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What Type of Composting Bin Should You Use?
Break up with your trash bin and start a new relationship — with a compost bin that's a perfect match for your personality and lifestyle. Geek, goddess, DIY guru, executive, or intrepid composting maverick, there's a composting method and container you won't mind being seen with. Follow this guide and find the perfect composter to turn your garbage into rich, nutritious compost so you can fertilize your garden and reduce your carbon footprint without cramping your style.
Composting is so easy, so cost-effective, and so darn fun (no lie) that I’m surprised it hasn’t become a national pastime, beating out Twitter and American Idol. If you have yet to become a compost convert or you're in the market for a composter you can be happy with, read on. It’ll change your life … or at least your trash habits. And your garden will look marvelous.
The key to a successful relationship with your composter is choosing the type of composting container (or lack thereof) you're most compatible with. You've got plenty of options. Start with this guide, and finding a match should be a cinch.
Minimalist + plain ol' pile (no bin required)
You don't have to have a container to start making compost. Just pick a spot in your yard that's out of the way, and start piling your yard waste and kitchen scraps there. Note that composting without a lidded compost bin can be tricky if you live in an area that gets a lot of rainfall. An uncovered compost pile may lose its charm by getting waterlogged, stinky and unable to do its anaerobic stuff. (Managing your compost's moisture content isn't brain surgery, but a lid can make it more hands-off.)
DIY type + homemade compost bin
If a compost "pile" doesn't fit into your vision for your yard's aesthetics or you want to keep lighter, dryer materials from blowing around too much, enclose your compost pile in a cylinder of chicken wire like we do in my yard. We turn it with a garden claw when the urge strikes and inevitably uncover rich soil, which we add back to our yard. Cheap, simple and effective.
Those of you who love working with tools and have a more rustic look in mind for your compost bin can build your composter from wood to contain and cook up your scraps. Get yourself a couple books and DVDs on making compost and composters, and try to use reclaimed wood rather than new lumber.
Or follow this composting how-to video in which green guru John Schaeffer explains how you can easily fashion your own "spinning" compost bin (see below) out of two basic residential garbage cans.
Easy to please + basic compost bin
For the non-frill-seekers among us, the basic bin is just that — a bin that looks somewhat like a smallish residential trash can. It keeps compost contents neatly contained and looks quite pristine compared with a no-bin pile or chicken-wire enclosure. Yet it's still low tech (no tech, actually) and affordable.
Basic composting bins typically come with a tight-fitting lid but may have few other "features." One useful and relatively basic feature to look for is a trap-door or drawer at the bottom for easily retrieving finished compost to apply to your lawn or garden.
The asterisk that comes with any of the composting methods and containers in this section: If you have the attention span of a gerbil, you may not be down with the length of time Mother Nature takes to perfect your pile. If this fits your description, start here and limit your options to any of the compost bin types to those below.
Action oriented + spinning composter
If you'd apapreciate a little help turning that compost (pitchfork-lifting isn't for everyone) and/or want your compost to cook a little faster, a spinning composter is the composter for you. Simply dump in your raw materials (get tips here on compost dump and dump-nots), let nature do its biologicial thang, and when the urge strikes, give the drum a few spins. The spinning adds in oxygen and speeds up decomposition.
Or move on up to a “continuous use” composter, a fancier type of spinning drum composter and the perfect companion for those who hate to wait. The double-drum design allows you to continually add new materials, without stopping to wait for your compost batch to finish. This ingenious yet still simple mechanical composter moves compost material along an outer drum, then back toward a collection chamber as it's rotated. By the time it reaches the output port it's a light, fluffy end product.
Techno-geeks with healthy bank accounts will embrace this miracle of modern technology. Tucked under your countertop and more robotic composting machine than compost bin, a hot composter is an automatic indoor composter that harnesses roughly 5 kwh/month to heat, mix and aerate up to five pounds of food a day. This machine can take just about anything you can dish out — including dairy, meat and fish, which conventional composters eschew. Every two weeks, you empty out nitrogen-rich compost. Like magic. If you're not too jazzed about braving the elements every few days to tote your kitchen scraps out to an outdoor compost bin, this one's for you.
Domestic diva + microbe composter
This is a cool way to do indoor hot composting without electricity — using beneficial microbes called Bokashi. The microbes come in a package with a Bokashi composting container, which is like a shrunken, prettified version of an outdoor composter. It's designed to be kept inside and look unoffensive in your kitchen. Bokashi microbes make quick work of compost "digesting," transforming scraps into ready-to-go compost in about two weeks with no smell.
Adventure lover + vermi (worm) composter
The type of worms used in a worm composter are different from the everyday earthworms prized by gardeners, but their role is similar; they digest organic matter, breaking it down into even better organic matter (better for your garden, that is). Once you witness the work these wrigglers can do in a compost bin, you’ll have a whole new perspective on their slimy little existence. Cast-off apple cores and lawn-mower leavings go, ahem, right through them.
Speaking of cast-offs, the worms produce what are called “castings,” a fancy word for worm poop that's nutrient-rich and the stuff of gardeners' dreams.
If you're a freshman at composting, you may want to save worm composting for senior year — or study harder than I did. Yes, my experiment with vermi-composting went awry, creating a worm mutiny and stinking up my garage. But now I'm armed with worm wisdom and determined to make my next venture a success. The key is making the worms feel at home and eager to get to work. Start them off with perhaps a tea bag or some coffee grounds for a week or two, working your way up to a more varied diet of kitchen and yard waste.
For more info on how to make compost, see our Complete A to Z Compost Guide