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Choosing the Best Compost Bin


Compost Bins: Selecting the Best Type For You
by Dawn Lesley Stewart

I have been composting yard waste for a number of years. My huge vegetable garden, many flower beds, and plenty of leaf-bearing trees in the yard make it easy to fill a compost bin. Over the years I have used several styles of compost bins and methods. There are definitely pros and cons to the different types. 

Compost 101:  In order to make compost you need organic material (a wet and dry mix is good), ventilation, light, and moisture … as well as a place for the compost to form. To aid in the breakdown of the organic material (leaves, garden debris, vegetable peels, etc.), the compost should be regularly turned. Turning the compost also aerates it so that there is no excessive heat buildup.

Here’s a breakdown to help you choose which composting method might work best for you.

Compost Heaps

Out back in the corner of my yard (hidden from view) is a compost heap. This is a medium-size pile of yard waste that mostly includes leaves raked from the back portion of the yard. This pile is pretty much left to itself. It gets turned every once in a while, and given time, the leaves breakdown and create wonderful compost. This last spring, I loaded the wheel barrel multiple times with a compost-dirt mix, and filled a good size depression in the lawn caused from tree roots being removed. I then reseeded the area. The grass is growing great.

There are downsides to a compost heap. 1) The pile can grow large and become unsightly unless it is camouflaged by bushes, trees, or a shed. 2) It is recommended to turn compost, and having a pile of garden debris can be a bit tricky to turn (depending upon the size of the pile). 3) I find it takes longer for a pile of garden waste to turn into useable compost as compared to some other composting methods.

The upside to a compost heap is that you can keep adding to the mound and not have to worry about overflowing a compost bin.

Direct Composting

I like to add mulched leaves to my vegetable garden in the autumn. This enriches the soil and encourages earthworm propagation (they eat decaying organic matter). So during the autumn, I use a mulching mower and chop the leaves into confetti size pieces. Then I evenly distribute the leaves in a thin layer throughout the garden, turning them into the soil. Over the winter and come spring, the leaves further breakdown, creating compost.

The downside to this method of composting is that if too many leaves are added, or not chopped into fine enough pieces, they will not breakdown in the garden. Then you are left with gobs of leaves to work around when planting in the spring.

The upside is that this is an easy way to dispose of mulched leaves, and the garden benefits from the enriched soil.

Composting Storage Bins

During the years, I have worked with several bins made from plastic. Some of these free-standing bins are better than others.

My first experience with a composting bin came from my town. They provided free bins to each household in an effort to promote composting. The bins were in the form of very large stiff black plastic pieces in the shape of a circle. Atop the circle sat a solid plastic domed lid with some holes punched in it.  These bins were difficult to use. It was a challenge turning the compost within them, and also a pain to remove the compost. A shovel was required, as well as leaning over the circular walls to dig. The lids did not let in enough water, and all that black plastic did not provide enough aeration. It took forever for the garden waste to breakdown, plus the stiff plastic circles began to warp. While I hated this particular method of composting, the town did increase my interest in finding a better way to make compost.

Enter the Deluxe Pyramid Composter. After doing a lot of research and seeing what was out there … I decided this style of composting bin would work best for me. And I was right. This type of bin comes in several shapes, most of them vertical with either round or squared sides. The one I have has squared sides and stands about three feet high and is 28” square. This unit also has a hinged lid for access from the top, and two doors (one at the front and one at the back) that slide vertically open and closed. These sliding doors allow me to shovel out the compost that has formed at the bottom of the bin. The lid top is in the shape of a pyramid. This allows rainwater to slide down the pyramid and into the bin through plenty of ventilation holes.  I use a pitchfork or Garden Claw to stir the compost.

Rotating or Tumbler Bins

Another consideration is to purchase a composting bin that is mounted on legs or a stand. A barrel is horizontally suspended above the ground, and there is often a handle to turn so that the barrel rotates. This is an easy way to turn compost. A downside to using a bin of this style is that due to the fact it rotates, there may not be a lot of ventilation holes. Also, depending upon the size of the door and how the stand is constructed, it could be a challenge to remove the compost. However, a nice upside is that these bins are available in many sizes … including those on wheels. If you need to move the compost bin, this is a nice feature.

Make Yourself A Compost Bin

Use an internet search phrase such as “make a compost bin” or “build a compost bin”. There are a lot of how-to instructions for various ways to create one. Some of the instructions are relatively simple and not time-consuming. One way to construct a compost bin is to make one from a sturdy trash can. Other plans can become more elaborate involving cutting wood and using wire mesh. If you build your own bin, you can customize it to your exact needs.

Happy Gardening !

Dawn Lesley Stewart has enjoyed organic gardening for over forty years, learning at a young age from her father. First love is vegetable gardening followed by her interest in butterfly and bee habitats. She considers her yard a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. Her writing has appeared online and in print and has won writing awards. Dawn is the author of Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day (picture book), Mist-Seer (paranormal novel), and her newest book 300-Plus Quilting Tips, Tricks & Techniques features over 35 years of quilting knowledge.

Copyright 2010 Dawn Lesley Stewart

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Copyright 2000 Dawn Lesley Stewart