Half-soil half-fertiliser, natural and organic compost is the secret ingredient green-fingered gardeners use in their thriving, blooming gardens.
Why not make it yourself? Get a good compost bin and you’ll have a year-in, year-out free supply of ‘homemade,’ high-quality compost.
What better to way to utilise your household waste than to transform it into garden compost? You can dump a jumble of rubbish, from eggshells through tea bags to newspapers, into a compost bin and watch it turn into what some gardeners call ‘black gold.’ Well, it may not be quite as simple as that but you sure don’t need a Ph.D. to use a composter to make compost.
A compost bin is ideally suited for making compost using the relatively less fussy ‘As You Go’ style of making compost. The other style, the ‘Batch Method,’ requires a balanced pile of composting materials first to be prepared, and it is perfectly suited to rotating tumblers.
The ‘As You Go’ method permits you to keep putting waste and refuse in the bin as and when you please, with two provisos. First, you have to be aware of the approximate Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio – the C:N ratio – in your bin at any given time. Go wrong one way, and the process of decomposition will shut down; go wrong the other way, and your bin will stink to high heaven. Second, make sure to tumble and churn the compost in the bin with an aerator – or even a pitchfork – every two or three days. If not, the materials will take much longer to decompose, and will also decompose very unevenly.
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Underneath we evaluate five compost bins in quite a variety of price points, capacities, designs, and even stylishness!
Without drawing attention, Concept’s plain jane composter quietly does the job, impressing you along the way, particularly with its functionality.
Concept’s ‘European’ composter has a no-nonsense industrial-style design with a somewhat corrugated look about it. It has a 300-litre capacity and is 83 centimetres high and 61 x 61 centimetres across but somehow manages to look bigger than it is. It has slits and holes for ventilation all over. Like most composters, it has no base and is open at the bottom.
It has a big lid on hinges and a sliding hatch door in front. The size of the lid makes it easy to use an aerator but it is also the weak link and is likely to give out first. The lid has two convenient clip-locks. Between the lid and the hatch, this super-practical bin offers excellent functionality. It is as easy to aerate the compost through the top as it is to scoop it out from the hatch.
A major advantage of this lidded, dark-coloured, and well-designed bin is that it builds up and retains considerable heat.
The fact is that Concept’s garden bin and its materials it is made of are quite good as such but in view of the bin’s size and capacity, a fullish load of composting materials will subject the sides to heavy stresses. Then when the same fullish load of composting materials is turned, the stresses only increase. As a consequence, the walls may bulge or start to give out.
Your impressions of this bin and the mileage you get out of it will depend on how you use it. Fill this big bin to about two-thirds to three-fourths capacity with slightly damp composting materials and you will be impressed with it and my even call it ‘robust.’ Fill it all the way up with very damp or wettish materials, and you may well be displeased and call it ‘flimsy.’
Concept delivers its bin as a flat-pack. Oddly, it is very simple and straightforward yet far from easy to clip and click together. It is easy to figure out just what goes where but the ‘clicking,’ especially of the lid, may take some doing.
For what you get, the price is quite reasonable. Without blowing us away, this all-round very practical and functional composting bin is our Best Pick.
- A no-frills compost bin of super-practical design that offers good functionality.
- Has numerous well-placed air vents yet builds up considerable heat.
- Placement and size of both lid and hatch are well nigh perfect and promote ease of use.
- The quality of the plastic is nowhere near good enough to hold a full load of damp composting materials.
- Assembly, though easy to figure out, can be hard and tedious.
- The less-than-robust lid will need to be handled with care.
May look ‘cheap’ and actually is very cheap in price, but Kangmeile’s compost bag is so correctly designed and works so well that it’s a top value.
Cost: Price not available
Kangmeile makes a flexible purpose-made bag for composting. It is made of a soft but thick PolyEthylene (PE) plastic. As a result, it is very lightweight, very portable, and very inexpensive, and so much so that you can buy it without any chance of suffering buyer’s remorse (as long as you understand you are not buying a rigid, durable bin).
