Buying Guide

Best Compost Bin For Your Home

Methods of Composting

The easiest way to create organic garden compost is to simply pile up your organic materials and let them break down. This process can take quite a bit of time, so use compost heaps, bins or tumblers to aid in this process.

Heaps
Heaps against a white background

Heaps are piles of garden and kitchen waste (also known as refuse) that decompose and produce compost.


  • Easiest method of organic composting; just dump refuse into a pile
  • Requires a section of your yard; pick a location down-wind of your home
  • Less sterile than enclosed bins
  • Takes longest time for breakdown


NOTE: Although compost can be made by dumping organic refuse into a pile, the resulting compost may not be organic. Synthetic fertilizer and other chemical treatments can compromise the quality of your compost, so take that into consideration when choosing this method.

Bins
Stacked compost bins against a white background

Bins

  • Box with air slits on the side; most common design
  • Provide protection from animals and pests
  • Keep the compost area tidy and contained
  • Allow for higher heaping which boosts heat by insulating the core of the pile
  • Should be designed so you can easily access and turn the pile


Tip: Set up two bins next to each other so you always have one bin actively decomposing and the other to consistently add waste to.


Tumblers
A compost tumbler against a white background

Tumblers

  • Cleanest way to compost
  • Best choice if you have limited yard space
  • Compact and easy to operate
  • Pest-resistant
  • Produce high-grade compost in less time as you can easily mix the compost
  • Smaller than other alternatives and most effective when all material is added at once instead of gradually
How Does Composting Work?

Bacteria make up 80 percent to 90 percent of the microorganisms that do the work of breaking down refuse in your compost bin. So while it may seem simple enough to just heap the debris on a pile and wait for it to change into soil, a very complex process needs to happen for the material to breakdown.


Microorganisms devour the waste on a cellular level, creating water, carbon dioxide and the most important ingredient, heat. A healthy compost pile will heat up to about 140 degrees at its core as the microorganisms do their work.

Cold Compost vs. Hot Compost

Cold compost is made by piling up materials and letting them break down for a year or two with an occasional turn if possible. It is susceptible to weed and seedling growth which can impede some of the organic composting process. Cold compost is typically created in compost piles or heaps placed out in the open with no containers.


Hot compost comes from a compost pile constructed with a balance of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials that are turned regularly, at least once every week or two. It is also kept evenly moist with occasional watering. Hot compost becomes very hot to the touch due to the organic breakdowns constantly occurring, killing weed seeds and many disease pathogens.

Stages of Composting

When the materials are first heaped together in a compost bin or pile, they begin the mesophilic stage. During this time, the temperature of the core will begin to rise, and microorganisms will start to form colonies and multiply within the pile. The mesophilic stage lasts for less than a week, and during this time you should see your compost "sag," or settle.


The second stage is the thermophilic phase; this stage sees your compost getting up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. When organic materials reach that temperature, seeds from weeds are killed, harmful bacteria die off and the pile starts to break down rapidly. The thermophilic phase can be assisted by making sure your compost pile is damp. A popular rule of thumb is that it should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. There should be sufficient air reaching the core of the pile.


Turning the pile once or twice during this stage will help get oxygen to the center, and turning the garden hose on the pile will supply enough water to keep the heat in. This stage can last up to three months depending on how much attention you pay to the heap, what you are trying to compost and what sort of bin or pile you are using.


The final stage of composting is known as the cooling stage. This is where the compost matures and the pile settles into a uniform mix. This can take up to four months. Turning occasionally is important. During this final stage, you may want to begin a second compost location and refrain from adding to the near-complete one.


Your compost is ready to use when it is a rich brown color, earthy smelling, free of large pieces of debris and has a crumbly consistency.