle: worms eat organic material. They digest it and expel worm castings, which are very rich in nutrients, making a valuable fertilizer for your garden. In the process, the worms help reduce the amount of kitchen waste in landfills and speeding up the composting process.

To get started with vermicomposting, you need a worm compost bin, bedding for the creepy-crawlies, and the worms themselves.

  • Worm compost bin: you can purchase a worm compost bin or create one of your own from an opaque plastic or wood container, since worms like a dark, moist environment. Make sure the bin has holes in its sides for ventilation and includes a tray or second tier below to catch water drainage.
  • Bedding: use any kind of shredded organic material, such as newspapers, cardboard, egg cartons, leaves, or straw. If you are placing your worm composter indoors, you may want to avoid leaves and straw since they could transfer pests and fungi indoors with them. Add a large scoop of garden soil to the bedding and enough water so that the worms’ new digs are moist, but not dripping wet.
  • Worms: be sure to select worms that are appropriate form composting: red wigglers (Eisenia foetida) or manure worms (Lumbricus rubellus), which you can purchase from garden suppliers. Create a hole in your worm bedding, add worms, and cover them.

After about a week, you can add food scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, pulverized eggshells, tea bags and coffee grounds to your worm composter. And in three to six months, you can start harvesting black gold from your live-in worms.

When should you choose one of these types of compost bins?

  • When you want a convenient way of disposing of kitchen waste
  • When you’re okay handling worms.

4. Kitchen compost bins

Kitchen compost bins dispel the idea that you need to live on a farm or even in a single-family home to make your own compost. A kitchen composter is a wonderful solution for apartment dwellers, urban gardeners, townhome owners, small families … and even those who live in sprawling properties and want an extra way to make compost in addition to their stationary bin or compost tumbler.

But why should you compost your kitchen scraps anyway? Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 30 percent of what we throw away, and could be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. As a gardener, you want to take advantage of the opportunity to make “black gold” from what’s leftover in your food preparation. As a good citizen, you want to help the environment. You can do both with a kitchen compost bin.

Kitchen compost bins vary widely in size, features, and aesthetics. You need to consider different feature of the different models and choose the one that works the best for you. All of the options, however, boil down to three main types of kitchen compost bins.

Electric countertop composters

Electric kitchen composters (also called food recyclers) are freestanding appliances that can break down food scraps into compost in just a few hours electricity.

Countertop food waste processors

Technically, countertop food waste processors don’t compost kitchen scraps, but rather chop the refuse and dry it. The result can be added to your compost pile outdoors or be discarded in local landfills or compost recycling centers.

Basic kitchen compost container

You can use any metal, plastic, or ceramic container with a secure, tightly-sealed lid and air holes to make compost from your kitchen scraps. Bacteria and microbes can work together to help break down your kitchen refuse. Or you can simply use your kitchen compost bin to collect your cooking cast-offs and add them to your stationary compost bin or tumbler composter every day or two.

When should you choose one of these types of compost bins?

  • When you live in an apartment
  • When don’t have much yard space
  • When you live in a cold climate that has a very short weather window for letting kitchen scraps break own
  • When you want the convenience of collecting kitchen refuse to add to your outdoor compost pile

Which of the four types of compost bins is right for you?

The keys to choosing among the different types of compost bins?

Know what you have on hand to compost.

If you've got a lot of yard waste, then a stationary compost bin is a good choice. If you have no yard waste, a worm composter or kitchen composter is better.

Know how much space you want to devote to the process.

If you have plenty of outdoor room in your garden or yard, then you have the option to use a stationary composter or a compost tumbler. If you have very little space outside, a tumbler is still a good option.

Know if you want to use more than one composter.

Do lots of gardening? Do you have plenty of yard clippings and at the same time do you prepare food rather than eating out? Then you may want to use more than one type of compost bin. That way, you'll have plenty of black gold to keep your plants healthy.

More about garden composting

Composting basics to get you started ...

2 types of composting for the home gardener ...

How to Compost Tomato Plants ...

How to use a kitchen compost bin to make black gold ...

When to compost: a guide to composting through 4 seasons...

More composting tips on our Pinterest board ...

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