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What Kind of Composter Are You?

Types of Composting

Part 1 of 3
Composting can take your backyard garden to the next level, turning organic waste material into a rich and renewable soil amendment—for free! There are as many types of composting as there are home gardeners. Check out our guide below to see which method matches your own gardening style and get started making your own “black gold”—homemade, harvest-enhancing compost.
If you are a windowsill or patio gardener with limited outdoor storage space, pitch into a community garden compost pile or sign up for a composting service.

Apartment and urban living are not always ideal for composting. That does not mean it can’t be done! If you are gardening in small areas—windowsills, decks, patios, or in a community garden plot—you need a space-saving solution that won’t smell. Many states have compost subscription services that provide countertop composting bins and pails and collect them on a weekly basis, just like your trash or recycling and provide you with usable amounts of fresh compost at regular intervals. Some municipalities also offer composting as part of their curbside recycling programs. And many community gardens will have a shared compost pile that everyone agrees to contribute to and tend.

Cold composting is the simplest way to start composting—simply start separating your organic kitchen waste and adding it to the compost pile along with garden debris, like dead plants, grass clippings, and leaves—and wait about one year for it to break down into usable compost. No forking or turning required!

Freestanding compost bins can range from $50 to $250 and have a lot of advantages for the suburban or novice composter with decent but not unlimited space. Closed bins are used for “cold composting”—you cannot regulate their temperature—and they hold a limited amount of compost that can often be an adequate supply for a casual home gardener. They are open at the bottom and can be moved around your yard when needed—simply let the composting material fall out and fork it back in at the new location. Another advantage? They protect your compost from trash-foraging pests like mice, rats, and raccoons and limit unsavory smells.

  • Tumblers are similar to compost bins except they can be turned, which will speed up the composting process. Because tumblers don’t touch the ground you will need to add a few scoops of the earth to get microbes in your mix. You will also need to be more attentive to the balance between “brown” (carbohydrate and carbon-rich) and “green” (nitrogen-rich) elements in your tumbler. Don’t want to invest in an expensive tumbler? Our gardening experts have seen successful DIY versions made from 55-gallon drums or even plastic garbage cans.
Pit composting is even easier and cheaper than cold composting in bins. If you can find a place on your property to dig a composting pit (and if you can protect it from foraging predators like possums, raccoons, and other rodents) you can start composting. Choose a location out of sight and far enough from your home to avoid any unsavory smells. Start adding all of your organic kitchen and yard waste into the pit and wait for it to break down over 6-12 months. (Make sure any weeds or pulled plants can’t see the sun—you don’t want them to sprout!) No additional turning or maintenance required. Forking the ripe compost out of the pit can be a little bit back-breaking, however, so make sure you are up to the extra physical effort before choosing this method.
  • Some home gardeners think ahead and utilize the pit composting method for planting. Dig smaller trenches to depths of 8” to 12” in places you hope to plant crops. Fill them with kitchen scraps, water the pile, and sprinkle a layer of blood meal across the top to speed decomposition. You will be able to plant atop the filled-in pit in about six weeks. This can be a great way to fuel heavy feeders like tomatoes, squashes, and pumpkins across the growing season.
  • If you want to avoid hauling compost from a pit, a pile will work, too—but it will not be as hidden from view. Depending on your available space, this may not bother you. Keep the pile under five feet to avoid it collapsing and spreading and fork it now and then to avoid the formation of large air pockets.

An excerpt from “What Kind of Composter Are You?“, Pinetree Garden Seeds.

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