Short version: I shouldn’t be allowed to write about this as I’m not very good at it but there doesn’t seem to be anyone to stop me.
Basically, hole composting works for me (see ‘Hole composting‘ for details). I only use a traditional compost bin in the growing months when I can’t get access to the soil to dig.
What to compost?
You need a good balance of green and brown waste. Too much green and you get a slimy rather wet mush. Too much brown and it can be dry and slow to compost.
Green waste is leafy stuff, green stems, the kitchen peelings and cut offs, coffee and tea. It is rich in nitrogen.
Brown waste is things like cardboard, paper and woody garden waste. It tends to take longer to break down and is rich in carbon.
If your compost bin gets slimy and wet, you need to add more brown. If it is too dry you can add water and/or more green. Click here for more details on what to compost and why.
How to bin compost?
Put everything into a compost bin. Turn it regularly with a garden fork to aerate, as the microorganisms that break down the organic matter need oxygen. Be patient. It takes time for your waste to be turned into compost. Chopping things up small will speed up the process but that takes time and effort. Turning regularly speeds things up but again requires time and effort. You may have also spotted a problem here. If you are going to be constantly adding waste, then no matter how much you aerate it there will always be some bits that have only been hanging around for a few days. Therefore, ideally, you need more than one bin. You fill one up and then aerate that one and allow it lots of time to decompose as you fill up your second one.
There is often a brown liquid (leachate) that is rich in nutrients that drains off composters. This is can be used neat or diluted as a liquid fertiliser.
How to choose a bin?
A bin that is NOT airtight or waterproof allows little organisms like worms and millipedes to get in and help to break the matter down. They must then have an escape route. A bin with the correct balance of greens, browns and water should heat up, which makes break down faster. You don’t want to trap any helpful creatures in there. There are a variety of compost bins on the market and some that you can make yourself. These are the ones that I’ve come across.
This is the bee’s knees of composters. You build a cube with an open top and bottom out of 4 pallets. Alternatively, you use 3 pallets and leave the front open too to make turning easier. My dad made one but they live in Lancashire.
If you have the space and lots of pallets this is a cheap and environmentally friendly option. It allows access for worms and easy aeration. I have never had a garden with enough space. I don’t think anyone in London would. Don’t forget – you ideally need 2 compost bins.
The open bottomed upside cone composter
This was one I hated that came with the house that we were living in about 10 years ago. It was basically a green plastic cylinder which tapered towards the top and had a removable lid. The open base was supposed to allow organisms to enter and so you could remove the whole structure, leaving compost where it used to be, but what happened instead was whenever I tried to remove the tight lid, I’d lift the whole structure and half decomposed matter would pour onto my shoes. The tapered top meant that it was hard to get a garden fork in to aerate it. Due to the open bottom it had to be kept on soil. I hated how much space it took up and how it couldn’t be moved. This is just a picture off the internet. It wasn’t quite this one, but it looked a lot like it.
Cheap compost bin with a wire frame and tarpaulin sides
This was about the size of a household wheelie bin. It had a flap in the side stuck on with Velcro so you could open it for access to compost at the bottom. We chose something as large as possible for the price as we had finally gotten a place with a decent garden.
This wasn’t bad. It was cheap and with a closed bottom it could go anywhere. Unfortunately we found that things didn’t decompose particularly quickly (no access to organisms and a pain to turn). The sides were a bit flimsy and it was impossible to move when even a quarter full. Also the velcro on the flap became clogged and then it wouldn’t close so it leaked goo constantly.
Rotating compost barrel
This is a barrel mounted on a stand that you can rotate to easily aerate it. They’re expensive so for half the price of the smallest, cheapest one I made 3 from black bins. There are plenty of good youtube videos on how to make a proper one on a stand, but I didn’t have the patience or the space. Mine are literally black bins with lids that can be tightly sealed that I’ve drilled 2 rings of holes in. I also made a board with wheels so that I could put the bin on top of it and rotate it, but then decided that it was easier just to push it around with a wellied foot. I’ve had these for about 6 months so far and I absolutely love them. They’re easy to make. Turning the compost is very easy. If you roll it on the grass the leachate (brown nutrient filled water that leaks out of the hole) fertilises the grass. Each one is light enough to be taken around the garden to collect waste and small enough to be tucked into a corner when not in use.
Sounds perfect. The only problem is – I bought something plastic and new. I am bad.
Anyway…the compost bins hold the waste in the summer when I can’t hole compost. Once I have bare earth I start hole composting again. With perennial plants I haven’t dug close to their roots in hole composting, so in the spring I use the compost that is made in bin composting to mulch around them to provide nutrients.