reviews of composters

luvpatch2February 20, 2012

Hi! I want to start composting and would love opinions of the best type of composter and the names of the composters you have. Pro's and Cons of your composter would be great. Thanks so much!

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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

In my opinion the best composters are the free ones. Some of the most popular:

Wooden forklift pallets made into a box with stakes at the corners and wire or screws to hold them together.

A circle of fencing (virtually any kind).

A pile, no bin required.

If you want to get a plastic one, look for something that you can take apart in two halves easily (like the Home Composter) so you can removed it from the pile when it's full, set up next to it, and turn the pile back into it or start a new pile.

As far as the expensive rotating ones, there is a long thread here about those. Not my favorite based on the cost and advanced fiddling required.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 1:49PM
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Your question is hard to answer from your perspective, Luvpatch, because no information is provided.

You have to consider your yard, local regulations, wants/needs, materials easily available, the amount of patience you have, funds available, etc.

If appearance was the main factor, perhaps a bench composter for $1500. If you are tight with a dollar, a mesh bin for $16-$30 is great.

If one lives in a cold climate or thinks they don't have enough room for a compost pile; maybe a vermicomposting system, or if the individual is a fisherman, bokashi.

So, the answer is, it all depends on your wastes, needs, weather, fitness, etc.

There are already hundreds of opinions in this forum and other GW forums about particular composting systems. Surprisingly, in ten years of reading about composting, I've read just one comparison of various systems. Several others were slanted towards a particular brand.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 2:53PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Use a closed bin if you are composting food or you will get flies in there. Maggots are not only gross, but they eat a lot of your compost. If you are not composting food, then you can use a free cheap or just a pile. Round bins heat better then square bins. I don't like tumblers, so I post something about all the reason why I don't like tumblers if you want to read a very long discussion on the pros and cons of tumblers it is here on the forum. You can also compost food indoors or you can use worm composting, which I am not into at all. Round, plastic, and black with drainage would be the kind of bin I like the most.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 9:50AM
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"Maggots are not only gross, but they eat a lot of your compost."

Not when you dump them along with the rotted food that they thought they where going to have dinner from in the hot compost pile and let them fry in the hot Florida sun only to add vital minerals to your finished compost. ;)

A bucket outside the kitchen, a pile of compost in an old raised bed. That is the best composter out!!!! ;)

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 11:37AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

We never have hot sun in San Francisco, not hot enough to kill maggots, they are tough. My friend just started and already got discouraged by maggots. They eat your finished product, which is very bad, if you goal is get compost for your garden. If you only want to recycle food then it makes no difference.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 12:00PM
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Yes very true, I used to live in FL and I do not really compost as much anymore. I would agree maggots do more harm then good.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 12:09PM
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dogwind(Z8a TX)

The best bin I have found in terms of durability is the Shepherd Complete Composter. Sometimes these are sold inexpensively, or given away by muicipalities. Ask around.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 8:06AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

The Shepherd Complete Composter looks like a rip off. You could buy chicken wire or hardware cloth and just make one like that. It looks like a kennel cage used by dog breeders. If you put the hardware cloth on the ground in a circle, but I don't know what good it would do. I mean you would still have no protection from maggots. I can't see much or any improvement over just having a pile on the ground.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 8:21AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I compost a lot of food waste along with many others and we do not get maggots. It takes some simple management: always cover food waste with dry brown material such as leaves, shredded paper, wood chips or sawdust; check and maintain moisture (not too wet - damp is good); turn every month or two like any compost pile; and if there are odors, add more browns to soak up nitrogen.

I wouldn't want people to think you can't compost food waste without having an army of maggots. :-\ It's the #1 component of municipal solid waste after other recyclables are removed.

As to the original question, I was thinking that it's a little like going to a car forum and asking what kind of car to buy. There are a lot of different ones for different purposes!

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 10:50AM
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Hey, tumblers are supposed to work well for the prevention of maggots.

Having said that, I've never had maggots in any of my composting endeavours. I would think one would need something out of the ranges for ideal composting for this to be an issue regardless of the container.


    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 11:07AM
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The Shepard Complete Composter looks like a middle of the road product to me. Big enough to retain heat (42" by 42"), not the most expensive, one was priced at $107. The choice of PVC coated metal might be questionable, but the warranty is 22 years?

I like D-I-Y compost bins, would prefer to order a roll of stainless steel hardware mesh which would last forever. It could be shaped into 4' diameter bins, or 4'by 8' bins.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 3:04PM
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I live in a suburb and have a small back yard, so I wanted something that would be small, look decent, and keep out critters. I really wanted one of those rotating composters but the price was just too high for me, plus I learned that you really need two of them, so you can be making compost in one and still have something to put the fresh scraps in. I finally read about one that is easy to make using a plastic trash can. All you do is get a plastic trash can with a lid from Lowes or somewhere ($15 or less) and drill small holes all over the bottom and sides for ventilation. If you secure the lid, you can even roll this around the yard to mix it up just like the rotating ones. They look fine (just like trash cans :) and they keep critters out, plus they are cheap enough that you can have as many as you need. I like to have three - one for composting, one for fresh scraps, and one for leaves, cardboard and other 'browns' that can be added each time you put some 'greens' like kitchen scraps in there. I have had no problems with smell or flies or anything, and they really work!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 6:17PM
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leira(6 MA)

Canokie, I use trash can composters, and I think they're a great choice for urban composting. I wouldn't call the holes I drill "small" (somewhere between 1/4 to 1/2 inch).

