How to Pick a Composter

A good compost pile is an important factor in an organic garden. It’s your best source for many of the nutrients your garden needs. But figuring out which one is best for your particular situation may not be easy.

For some an indoor model may be best. Others would rather do it outside. Then you have to consider how much volume you’re going to need available, as well as how quickly you want it all to work and how much effort you want to put into composting.

The Cheap Outdoor Solution

My husband and I use one of the cheapest but sometimes labor intensive methods. Our landlords left some cinder blocks behind the shed from a project they had done. Turned out to be enough for us to create a space to put our compost.

This compost pile solution works well for us, but it takes some work. My husband goes out when he has some time to turn the pile. Often he’s amazed at how quickly certain things have broken down. But when things get busy and he doesn’t have the time to deal with it properly, it definitely slows down.

Building with leftover materials obviously has a lot of green appeal. We didn’t have to buy anything. I love having a zero waste solution for handling food scraps and other compostable materials.

The negative, of course, is that critters can come and nibble on anything we don’t bury well enough. That means we have to be careful about the kinds of food scraps we put in. We don’t want to attract too many of the wrong kinds of critters.

Most people, of course, don’t just have the materials lying around to build something like that. You may also want more protection from having critters come into your yard and more freedom as to the types of food waste you can toss into the bin. That’s where buying a composter can make a lot of sense.

Buying an Outdoor Compost Bin

There are a couple of types of outdoor compost bin. The basic ones are rather like what my husband built, but generally with a lid to keep the critters out.

My mother, for example, has had something that at least looks rather like this Soilsaver Compost Bin for many years. Two of them, in fact. They do a good job. They’ve held up for quite a number of years and show no sign of breaking down. The lids go on nicely, although she doesn’t use them much since a lot of what she composts is grass clippings. I’m not 100% certain that this is the brand she has, but it looks just like it.

With this style, you can either just leave the food and yard waste in there and wait for it to decompose, or you can be more active and try to turn the pile. You generally need to just take the bin off the pile and then reload it in a new spot with these. They aren’t that easy to turn with the material in them, and getting it out otherwise is a bit difficult.

Another style is a bin that you can crank a handle or otherwise rotate to turn the pile. They come in a variety of sizes. Some are easier to turn than others, of course, and they naturally are a closed container that will keep the critters out. Couldn’t rotate them otherwise! This Green Tumbleweed Composter is an example of a rotating compost bin. Others will be more like a barrel on its side, rather than standing up, but they work in a similar manner.

With an outdoor composter, you need to think about how much work you want to be doing with it. Do you want to turn the pile regularly? A rotating one is probably much simpler. Want to toss stuff in and mostly leave it, doing a slower compost? A plain compost bin is probably a better buy.

Buying a Worm Tray Compost Bin

If you want your composting to go fast, vermiculture may be for you. The worms do much of the work for you, but they can be a bit picky. You really cannot put in onions or meat scraps if you want your worms to be happy. Then again, you probably don’t want meat scraps in most outdoor composters as they can attract critters.

You can make your own as described in this Worm Farm DIY ebook, or buy one like this Gusanito Worm Farm 3 Tray Garden Compost Bin. The tray system allows the worms to migrate upward as they create your compost.

Buying an Indoor Composter

If you don’t have the space or just want to do things indoors, there are systems to create your compost inside that will not stink the house up. Mostly they use carbon filters to control the odor. They may be plastic or stainless steel.

These are nice if you don’t want to have to run outside all the time to dump your scraps, or if you live in an apartment and are composting for dumping elsewhere. You will want to think about the size you can deal with, both in terms of the space you have to store one and how quickly you think you will fill it.

Indoor composters can have trouble with fruit flies. Banana peels are a common source of fruit fly eggs, and so you may want to avoid placing these in your indoor composter. Your nearest rose bush may appreciate them more.

If you really want to get composting going, look for one that you can use with microbes, often called Bokashi. This composts through fermentation and can work in 10 days. You’ll have to keep buying the microbes, but it’s a quick system if you want to do it all indoors.

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