How to Compost and the Different Types of Compost Bins

Learn about the different types of compost bins and what household items can be composted.

Composting is the natural breakdown of organic matter to produce a crumbly nutrient-rich soil. The resulting compost can be added to other soil types as a fertilizer, forming an excellent growing medium for plants. By managing this natural process in your own garden, you can dispose of waste, and produce an agent that will improve the look and yield of any plants and flowers. Regardless of the size of your outdoor space, there will be a composting solution to suit your needs.

Making Compost

Theories vary on how to produce the perfect compost, but there are some general rules. Firstly, a suitable container or store is required. Different types and designs are shown here, including homemade, shop-bought, and recycled varieties. As the natural process of composting generates heat, storing compost in a container enables the heat to be retained more easily, and allows for the efficient breakdown of material. It is best to keep a compost heap covered to retain this heat, and to prevent rain from making the compost too wet. While some moisture is needed, it is usually supplied in the form of moist grass cuttings and other green waste.

Building Up Layers

A system of layering different materials will aid the composting process and enhance the finished product. A layer of coarser, more fibrous material, for example, will introduce air to the center of the heap, which is vital as composting is an aerobic process. However, this may not always be a straightforward task. In the height of summer, for example, the majority of layers are likely to be grass clippings, so it is important to make sure you break up large amounts of one material with other layers—perhaps from the kitchen.

The process of composting takes between two and nine months. You will need to gain access to the base of the heap to take out the crumbly, fully decomposed compost for use on the garden. Some containers have an access hatch at the bottom of the container, while others may need one side to be disassembled so that the bottom level of compost can be dug out.

Slatted bins are great for gaining access to the bottom of the heap. The sides are easily disassembled, and the compost is normally integrated enough not to spill out (image below).

Slatted Bin Affords Easy Access

Slatted Wooden Bin

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Slatted bins are great for gaining access to the bottom of the heap. The sides are easily disassembled, and the compost is normally integrated enough not to spill out.

Different Types of Bins

Purpose-built plastic bins are fitted with a hatch at the bottom for easy access of composted material (image 1). A slatted wooden bin encourages greater air circulation, improving the ventilation of the heap (image 2). A wooden sectioned bin can be disassembled in layers, allowing the heap height to be raised or lowered as required (image 3). As well as looking attractive, a hurdle-style compost bin offers good ventilation. The heap is accessed by removing one side (image 4). A concrete bin may have a block or slatted structure. Unlike its wooden alternatives, it will not rot (image 5). Large recycled containers, such as those used to deliver building materials, make ideal compost bins (image 6).

Green Plastic Bin

Plastic Compost Bin

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Purpose-built plastic bins are fitted with a hatch at the bottom for easy access of composted material. They are attractive and they don't rot.

Slat Bin

Slat Wood Compost Bin

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

A slatted wooden bin encourages greater air circulation, improving the ventilation of the heap.

Pouring Waste Into a Wooden Sectioned Bin

A Wooden Sectioned Bin

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

A wooden sectioned bin can be disassembled in layers, allowing the heap height to be raised or lowered as required.

Hurdle Compost Bin Allows Good Ventilation

Hurdle Style Compost Bin

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

As well as looking attractive, a hurdle-style compost bin offers good ventilation. The heap is accessed by removing one side.

Concrete Container

Concrete Compost Container

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

A concrete bin may have a block or slatted structure. Unlike its wooden alternatives, it will not rot.

Compost Bin

Recycled Compost Container

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Large recycled containers, such as those used to deliver building materials, make ideal compost bins.

Wormeries

A wormery performs the same task as a compost heap, but on a smaller scale. Worms are kept inside a suitable container, where they eat organic matter; their waste products are then used as a fertilizer. Tiger worms are best for the job, as they live and feed on decomposing compost (unlike common earthworms, which prefer to burrow in soil). You can make your own wormery, or buy a kit that comes with a supply of tiger worms.Composting is the natural breakdown of organic matter to produce a crumbly nutrient-rich soil. The resulting compost can be added to other soil types as a fertilizer, forming an excellent growing medium for plants. By managing this natural process in your own garden, you can dispose of waste, and produce an agent that will improve the look and yield of any plants and flowers. Regardless of the size of your outdoor space, there will be a composting solution to suit your needs.Theories vary on how to produce the perfect compost, but there are some general rules. Firstly, a suitable container or store is required. There are different types and designs, including homemade, shop-bought and recycled varieties. As the natural process of composting generates heat, storing compost in a container enables the heat to be retained more easily, and allows for the efficient breakdown of material. It is best to keep a compost heap covered to retain this heat, and to prevent rain from making the compost too wet. While some moisture is needed, it is usually supplied in the form of moist grass cuttings and other green waste.

Materials That Can Be Composted

The complete list of items that can be composted is extensive, but it can be categorized generally as either brown waste or green waste. Although all organic matter will compost, it is advisable not to compost items that may attract vermin or disease.

Green Waste Items For Composting

As the name suggests, this category includes all types of green leafy garden waste. Other types of fast-rotting waste material is also included in this group. All these items have a high nitrogen content

Example Ingredients:

  • Fresh grass clippings are a plentiful summer supply and should be layered with other items.
  • Flowers - stems should be chopped up; don't use diseased plants.
  • Nettles act as good natural activators.
  • Vegetable and fruit peelings can be added straight to the heap from the kitchen.
  • Vegetable crop residue, such as potato and tomato plants.
  • Young weeds, but avoid perennials.
  • Herbivore manure, such as from horses, cows and rabbits.
  • Tea leaves, but tea bags will take longer to break down.
Garden Clipping

Green Yard Waste

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Green waste like these yard clipping from shrubs and bushes make ideal compost material.

Brown Waste For Composting

This category refers to the slower-rotting items that have a high carbon content.

Example Ingredients:

  • Dead or fallen leaves - use only small amounts
  • Shredded paper
  • Coffee grounds and filter - use only paper filters
  • Cardboard torn into small pieces
  • Woody hedge clippings and twigs ideally put through a shredder
  • Sawdust mixed well with more aerated material
  • Herbivore bedding, such as hay and straw
Slow-Rotting Composting Material

Brown Waste for Composting

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Composting brown waste refers to the slower-rotting items that have a high carbon content. These materials include dead or fallen leaves, shredded paper, coffee grounds and filter, cardboard, yard clippings, sawdust, straw and hay.

Other Items for Composting

There are a number of other items that are not immediately obvious candidates for composting but that are nevertheless suitable.

Example Ingredients:

  • Egg shells washed and crushed up
  • Hair - either human or animal hair since both are high in nitrogen
  • 100 percent wool or cotton cut into small pieces or tumble-dryer lint
  • Vacuum-bag contents, but use common sense as to what has been picked up
  • Wood ash in small quantities
Garbage for the Compost Pile

Household Compost Waste

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited View original photo.

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Other household items good for composting include egg shells, hair, wool, cotton, vacuum-bag contents and wood ash.

Items Not to Compost

Although all organic material breaks down, avoid the following as they may attract vermin and harbor potential pathogens:

  • Meat and fish (cooked and raw) can harbor disease and attract vermin.
  • Dog and cat feces can harbor disease.
  • Cat litter will normally contain feces.
  • Glossy magazines contain too many inorganic chemicals.
  • Barbecue coals and coal ash contain harmful sulphur oxides.

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