This cylindrical bag is 80 centimetres high and 45 centimetres in diameter, making for a capacity of 162 litres. A smaller size measuring 60 x 35 centimetres (73.5 litres) is also available.
Kangmeile’s compost bag is not exactly a ‘cheapo’ item; it is clearly designed with some thought and care; consider— It has two handles, one on each side, made of thick nylon straps. Even the lid has a stitched-on handle! And just like regulation compost bins, this inexpensive ‘flexy’ kit has a roll-up hatch in the front. The hatch has velcro closures and also a velcro band to hold it open when rolled up.
This soft plastic bag takes shape and structure from the composting materials that may be inside it. When you get started and when the bag is barely filled, you may need to keep it upright by taping plant support sticks to it.
This composting bag should certainly not be seen as a long-term purchase; rather, it is more like a disposable product that can be used for a finite number of composting cycles. The important question is whether or not it can get on with the job, and the answer is, “Very much so.” Even if you get one year’s worth of composting from Kangmeile’s composting bag, at its rock-bottom price it is a Value Pick running away.
- For what may be seen as a ‘cheap,’ limited-use item, it is impressively well designed.
- Lid, hatch, handles, velcro closures – all very useful and welcome!
- So very inexpensive that it is a can’t-miss value deal.
- Not a durable product, and not meant to be either.
- Will not stay upright without support.
- In appearance it is most unlike a traditional bin and it is certainly not remotely stylish.
A staid, ‘traditional’ product, Blackwall’s bin is not impressively made and is not rugged; barely functional, it comes with a 10-year guarantee.
Cost: Price not available
Blackwall’s compost bin has a ‘standard’ shape, being semi-conical with a gentle taper. It is 100 centimetres high and 80 centimetres across at the base. These dimensions make for a capacity of 330 litres. A 220-litre ‘compact’ model is also available. For an item of its size this bin is surprisingly lightweight to the extent that a single gust of wind would blow it over.
The bin is open at the bottom; however, a baseplate is available separately as an accessory. It has no air vents, which is a bad miss in a costly composting bin. The snap-on hatch at bottom front can be removed completely. As for the lid, it is not robust and may crack or break. Furthermore, it is very fiddly to open and close. You’ll need to grasp the bin with one hand while you twist and tug the lid with the other!
When you are setting up the empty bin, Blackwall’s recycled plastic seems quite satisfactory and sturdy enough. However, it is when you start to fill this bin with composting waste that you start having concerns about the strength and quality of the plastic. For the volume of composting materials – 300-plus litres – that go into this bin, the plastic is thinnish and really not up to the task. If you fill it to no more than three-fourths capacity – or perhaps only two-thirds capacity if the composting materials are dense and damp – it will work out well.
Unlike other composters, this one comes with a very helpful leaflet which contains not only instructions but also provides composting information.
In sum, for what you get, Blackwall’s bin is costly and cannot be called a value buy. However, (surprise!) the manufacturer provides a 10-year guarantee.
- A good option for those who like traditionally-styled products.
- Backed by the manufacturer with a very long 10-year guarantee.
- The enclosed leaflet is very useful not only for its instructions, but also for the composting tips.
- The bin and its materials are neither strong nor good enough to take a full load of composting materials.
- The lid is a nuisance to open and close on top of which it is flimsy.
- Somewhat overpriced and not a good value for money.
Rough and ready, yes, but Gartenwelt’s open bin style wooden composter is also a ‘snap’ to assemble, is of super quality, and is sturdy and durable.
Cost: Price not available
Skilled DIYers have long made open compost bins using wooden planks and staves. Now even those who would get an ‘F’ in DIY can ‘make’ a wooden open composter, courtesy of Gartenwelt Riegelsberger. This is a traditional wood-framed open bin made of 16-millimetre planks of pressure-treated pine.
This bin is 70 centimetres high and 90 by 90 centimetres horizontally, making for a capacity of 567 litres. Gartenwelt Riegelsberger also makes this open bin in different dimensions of 60 centimetres high and 100 x 100 centimetres wide and deep, plus a third, larger size of the same height but 120 x 120 centimetres across.
