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March 23, 2018  |  Login
Selecting a Compost Bin: Build or Buy
By Bill Marken & The National Gardening Association

Containing your compost pile makes it look neater, helps you maintain the correct moisture, and prevents animals from getting into it. You can build your own or buy a commercial home composting unit.  The advantages of a commercial composter include the availability of a wide range of attractive sizes and shapes and ease of use. Choose from box-shaped plastic and wooden bins and barrels or elevated and easy-to-turn tumblers(see below). Buying bins is costly, however, and most bins produce only small quantities of compost at a time, especially compared to a homemade bin that’s built from scrap lumber or wire.

Build Vs Buy

You can use an enclosure, called a compost bin, to keep the pile neat and help retain moisture and heat. Depending on its design, a compost bin also keeps out animal pests. For these reasons, especially in urban settings, a bin is a good idea. (See image below.)

Build Vs Buy

A wire bin is perhaps the easiest type to make. You need an 11-foot (3.5 m) length of 36-inch-wide (1 m), welded reinforcing wire with a grid of about 2 x 4 inches (5 x 10 cm). Simply bend the wire to form a hoop and tie the ends together with strong wire. Lining the wire mesh with landscape fabric helps prevent the pile from drying out excessively. This bin holds about a cubic yard when full. To use the bin, fill it with the appropriate balance of organic material. When the pile is ready to turn, lift off the wire mesh and set it next to the pile; then, turn the material and fork it back into the enclosure.

Another option is a wooden compost bin, made with wooden pallets, wooden scrap boards, and wire or — for the more elaborate model — 2 x 4 (5 x 10 cm) and 2 x 6 (5 x 15 cm) lumber. The Cadillac of the wooden compost bins uses three bins arranged side by side, as shown in the image below. Though this bin can be time-consuming to construct, some gardeners prefer the convenience of a three-box bin. Each bin is for compost at a different stage of maturity. For example, fresh material is added to the far-left bin, turned into the middle one after a few weeks, and then turned into the bin below to finish.

Buying a Bin

Bins are available by mail order and, increasingly, through nurseries, garden centers, and even discount stores. You can expect to spend around $400 or more for a commercial compost bin.

Buying a Bin

Commercial bins come in four basic varieties:

  • Containers for hot compost: Usually made out of recycled plastic, you use these bottomless boxes or cylinders in much the same way as the wire bin. You fill the bin with the right blend of materials and let the pile heat up. To turn the compost, when the bin is full, you lift off the top section of compost and place it on the ground (the section on top now becomes the section on the bottom). Then you reach in with a fork and lift some of the lower compost, making it the top section of compost, and so on. Some of these containers are stackable, which makes removing them and turning the compost easier. With sufficient turning, this type of bin delivers fast results. more


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