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Backyard Composters, Explained: The Good, the Hot, and the Wormy


Backyard Composters, Explained: The Good, the Hot, and the Wormy

July 7, 2023

Composting is a win-win. For one, you’re reducing waste at the landfill. According to the EPA, landfills are the biggest source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming. You’re also creating a beneficial, nutrient-rich soil additive for your garden out of trash.

Mix compost into soil blends, use it to feed lawns, and top dress beds with it. When making compost, be sure to incorporate more brown ingredients (wood chips, dried leaves, paper, and cardboard) than green ones (fruit and vegetables scraps and garden clippings) to keep the pile fresh. Add water so it stays damp, and turn it occasionally to add oxygen to hasten the process. Then let nature do its thing.

While you don’t need a bin or container to make compost (a simple pile will do), using one keeps things neater, deters critters from making a mess, and can even speed up the breakdown. Here are five types of composters, each with different features, to consider:

Hot Composting

The Green Johanna starts at \$\299 at Green Cone USA.
Above: The Green Johanna starts at $299 at Green Cone USA.

I first heard about the Green Johanna from Edwina von Gal, garden designer and founder of the Perfect Earth Project, where I work. She’s been using it for years and swears by it. The Green Johanna is an insulated hot composter system, made with recycled plastic and developed in Sweden, that works faster than other bins. (It takes just four to six months to create compost, as opposed to a year or two for traditional composters.) The Green Johanna features a patented ventilation system that allows for oxygen flow, is critter-resistant, and comes with an aerator tool to turn the compost. If you live in a cold climate, you can purchase an insulation jacket to use in winter when temperatures dip below 40 degrees. Bonus: Cooked food scraps are allowed in hot bins.

Tumble Composting

The Jora Composter starts at \$449 at Eartheasy.
Above: The Jora Composter starts at $449 at Eartheasy.

The more you aerate your compost pile, the faster the results. Tumbler-style composters make it easier to turn the contents. Made from galvanized steel, the Jora Composter is insulated so that temperatures can reach 160 degrees. It also features locking twin chambers so you can let one side cook, while adding fresh ingredients to the other.

No-Frills Composting

The Cedar Compost Bin is \$369 at Gardeners.com.
Above: The Cedar Compost Bin is $369 at Gardeners.com.

For those looking for a plastic-free basic option, Gardener’s Supply Cedar Compost Bin fits the bill. It is made from slats of rot-resistant cedar, which allow for rain and airflow, aluminum corners, and zinc latches and handles. The bottom access panel locks to prevent animals from getting in easily.

Leaf Composting

The \25 cubic ft. Panacea Steel Compost Bin is \$59.99 at Ace Hardware.
Above: The 25 cubic ft. Panacea Steel Compost Bin is $59.99 at Ace Hardware.

This year I plan to make leaf mold, a beneficial soil additive and mulch. This Steel Compost Bin will keep fallen leaves contained, but keep them exposed to the elements, which will help the decomposition process. To speed things along, I plan to mulch mow the dried leaves before adding them to the pile. In a year or so, I’ll be able to use the leaf mold for mulch on my vegetable beds and as a soil additive.

Worm Composting

The Urbalive Worm Farm is available in Anthracite Gray, Ivory, or Lime Green, includes ½ pound of red wigglers, bedding material, and worm food to get started; \$\$\270.
Above: The Urbalive Worm Farm is available in Anthracite Gray, Ivory, or Lime Green, includes ½ pound of red wigglers, bedding material, and worm food to get started; $$270.

I’ve also been eyeing worm farms for a while now. I live in an apartment, though, with no outdoor space, so the vericomposter I get has to be attractive. Urbalive Worm Farm fits the bill—you’d never know that hiding inside the chic exterior is a slew of tiny garbage disposals. Hungry worms (like red wrigglers) make quick work of fruit and vegetable scraps, garden waste, cardboard, and paper. It’s ideal for apartments where you can’t compost outdoors.

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Frequently asked questions

What is composting?

Composting is a natural process that transforms organic waste materials, such as food scraps and yard waste, into nutrient-rich soil that can be used to fertilize plants and gardens.

Why should I compost?

Composting helps reduce waste sent to landfill, improves soil quality, retains moisture, and provides essential nutrients for plants. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

What are the pros of composting?

Composting enriches the soil, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, saves money on garbage disposal, reduces reliance on chemical fertilizers, and promotes sustainable gardening practices.

What are the cons of composting?

Compost piles may attract pests or rodents if not properly managed. It requires effort to maintain the compost pile, takes time for materials to decompose, and may produce unpleasant odors if not aerated adequately.

What can be composted?

Most food scraps (vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells), yard waste (leaves, grass clippings), paper products (shredded newspaper, cardboard), and certain types of biodegradable materials can be composted.

What should not be composted?

Avoid composting meat, dairy products, oily items, pet waste, weeds with seeds, and plants treated with pesticides. These items can attract pests, introduce harmful bacteria, or inhibit the composting process.

What are the different types of composting methods?

There are several composting methods available, including traditional composting, vermicomposting (using worms), hot composting, and cold composting. Each method has its own advantages and requirements.

Is composting difficult?

Composting can be as simple or complex as you make it. With proper knowledge and management, it can be relatively easy and rewarding.

Can I compost if I live in an apartment?

Yes, you can compost even in a small space. Options like worm bins, bokashi bins, and electric composters are suitable for apartment composting.

How long does it take to make compost?

The time needed to make compost varies depending on factors like the composting method, ingredients used, and environmental conditions. It can take anywhere from a few months to a year.

How do I maintain a compost pile?

To maintain a compost pile, ensure it has a good balance of green and brown materials, adequate moisture, occasional turning or aerating, and protection from pests. Regular monitoring and adjustments are essential.

Can I use compost in my garden?

Yes, compost is excellent for enriching garden soil. It improves soil structure, water retention, and nutrient levels. It can be used as a top dressing, soil amendment, or potting mix ingredient.

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