Be aware that the planks may be moist or damp when you receive the kit. This should not be a problem so long as the planks or the assembled but empty bin stay out in the sun for a few days. Just be sure that the wood is fully dry before you start to put composting waste in the bin.
The quality of the pine wood is really excellent; moreover, the planks are very cleanly cut and are as precisely dowelled. It all makes for a sturdy, robust, crate-like bin that will last for a long time.
The rough and ready design means there is no lid and no hatch. When your compost is ‘cooked’ and ready, you can do any of the following:– Shovel the compost out of the top of the bin, disassemble some planks to make an opening, or simply lift up the wooden bin and put it in another spot, leaving behind a pile of compost.
Gartenwelt Riegelsberger delivers this bin as a flat-pack kit but putting this one together is a piece of cake. You simply slide and click the pieces into place, not dissimilar to what is done in boys’ assembly kits. —It’s not just Mercs and Beemers that that renowned ‘German Engineering’ applies to!
- Rough and ready it is, but the quality is from the top drawer.
- Simple but very sturdy and robust composting solution that will be durable.
- Though it requires ‘assembly,’ it is so quick and easy that Old Aunt Emma could do it.
- When the kit is delivered, the planks may be moist to damp.
- Nothing fancy – basically an enclosure made of wooden planks.
- When you need to get at your compost pile the simplest way is to lift off the wooden bin!
As ‘cute’ as can be, Envirocycle’s mini tumbler is not only chic but is also robust; it is very cleverly designed with useful features unique to it.
Cost: Price not available
Billed as ‘The Cutest Composter in the World,’ Envirocycle’s rotating mini-tumbler in pink is a chic, ‘designer’ composter. The rotating barrel is 48 centimetres long, and barrel and base combine for a height of 54.6 centimetres. The capacity is 65 litres. It is also available in black. While it is certainly ‘cute’, it is also sturdy and durable.
This little thing weighs 6 kilogrammes so we know it’s not exactly what one might call ‘plasticky.’ In fact, though it is made of plastic, it is a strong, hard-wearing plastic, specifically ‘food grade HDPE plastic’ that is ‘BPA, UV, and antioxidant protected.’
Envirocycle’s tumbler is not just stylishly designed but is also cleverly designed. The base has 4 small rollers on each side which make rotation as smooth and easy as it gets. As for the smart-looking grooves throughout the drum’s circumference, these add visual interest but they actually serve a practical purpose: they facilitate rotating the drum using your fingers. But before you roll it, be sure that the lid is fastened! Even the lid’s clasp is very well made and is easy to open and shut.
This kit has a compost tea-making base. The base has four drain holes in the centre into which compost tea drips. Four drain plugs are also supplied. The tea is ‘poured’ from a spout at the lower front of the base. The spout is kept closed with a cap during normal use. (Compost tea should be diluted before use.)
The downside is that if this tumbler is out in the open, then when it rains, rainwater gets into the base.
Because you can’t physically aerate and turn your compost as you can in a bin, if you do not manage this tumbler and the composting materials well enough you may end up with a damp, lumpy, half-cooked mess.
This tumbler is eye-wateringly expensive but the truism ‘you get what you pay for’ holds good in the positive sense if style and design matter to you. If you like purely practical and functional products, then you’ll find it way overpriced.
Envirocycle provides superlative customer support.
- As the manufacturer puts it, it’s ‘cute’ – but it’s also stylish, chic, and such.
- It’s also smartly designed – take the ‘gripping’ grooves or the compost tea-making base.
- Made of high-quality plastic of the finest and safest type.
- Very expensive, and those who are oriented to practicality and value would consider it overpriced.
- You are precluded from vigorously turning your compost with an aerator.
- If this tumbler is kept outdoors, rainwater keeps getting inside the base.
Two Important Considerations
About the C:N ratio. You need to keep the carbon and nitrogen balance in the right ballpark because the microbes and micro-organisms that do the decomposing need both: the carbon content is what is actually converted into compost while nitrogen is needed by the microbes and micro-organisms to thrive.
