How To Choose The Best Compost Bin For You

Ready to buy a home composting system? Read this first.

February 13, 2017
handful of compost
Francesca Yorke/getty

Basic composting is dead-simple (Read:7 Things You Need to Know to Finally Start Composting). You can do it by doing nothing more than digging a hole in the ground, if you really want to. But composting bins—which help keep your pile tidy, animal-proof, and efficient— are a good investment. To help figure out which system is best for your needs, read on. 

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

The ultimate compost bin
Thomas MacDonald
Bin Composting

What is it?
T
hree connected open bins.

Who it’s for:
DIY-types with a yard.

How it works:
The first bin holds chopped-up raw scraps, which get added as needed to the second bin—the site of the active, composting pile, which should be turned with a garden fork as it builds. When the soil looks dark and crumbly, you’re done. Sift through for any material that hasn’t broken down completely and place it in the empty third bin.

Pros:
You can make a lot of compost quick. Great for bulky materials, like raked leaves.

Cons:
Space hogging and not animal-proof.

Get started:
Read our instructions for how to build a three-bin composting system yourself.

compost tumbler
Photograph courtesy of amazon
Compost Tumbler

What is it?

A barrel-shaped bin mounted on a stand and fitted with a crank.

Who it’s for:
Those with small outdoor spaces, decks, and patios.

How it works:
Put kitchen scraps, newspaper shreds, and materials from your lawn in the barrel. Turn the crank to accelerate decomposition. When the organic material appears to be breaking down, let the tumbler sit still, stop adding materials, and allow the decomposers to get to work.

Pros:
Compact, animal-proof, and tidy.

Cons:
Easily waterlogged by too many nitrogen-rich materials.

Get started:
Try the $239 Mantis Back Porch ComposTumbler.

Related: Is Half-Hearted Composting Better Than Nothing?

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worm composting
ROL Staff
Vermicomposter

What is it?
A bucket of worms.

Who it’s for:
City-dwellers and those who produce mostly food waste versus leaves or other lawn materials.

How it works:
A simple box filled with moistened shredded newspaper or cardboard provides a nice home for red wriggler worms, who are adept at plowing through food waste. The worms eat your food scraps and then poop. Their manure, which is the perfect pH for growing plants, becomes soil.  

Pros:
Smells are minimal. Space-saving.

Cons:
Worms can only be fed measured amounts of scraps at a time. Avoid certain foods, like dairy and citrus.

Get started:
Purchase worms at your local community garden, ecology center, or online. As for a system to keep them in, we like the $139 Worm Farm Composter.

bokashi composter
Photograph courtesy of bokashi
Bokashi Composter

What is it?
A gigantic pickling project.

Who it’s for:
People who want to compost meat, bones, dairy, and greasy or oily foods.

How it works:
The bokashi method isn’t actually true composting, but a fermentation process. In a sealable 5-gallon bucket, alternate layers of tightly packed organic materials with a sprinkling of Bokashi, which is a special mix containing anaerobic microbes.

Pros:
Decomposition happens extremely quickly. Fits in small spaces. Minimal odor.

Cons:
The results are highly acidic and must be further processed through a traditional composting system like a bin or tumbler to finish.

Get started:
Purchase a $135 bokashi composting kit.

Related: 7 Solutions To Common Compost Problems