The choices are confusing so let’s break down what types of composter are available. The main question I’ll be asking is not ‘What’s the best composter?’ but ‘What’s the best composter for you?’
Here are some of the issues to think about:
- Are you a dedicated composter who must achieve the maximum results? Or do you want the job done with a minimum of effort?
- How big is your garden and what size of compost bin will handle it?
- Do you have a constant supply of kitchen scraps as well as garden clippings?
- Static or tumbler? (and maybe you’re thinking what does that even mean?)
Even after learning about the types of composter there are dozens of must-have features to sift through too… But let’s sort out the big questions first.
Types of composter
Of all the types of composter a plastic compost bin is often the easiest option – but maybe easy is not the most important factor for a plastic purist. These bins are durable and lightweight and you can find some made of recycled plastic for a more eco-friendly garden. Contact your local council as they may offer special deals on a compost bin in an attempt to reduce the cost of their green waste collection service (where I live they charge for collection and there’s no chance of a deal but it’s worth checking).
Recycled plastic compost bin
available at Crocus
So how big a bin should you buy?
A key factor in making compost is generating heat within the compost bin. This is easier to achieve in a larger bin.
- For all types of composters there is one golden cut-off point: bins with less than 220 litre capacity take much longer to produce compost as they seldom reach the desired temperature. For a small garden 220 litre is the recommended size. Scale that up to a larger bin if you have a larger garden. You may be wondering what’s the definition of a small garden but there’s no recognised definition (: This is the best help I’ve found: “If you can throw a stone and hit your boundary fence, you have a small garden.”
- You’ll also find it easier to make compost if you have more than one bin. You can be putting fresh material in one bin while compost is ‘finishing’ in another. Obviously it takes a larger garden to generate enough material to fill two bins of 220 litres or more.
- If your garden is too small to fill 220 litres regularly there are other options. First consider whether you generate enough kitchen scraps to make up the difference. If you must choose a smaller bin, there are steps you can take to aid heat retention and generate the temperatures of a larger bin. The workarounds are easy, such as siting the bin in full sun or putting some old carpet or other insulation on top of the compost.
- And here’s a compact option if you only have a small quantity of kitchen scraps or grass clippings. Bokashi is a whole different composting system. It also produces a liquid feed which can be diluted for watering.
Twin pack of Bokashi compost bins
available at Ethical Superstore
Wooden composters and beehive composters often cost more than plainer types of composter but they do have an aesthetic appeal. This may be the key decider if you don’t like the look of plastic bins and you have few places to conceal them. There are fewer hiding places in a small garden so your compost bin may be more visible than you’d like. This is something to bear in mind if you take a look at Expert Design Tips for a Small Garden.
Aesthetic appeal or unavoidable eyesore?
Unlike their plastic counterparts, wooden bins often benefit from a modular design so can grow with your composting needs – you just have to build up the sides by one more panel. With other composters the next step up is a whole new bin. This means wooden bins are a practical option too. Remember with these designs that although white may be pretty a darker colour is better at retaining heat and that’s what a compost bin is supposed to do.
Rowlinson Wooden Beehive Compost Bin
available at Robert Dyas
Think about a water butt too: it makes sense for climate change as shown here. A matching pair makes a more cohesive garden design that takes away the shabby look of some compost areas. A water tank is also a key piece of advice in 12 tips to save garden water.
Static or tumbler???
A fairly new alternative to the conventional static compost bins sited on the ground are compost tumblers that are held off the ground on a stand. Instead of the heavy chore of regularly turning over your compost with a pitch fork you simply give the tumbler a spin.
available at Robert Dyas
Tumblers offer the advantage of processing your waste much more quickly than a static bin. This is useful if your garden generates so much clippings that a standard bin would fill up quickly leaving nowhere to store new garden waste. On the other hand, it’s often said that as tumbler compost bins are not in contact with the soil the resulting compost does not have the friable texture and nutrients introduced by worms and micro-organisms.
A composting purist may prefer to use a tumbler for only the first phase of composting, to mix up and aerate the materials, then transfer the contents to a static bin for the remaining few weeks.
Should you build your own composter from scratch or buy one ready-made?
You may prefer to make your own bin rather than buy one ready made. Here’s a useful tutorial to guide you on your way. If you know just what the composting process needs to make it work then all it takes is nailing a few pallets together. You can always fine-tune your design when you see the compost produced if you don’t get results that match the know-how built into ready-made bins.
You’re not limited to these types of composters. Some people decide to do away with a container all together and just pile the waste in a heap. If you have the space to let things sprawl this might be the easiest option when it comes to adding new material and mixing. The drawback of containerless composting is that it takes at least twice as long to make the compost..
So now you know the main types of composter. The key issue is that Size Matters. First of all consider how much compost clippings your garden can supply – there’s no point getting a bin that’s far too big for your needs.
When you’ve made a decision on size you next need to evaluate the importance to you of how good it looks.
And finally, be honest with yourself. How much commitment are you willing to give, and keep giving. You might be better with a tumbler if a static bin would end up as neglected as your gym membership?