To achieve both ends and to get your compost to ‘cook’ like a runaway freight train, the C:N ratio in a bin should be between 30:1 and 40:1. Keeping in mind that what are colloquially called ‘Browns’ and ‘Greens’ among gardeners tend to be carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich respectively, you can hit the right balance. (See section What Can Go In A Compost Bin?for more information.) If you put roughly equal volumes of Browns and Greens, i.e. a roughly 1-to-1 mix, in your bin, your composting materials will stay within that magic C:N ratio of 30:1 and 40:1. In a compost bin it is okay to go up to a Brown:Green mix of 1-to-2 but not the other way around. Finally you have to be aware that while the C:N ratio of ‘Greens’ is in a narrow range, the Carbon content in ‘Browns’ has enormous variance. Therefore, be very sparing with some ‘Browns’ like wood chips and sawdust as their C:N ratios are extremely skewed toward Carbon.
Now to rotating and roiling your compost in-the-making. If composting materials are allowed to just sit in the bin, whatever is not too compressed and is in a ‘hot spot’ will ‘cook’ but materials that are compressed at the bottom or not sufficiently broken down will decompose very slowly or perhaps even not at all. Turning and churning compost with an aerator tears up the material into smaller pieces, changes around their positions in the bin, and ‘fluffs’ everything up, that is, creates air channels through the pile in the bin. The aeration promoted by these air channels are necessary for microbes to get down to business, turning cotton cloth and cucumbers into compost. Though you can use gardening implements like a pitchfork as an aerator, some commercial aerators are purpose-built so very well that they will aid in the making of high-quality compost.
What Can Go In A Compost Bin?
The simple answer is, ‘Any organic materials.’ In the presence of nitrogen, organic materials will decompose into compost. First, though, you do have to pick and choose the materials sensibly.
For instance, leftover meat is organic so it can go in a compost bin but it’s not exactly smart to actually do that. It will likely start to putrefy and emit a stench, and it will also attract rats and flies. Wood chips are also organic and may go in a compost bin but this material has an extremely high proportion of carbon – dumping a bagful of wood chips in your compost pile would seriously skew the C:N Ratio in your bin towards Carbon, which would palpably cool down the pile and greatly slow down decomposition. An organic material that novice composters should steer clear off are weeds of all kinds, and particularly pernicious weeds, as weeds usually need to be ‘prepped’ for composting.
As for what all can go in a compost bin, the first order of the day is to put a ‘starter’ in the bin to kick-start the ‘cooking.’ This can range from good quality loamy garden soil to a commercial ‘starting soil.’ All the following is fair game. First, some ‘Browns:’ Dry leaves, leaf mulch, corrugated cardboard, twigs, newspapers (shredded and soaked), and peat moss. Now to the ‘Greens.’ Plant clippings, mown grass, kelp and other seaweed, coffee grounds and tea leaves, hay and straw, and fruit and vegetable refuse and leftovers.
You need to keep the right balance between these ‘Browns’ and ‘Greens.’ For some pointers see section Two Important Considerations.
How Big A Compost Bin Do You Need?
The best answer to this question is to pose a few cause-and-effect questions. How much compost do you intend to make and use? What quantity of materials will you generate or source for the compost bin? How big is your garden? And how much time will you devote to making and managing compost? The more questions you answer with words like ‘little’ and ‘small,’ the smaller a compost bin you need; conversely, the greater the number of questions you answer with ‘a lot,’ the bigger a compost bin you need.
All that said, if you need to ask this question then you are new to compost making so choose accordingly. Compost bins are available in widely varying capacities. If your composting needs are limited and you feel they will stay limited, you can go for a compost bin with a capacity of 300 to 400 litres. But if you are serious about making compost and want your compost bin to ‘grow’ with you, shoot for a bin of around 700 litres.
Best of all, get two different kinds of bins with capacities of around 300 litres each. This way you can keep one full and ‘cooking’ while the other one is filling, automatically switching the two for every composting cycle. And you can also evaluate two different bins and see which one works out better for you.
Kersie learnt the basics of gardening as a toddler, courtesy of his grandfather. In his youth he was an active gardener with a preference for flowering plants. He is a professional and vocational writer and his freelance projects have spanned various kinds of writing.