Choosing The Best Compost Bin For Your Garden

02/05/2019

If you enjoy gardening or want to do your bit to help save the environment, composting is an easily accessible method for most people.

Composting is the process of taking your kitchen and garden scraps and turning them into compost - nutrient dense soil that can be used as fertiliser throughout your garden, soil amendment if you’re dealing with a tricky soil type, or a free alternative to buying your own. Composting works by using heat, moisture, and sometimes helpful organisms to break down your kitchen and garden waste into soil.

Compost is especially useful if you enjoy tending to your garden or growing your own vegetables. However, choosing a compost bin can be a bit confusing, especially if you’re new to gardening.

There are many different types of compost bins of which can be split into various categories and subcategories. However, we’re going to stick three main types:

Plastic Compost Bins

These bins are generally the easiest to maintain. They are conical or box-like in shape, tend to be dark green, brown or black, and have a lid. The lid helps keep heat and moisture in, and mammals and light out. Keeping out the light means that any traces of weeds won’t be able to grow in your bin.

The design of these bins is both lightweight and durable, although you should check that the plastic has been UV treated so it doesn’t become brittle after a couple of years in the sun.

The minimum size plastic bin you’d want to go for is 220L as anything smaller will struggle to retain enough heat and significantly lengthen the composting process.

Many plastic compost bins have an open bottom which means they’re ideally placed on soil or grass. The open bottom allows beneficial organisms like worms to get to your scraps and aid in the composting process. Without these organisms it can take much longer for your scraps to break down into useful material.

At the bottom there is usually a removable door allowing you to access the final compost, though bear in mind that the material will be wet and compacted so it won’t easily crumble out. You may need to break up the material with a garden fork, and push the material down from the top. If you regularly (every week or so) and effectively turn your compost this should help with compaction. You can do this with a garden fork or spade.

Of all the compost bins you can choose from, a plastic bin is the most affordable readymade option. For someone who wants to get started with composting as soon as possible, you can go out and buy a bin in the morning and be composting by the afternoon. There isn’t any set up or building involved, you just need to find a place to put it.

Here is an example of a plastic compost bin from Amazon.

Homemade Compost Bins

If you want to save on cash or prefer to go down the reuse and repurpose route, you can try building your own compost bin. Many people will use wooden pallets or corrugated metal sheets to build their own bin, although if you have access to scrap planks of wood these can easily be used too.

The easiest set up is to create a square or rectangle bin. Build three of the sides to a certain height to keep all the composting material in, and then either make the fourth side lower for easy access, or removable. The latter would be the best option when it comes to turning and removing your compost.

You can choose to keep your homemade compost bin open, however this will prolong the composting process. It could take twice as long, or even longer (which could result to over 12 months for the composting process to be complete). This is because an open compost bin won’t be able to retain as much heat or moisture as a closed bin, and these are both integral to the composting process.

If you’re not in a rush to use your compost then there’s nothing wrong with making an open compost bin. If you’d like to be able to use your compost more than once every 12+ months, build a lid for your bin and try to make it as insulated as possible. This means that if you build your bin with wooden pallets, seal up the gaps first to keep heat in.

As with a plastic compost bin, the bottom will be open allowing organisms in to help with the composting process, so make sure you build your bin on grass or soil.

Tumbler Compost Bins

Tumblers are metal or plastic cylinders suspended on a stand - normally made from aluminium. They have a handle that, when turned, turns the cylinder and mixes up the contents.

Tumblers are brilliant for the first phase of composting as they allow for good mixing and aeration of your kitchen and garden scraps. If you can keep moisture levels optimal and turn the tumbler daily, you could have a batch of usable mulch ready in a few weeks.

That being said, the result is a mulch and not fully completed compost. So, although the process is much quicker, the result isn’t quite the same. This is because the tumbler is suspended and can’t allow organisms to get at the materials to help with the composting process.

The ideal combination would be a tumbler to start off the composting process, and then a separate compost bin to move the mulch into to complete the process. This combination will be quicker than just using a compost bin.

There are a couple of things to remember if you plan on getting a tumbler compost bin; firstly, they are the most expensive option. The bigger the tumbler, the more they cost. You also want to make sure that the tumbler you buy has a very sturdy base that can take the weight of all the material when the tumbler is full.

Also, if you are not very mobile, a tumbler can become difficult to turn as it fills up. Turning the handle when the tumbler is near full capacity could be very challenging. You can avoid this by not filling it up as much, but you will need to empty the tumbler more regularly.

Here is an example of a tumbler compost bin from Amazon.

Choosing The Best Compost Bin For You

You have a lot of options with these three types of compost bin. When it comes to determining which is the best choice for you, you need to think about what you need from your bin.

The most ideal compost bin setup, no matter which type you choose, would be to have two bins - or if you built your own bin, making more than one compartment. One for new kitchen and garden waste, and one for waste further along in the composting process. This will also make turning your compost a lot easier, as you’d just need to move material from one bin to the next.

That being said, there is no right or wrong choice. The key part to choosing the right compost bin for you is getting one that best suits your needs, and what you want from the bin. Carefully think about this before buying to make sure you spend your time and money on an option that will be the best fit.

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