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Backyard Compost Bin Roundup

Backyard Compost Bin Roundup

More communities now offer compost pickup services along with trash and recycling pickup. But most Americans don’t have access to a composting service and avid gardeners have better uses for their food and yard waste. For these folks, a variety of compost bins are available to help you compost their own backyards.

If you’re new to composting, it’s important to understand what you can compost. Backyard compost systems can’t manage some of the materials that commercial composting services can, because they don’t get hot enough. Meat scraps, bones, and dairy products should not go in your bin. However, you can compost nearly all fruit and veggie waste, coffee grounds, and tea bags along with garden waste and paper, including toilet paper rolls, in a backyard compost bin. After all of this unwanted material rots together, it becomes nutrient-rich compost that you can use in your garden or offer to your green-thumbed friends and neighbors.

There are many different models of composters you can buy or build yourself. They all are intended to contain the compost and reduce unwanted outdoor visitors (think raccoons and bears). Some bins help users mix the compost so that it rots better, others protect against cold, and some models can be used indoors. And any of these options, if managed correctly, should not produce unpleasant odors. Let’s take a look at some of your choices for backyard compost bins.

Three-bin backyard composting system
Feeling handy? You can make a three-bin composting system yourself. Image: Gail Langellotto

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Rotating Bins

Rotating compost bins keep decomposing food and yard waste contained while helping users mix their compost. Why is mixing important? Periodically turning the material in your compost pile provides needed oxygen for the material to break down. Some rotating bins contain dual chambers. This allows you to put new materials in one compartment while materials in the other compartment finish turning into compost.

Single-chamber compost tumbler
Single-chamber compost tumbler. Photo: Amazon

Composting material in rotating bins will not be in contact with the ground. So backyard composting families might need to add worms and a compost “starter” to give your new compost pile a boost in the beginning and speed up the decomposition process.

Simple Open Bins

There are many open compost bins that touch the ground, inviting in insects, worms, and other wildlife. This sort of compost bin simply encloses the compost and can be made out of wood or plastic. While they allow for airflow, compost in these bins will need to be mixed or aerated occasionally with an aerator or another tool, such as a pole or pitchfork.

Open backyard compost bin made of cedar
Cedar open compost bin. Photo: Amazon

Many people also choose to DIY compost bins with pallets, milk crates, or landscaping blocks. Composting doesn’t need to be complicated and open bins are the simplest way to go.

Simple Bins With a Lid

This type of bin has a lid on top that you can open or remove to add new material to your pile and then securely close to keep curious critters out of your compost. The bin is open to the earth below it, allowing worms and insects to help with the composting process. Most bins of this style are made of plastic and have a little door at the bottom of the bin so you can access your finished compost.

Plastic compost bins with lids
Simple plastic compost bins have a lid and lower removable panel for easy access to the finished compost. Photo: Tejvan Pettinger

Cold-friendly Compost Bins

If you live in a very cold climate, chances are that an open compost bin or a rotating composter will freeze shut in the winter. This won’t hurt your compost in the long run but you won’t be able to add new food scraps to your frozen composting system. If this is a problem for you, consider an insulated compost bin. Another option is the Green Cone, which has a lower compartment you bury in the ground.

Insulated compost bin for year-round composting
If you live in a cold climate, an insulated bin lets you keep composting in the winter. Photo: Amazon

Options for Small Spaces

Apartment dwellers or those with a small yard may not be happy with any of these space-hogging composting methods. But don’t worry, there are also a variety of composters for small spaces, including the following.

Vermicomposting, a composting method you can use inside or outside, employs composting worms to break down kitchen scraps for you. These are not your normal earthworm; composting worms eliminate food, leaving behind worm castings (yep, poop) that you can use as plant fertilizer. The materials break down quickly in worm bins that can fit in a closet, under the kitchen sink, or outside.

The Subpod is an easy-to-manage vermicomposting system. It comes in a variety of versions and sizes to fit into a garden, on a balcony, or even a large window garden. The bin is placed into the soil so that the worms can move back and forth between the compost and the soil, while the composted materials feed your garden plants directly.

Subpod vermocomposting system
The Subpod bin is placed into the ground to allow worms to move back and forth between the compost and surrounding soil.

Bokashi composting is an indoor composting method that ferments the food waste in a special airtight container, which is necessary for Bokashi’s anaerobic fermentation process (unlike the aerobic process of traditional composting).  The container has a spigot so you can drain off the “tea” that’s created as part of the process (use it to fertilize houseplants). The end result is a fermented material that you can bury in the garden, add to a regular compost pile, or feed to the worms in a vermicomposting bin.

Start small and grow

Composting produces rich soil that can give your garden a boost but there’s also real pleasure to be had in tending a natural process. Getting started doesn’t require you to go all-in and try to compost everything. Based on our experience, though, once you start to see the results — less waste headed to the landfill, food scraps turning into gardening soil — you’ll find yourself identifying new materials to compost.

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