There are a bewildering amount of different composting systems and bins available on the market. This article will help you choose which bin or system suits your lifestyle, your family, your house, or apartment.
Composting systems broadly fall into two types:
- THE FIRST TYPE deals with fresh, uncooked fruit and vegetable skins and peelings, cardboard and paper, as well as green garden waste materials—prunings, hedge clippings, etc.
- THE SECOND TYPE deals with all but can also be used for other food wastes as well, such as cooked food, meat, fish, cheese, fats, and grease.
Level 1: COMPOSTING SYSTEMS FOR THE BEGINNER
The compost bin that most people are familiar with is the plastic ‘Dalek’-type bin. Sizes vary from 50 gallons to over 175 gallons; some have access/inspection hatches, and they come in a variety of colors. These bins are available through some sanitation departments, water companies, garden centers, and on-line.
Because uncooked fruit and vegetable waste is dense and wet, one way to deal with it is to aerate it by putting it in a tumbler. A tumbler consists of a drum mounted on a stand; they either tumble end over end, or around on their axis. They are also useful for dealing with perennial weeds and for mixing materials. However, they take up a lot of space. The coarse compost they produce can be used directly on the garden or can be placed in a covered pile in your garden to enable it to mature to a finer product.
The most common digester is the Green Cone. It consists of a basket, rather like a washing basket, which is buried in the ground with a double-skin cone, which is all that is visible above ground. This makes it difficult for rats to get in. The material breaks down and is pulled into the surrounding soil by worms. A digester is more of a waste-disposal option, since you don’t harvest the compost.
Green Cones are available on-line and at some big garden centers. See Solarcone, Inc .
Level 2: COMPOSTING SYSTEMS FOR THE ENTHUSIAST
As your confidence and understanding of composting increases, you will want to increase the range and amount of materials you compost. Certain materials present us with challenges, and just about anything in large quantities can be a challenge. Once you feel more confident you can move away from making compost in a plastic container and make your own compost heap, or even a ‘hot heap.’
THE HOT HEAP
This system gives you the opportunity to make much larger quantities of excellent compost quickly to use on your garden. It’s also fascinating and fun.
- Option 1: No box – a pile on the ground
Assemble as much material as you can–ideally enough to make a 4’ x 4’ roughly cube-shaped pile. You can heap the materials up as high as you can reach–it will end up being conical.
- Option 2: Put it in a box
You can make a cheap simple box to contain your heap out of old pallets. These can simply be tied together, and you can easily insulate them if desired.
- Option 3: Use two boxes
twoboxes.pngThe ’Rolls-Royce’ design for this type of heap is the New Zealand box. You can buy one ready-made, or construct your own.
When the heap is built, cover it with some old plastic sacks to keep in the water vapor that will be given off and some old carpet that will help to keep the heat in.
Level 3: A CERTIFIED (AND CERTIFIABLE) COMPOSTER – Web Exclusive!
For those of you who want to climb to the top of the compost mountain, you will need to get there through humanure. Well…not through humanure…but by composting your—and your family’s—waste. This is the ultimate in compost creation and it has many benefits to boot. And yes, I mean more than just the poop jokes.
- Option 1: A mobile bucket. Some people elect to cap an unfortunate bucket with a customized toilet seat and sealing lid. Then they simply use the bucket as their toilet. (See here.)
- Option 2: A built-in. Some folks prefer to remove their old toilet in favor of a built-in installation of the new compost toilet. (See here. )
- Option 3: The Hacienda. Serious humanure enthusiasts dedicate some square footage in their yard to a ‘humanure hacienda.’ This is essentially an out-house, and is most appropriate in warmer climates. (See here. )
The Humanure Pile
Composting humanure isn’t much different from the techniques above. The major difference is volume.. This means that you will need more than one (preferably three) sizable (about 5 ft tall by 4 ft square) compost bins. You should fill up each bin, each year, and then leave it to compost while you move on to the next bin. Start each bin by filling the bottom 18 inches or more with course, absorbant organic material. This will act as a biological sponge.
The humanure pile, like the contents of your toilet bucket, must always be covered with a clean organic material. On top of the clean organic top layer, you should place some sort of wire fencing to keep larger rodents out of the pile. This is especially necessary if you choose to combine your humanure and food compost.
Using the Compost
Once a compost bin is full and ready (after a year of aging), you can begin to use the compost for agricultural purposes.
References and Resources:
- Composting: An Easy Household Guide  by Nicky Scott 
- The Humanure Handbook  by Joseph Jenkins 
- Wild Fermentation  by Sandor Katz 
- Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning  by Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivant 
- Joseph Jenkins, Inc. 
- Joe’s Videos on YouTube