Composting is one of my favourite gardening activities. Seeing what was once garbage being turned into important food for plants by microbes invisible to the naked eye is a truly amazing thing. It’s a reminder that there is so much going on around us that we can’t see.
Purchasing a compost bin for home use can be a daunting task. Knowing what system will work best for your family is key. In this article, we go through some options for composting at home.
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Do I need a compost bin to compost at home?
Short answer? No, you don’t need a compost bin to compost your food waste. But, for home use, it is highly recommended. The benefit of having an enclosed bin is it keeps unwanted critters out. Things like roaches, rats and raccoons can be attracted to your compost pile. If you have the space available (maybe half an acre or more) and the pile is far enough away from your home then having an open pile may be an option for you.
If you have the space for an open composting set up one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to put one together is by using shipping pallets. If you are in a country that is cold for a significant part of the year consider making something similar with concrete bricks to hold in the heat. The bottom of your composting area shouldn’t be covered. When your pile is in contact with the soil water can drain easily. This also allows beneficial insects and earthworms to populate the pile and help speed up the composting process.
Compost bins for home gardens
When choosing a compost bin for home use the most common model is a compost tumbler. We have 4 very large tumblers that we use to make our compost but most people don’t need something that large. Composting using a tumbler is a batched approach to composting. It is only when you’ve completely filled the compost tumbler that you start counting 8 to 12 weeks to have finished compost. For this reason, some of the best compost bins for home use come in pairs. One Compartment can be filled while the other is going through its various composting phases.
Large Dual Chamber Compost Tumbler
Dual Chamber Tumbling composter
Miracle Grow Small Composter
Another option would be a standing compost bin. The disadvantage of these models is that there isn’t always enough airflow. Especially if you are adding a lot of grass. lawn clippings (or grass) is one of my least favourite things to add to my composting system because it compresses easily reducing airflow. Too much of it can quickly turn your compost bin anaerobic. Also, most grass clippings tend to have a lot of weed seeds in them. If you decide to go with this option purchasing a compost aerator could really come in handy.
80 Gal Compost bin
113 Gal Exaco Aerobin
65 Gal Compost Bin
The positive of the standing compost bin is that you get a consistent supply of compost from the bottom of the bin. You don’t have to wait and then get a large batch of finished compost 12 weeks later. Just constantly feed your bin and pull the compost from the bottom of the compost bin whenever it’s convenient.
Homemade compost bin ideas
If you are wondering how to DIY your compost bin that is also an option. Most homemade compost bins don’t last as long as many commercial models (we’ve been using our tumblers for over 6 years now) but it is a good low-cost way to start. Once you are confident about sticking with it you can always upgrade down the road.
How to compost at home in a bin
Whatever bin you chose the principles around how to make compost from waste are the same. Aerobic composting needs 4 things:
- A source of carbon (your brown material)
- A source of nitrogen (also called your green material
When filling your compost bin try to add equal amounts of brown and green material. Brown material includes things like dried leaves, cardboard, and shredded (non-glossy) paper. Your green material would be things like food waste, green grass and coffee grounds.
Once the bin is full ensure it is getting enough air by turning it every few days. You don’t need to turn it every day, twice a week should be just fine.
Also, keep an eye on the moisture in your bin. The material should be as wet as a well-wrung sponge. If it’s too wet the bin will go anaerobic, if it’s too dry it won’t heat up properly. If are interested in the various composting phases and a more detailed look at the composting process we covered that in this article.
8 to 12 weeks after you put your last batch of material in the bin all of the material should be broken down and ready to be used by your plants. If you are keen on taking your compost to the next level we have a post on ingredients to improve the quality of your compost you may enjoy.
What not to put in a home compost bin
Composting at home and commercial composting systems are very different. Commercial systems are large enough that the volume of waste will heat up reliably and fairly easily. This excess heat kills off pathogens, weed seeds and many pests that may end up in the pile.
When composting at home you should avoid adding any meat or cooked foods to your bin as these can attract rodents and black soldier flies. Don’t add eggshells unless you wash them to remove the liquid on the inside. The albumen can be a breeding ground for salmonella. Crushing your eggshells with a rolling pin will increase the surface area available to the microbes and help the eggshells break down faster.
I would avoid putting weeds, and diseased plants in a smaller home system as well. The smaller the volume of your compost, the harder it is going to be for it to sustain high temperatures for long periods. If your compost pile doesn’t stay hot enough, for long enough it won’t kill off the weed seeds or certain pests. This could lead to an infestation of weeds competing with your plants when you get around to using your homemade compost.
Compostable materials and compostable packaging is something I think is worth addressing. Many materials are listed as compostable but can only be broken down in a commercial facility. Also, keep an eye out for things like compostable food containers and coffee cups made out of paper. Oftentimes these items contain a plastic film to stop the container from leaking that won’t break down in your home compost bins.
Composting without a garden
No Garden, No problem. Anyone can compost, even if you are in an apartment. It may not look the same as traditional aerobic composting, but it is indeed possible, I covered all the steps in this article.
If you have some yard space but don’t have any use for the actual compost itself then a green cone may be what you are looking for. A green cone is a biodigester, not exactly a composter. It uses the heat from the sun and active bacteria to break down the waste inside it. The plus side to this method is that you could put just about any food waste in your green cone, even small quantities of pet waste. There is no balancing brown and greens or sifting compost. After a year or 2 when your green cone becomes full, you just dig it up and move it to a new location.
Learning how to make compost at home from kitchen waste takes practice. Like I tell everyone that is willing to learn, nature does not require perfection. The composting method you choose has to be easy and fit your lifestyle. Otherwise, you probably won’t stick to it.
When you decide to start composting have a dedicated compost bucket for kitchen waste. Preferably something with a carbon filter to avoid any foul odours. If your family needs to compost lots of cooked food, meat and dairy bokashi composting may be worth looking into.
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