How do I Choose the Best Compost System?

Frank Lucien

When choosing a compost system, you typically will want to consider what type of system works best for your application. Basic systems include piles, bins, tumblers, and worm composters. Part of the system you will want to plan out is what items you can and can't add to your compost. For example, brown and green material typically should be added in a 3-to-1 ratio, while items like bones and meat should be avoided. Tools such as an aerator can help with the process as well.

A compost bucket.
A compost bucket.

A first consideration is what type of compost system device you will need: pile, bin, tumbler, or worms. Piles are simply that: piles of compost on the ground that rarely need tended. Bins are enclosed structures that allow the various elements of composting to work together. They can be made from wood, plastic, or metal, and typically maintain a temperature between 110° and 140° F (about 60° C) — this ideal temperature helps water, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and microorganisms to work together in breaking down organic waste. Also, the bin typically needs to have easy access so that material can be mixed and turned about once a week and retrieved for use once the composting is complete.

Red wiggler worms can be used for vermicomposting, one type of composting.
Red wiggler worms can be used for vermicomposting, one type of composting.

Compost tumblers typically allow you to turn the bin for mixing. The material in the tumbler needs to compost anywhere from one to six months before organic breakdown can occur. People who want fast results can set up a worm composter. Worms help speed the process and can reduce composting time closer to one month than six months. A typical worm composter can be small enough to fit in an apartment kitchen if you do not have a yard for a bin or tumbler.

A second key component in choosing the best compost system is deciding what should go into the compost and what should not. One rule of thumb states that green materials, such as plant trimmings, fruit and vegetable remnants, and grass clippings, make up one part; brown materials, such as leaves and soil, make up three parts. Bones, meat products, and cooking leftovers typically should not be added to compost, as these do not break down. Occasionally, water needs to be added for a proper balance. Turning or mixing once a week can help the materials break down, and adding lime can help control the pH factor in the mix.

Other equipment can be purchased to help make yours the best compost system. Accelerators are powders or pellets added to the mix to help with breakdown. Aerators are tools that help move the material around for mixing. Caddies allow you to move material from the kitchen to an outside composter, and thermometers allow for careful monitoring of the temperature.

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