Composting For Dummies
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Different types of compost bins are available, including tumblers, bins, and kitchen composters. There are numerous options to suit different situations. Choosing the right bin for your composting needs can be confusing. But if you want to start container composting, here's a run-down of the available container types.

  • Tumblers: A basic tumbler style is shaped like a canister that you roll around the yard. Other styles include a large drum that rests on its aboveground stand with a hand crank to turn it, and smaller units that you grasp and spin as they rest on slightly concave pads on the ground.

    One problem with tumblers is that fresh, moist materials occasionally clump into a compacted, heavy ball. How easily you can turn the unit depends upon its style and weight, how much and what type of organic matter it's filled with, and any physical limitations you may have.

    A tumbler's enclosed sides foil pests from rooting through the organic matter for kitchen scraps.
    A tumbler's enclosed sides foil pests from rooting through the organic matter for kitchen scraps.
  • Open bins: Examples of open bins include homemade square bins made of shipping pallets and manufactured circular enclosures made of lightweight recycled plastic with pre-formed ventilation holes. Although they are easy and inexpensive to build, your material can dry out faster or become too wet, depending on climate.

  • Closed bins: Closed bins are sealed from the elements. Homemade wooden bins with hinged tops and sheet metal bottoms (with drainage holes) serve as an example. Many manufactured options are available. They retain moisture and discourages pests, but are more expensive to make than open bins are.

    A plastic, closed compost container.
    A plastic, closed compost container.
  • Stationary bins: These bins sit in one place for the duration, unless you exert time and effort to relocate them. Examples include a bin made of concrete blocks or a wooden three-bin unit.

  • Movable composters: Movable bins are nice if you have just one container and want to turn your compost regularly to aerate or remoisten it. Lift the container off the pile, set it aside, and fork or shovel the organic matter back in. Examples of easy-to-move containers include a homemade wire enclosure, a lightweight plastic model without a bottom, and a manufactured wire bin with collapsible sides.

    A wire compost bin with collapsible sides is easy to move around.
    A wire compost bin with collapsible sides is easy to move around.
  • Multi-bin systems: As you gain experience, you can easily add second and third bins. This can provide you with a steady supply of organic matter for your gardens because different bins are at different points in the composting process.

    If you live in an apartment or condo with zero access to outdoor space for composting, consider harboring a bin of worms to chow down on your food waste. Called vermicomposting, this method is fascinating and effective.

  • Countertop crocks: You may find it convenient to stockpile kitchen scraps destined for your outdoor bin in a small countertop container within handy reach of food prep areas. These units hold about a gallon of scraps.

    You can also toss scraps into a plastic food storage container with a tight lid and store it in the freezer to forestall any odors and flies. Transfer it to your outdoor compost operation when convenient. Rinse the container outdoors and pour the water on the compost pile contents.

    Rub lemon juice, vinegar, or baking soda inside kitchen scrap collection containers to remove odors naturally.

  • Bokashi composting: Bokashi kitchen composting mixes scraps with an inoculant (called bokashi) of beneficial microorganisms that hasten fermentation anaerobically while avoiding offensive odors. Bokashi containers don't create useable compost. Final decomposition takes place outdoors after you bury the material in the soil or a compost bin.

  • Green Cone: The Green Cone can handle all sorts of kitchen waste and food scraps, including meats, fish, bones, dairy, and oils. However, if you're going to add those items, secure the unit from pests.

    The Green Cone wasn't designed to produce useable finished compost. It's intended to recycle food scraps and keep them out of the waste stream.

  • NatureMill: This automatic, electric-powered unit includes an upper chamber that holds food scraps and a lower chamber for finished compost. A heater keeps the upper chamber's contents warm to facilitate decomposition. A fan pulls air in, and it exits via an air filter to control odor. The unit's computer chip tells the motor when to operate the upper chamber's mixing bar, which rotates for several minutes at a time. When organic matter has decomposed sufficiently, the unit sends it through a trap door into a holding tray in the bottom chamber. There, it sits to "cure" further until you're ready to harvest it.

About This Article

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Cathy Cromell is a writer and editor who's written extensively about gardening and landscaping. She is a certified master gardener, master composter, and master entomologist. The National Gardening Association is the leading garden-based educational nonprofit organization in the United States, providing resources at and

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