I don't actually roll mine to turn them. Instead, I dump them out, and put everything back in with a pitchfork, or if I have an empty bin, I pitchfork from one into the other. It's pretty easy, and results in good mixing.

I still keep more than one bin going at a time, so that one can finish off while another is still accepting new stuff. So far I'm still using only two bins, but I could imagine I might some day need three. Of course, when they only cost $15 to make (and maybe 10 minutes of my time, tops), then I don't mind having more than one.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 6:33PM
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I'm new at gardening... is the composter used for housing dirt/fertilizer for planting only?

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 5:16PM
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emme-dc(7b DC)

I basically have the same question. And I'm also a newbie. My overriding constraint is space, though. My entire back yard is about 20 feet by 30 feet, so there's really no place to hide a pile. A trash barrel, perhaps. But even that ... people are recommending a system of two or three. What is the best small scale composting strategy?

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 8:15PM
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leira(6 MA)

FL-gardener, a composter is used for making compost. You put yard waste and kitchen scraps in, wait, and then you get lovely compost to enrich your soil on the other end.

emme-dc, a trash can composter is probably a good option for you. I completely understand the constraints of your space! I agree that it's better to have two bins, but you could start with only one. The reason for two or more is that eventually you want to stop adding things, so that the first batch can "finish."

I recently saw a fancy compost tumbler that had two small chambers...which is great from a "2 bins" perspective, but each chamber was a lot smaller than a trash can, and I think even a trash can is on the small end of what's effective (or at least ideal) for making compost. I suspect that tumbler cost a pretty penny, too.

So...start with one trash barrel, and see how it goes. When it gets full and ready to finish, you have a few options: 1) Stop composting for a while (no, never!), 2) store your inputs elsewhere until you're ready, or 3) store your nearly-finished compost elsewhere for finishing/curing.

I've been known to toss my kitchen scraps into a lidded bucket through the Winter, since things don't compost much then, anyway. I suspect that once compost gets to a certain state, I could store it somewhere else to really finish the job, like in big Rubbermaid bins (maybe with holes drilled in them?).

Another option for you might be a worm composter. I had one of those when I lived in a place with no yard at all, and it was great.

It's possible that the non-city-dwellers are laughing right now...but composting in the city is a different world. It can be done, though.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 7:53AM
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If u go on youtube and put in composting bins u will get lots of ideas with pic. That is where I got the idea of making a barrel tumbler. It is a lot easer and makes it faster.I got a barrel and cut a hole in both ends and run a pip through it.Cut a 16-18" door so u can put in composting materals and suport it a both ends so u can turn it.Total coast will be under 20 dallers and I paid 10 for the barrel (SORRY ABOUT THE SPELLING)
Don in Wilton Ca

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 11:06AM
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emme-dc(7b DC)

Leira, thanks for the advice. You make it sound ... doable. Can someone explain what a worm composter is? I have also seen videos of barrel tumblers and such, but one of those would take up about three times as much space as I can devote. I think there is a spot in the back of the yard, if I move the bed out a bit and plant some shrubs in front, it could hide a full size trash barrel.

How long does it take to make a batch of compost? Can you put a lot of leaves in a compost? How much of it should be kitchen scraps, as opposed to green/brown yard stuff? And what else would I need to know to actually get started?

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 6:40PM
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leira(6 MA)

emme-dc, it is doable!

A worm composter is an entirely different sort of system. It's done in a bin, someplace where it won't freeze (even indoors, since it won't smell). Food scraps and such are consumed by redworms, and turned into worm castings and worm tea. This is one area where I think the fancy bins really are worth the money -- you can find a 3-tier system that makes harvesting the castings a snap. Check out the Vermicomposting Forum for more info.

As for how long it takes to get compost, it really varies a lot. You'll see some people on here who talk about getting compost in only 2-3 weeks, but I've never seen anything like that. For me, it's more like a full season.

You can put leaves in compost, but it would go a lot faster if you can shred them first, and you'll need to balance them with "greens." Speedy composting depends on the right balance of "greens" (i.e. high-nitrogen things) and "browns" (i.e. high-carbon things). Greens are things like fruit & vegetable peels, coffee grounds, grass clippings, and most green stuff you pull out of the garden. Browns are things like leaves, wood, and paper.

Generally speaking, you want a similar volume of greens and browns, but I also want to say: don't worry about it too terribly much. Yes, you can optimize the ratio of greens and browns, and if that sort of thing floats your boat, then by all means go for it. If it's going to drive you crazy, or if you're lazy, then just toss what you have in the bin.

If you have too many browns (or if your compost is too dry, which can happen in a closed composter), your compost won't heat up, and won't go anywhere. If you have too many greens (or if it's too wet, which can also happen in a closed composter), it will get smelly and/or slimy. If one of these things happens, wet it, dry it out, or add some more of the missing thing, as appropriate. It's pretty simple.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 12:10AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

My best composter is an old trash barrel. I cut the bottom off, upended it, and it has been consuming yard clippings ever since. Here in Southern California the weather is so dry that it's difficult to keep compost moist enough. The barrel does the trick. In a rainy or humid climate, it might be too much moisture retention, but here, it works.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 6:04PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I thought about the garbage can idea, but you see it will look like a garbage can and the shape is wrong. It won't be large on the bottom and smaller on the top. It may tip over and or blow away in strong winds. I don't have a hidden area to put garbage can compost bins. The plastic is not firm enough. But, if one is really on budget, maybe one could find an unwanted one for free somewhere. I could not see buying a new plastic garbage can just to cut the bottom out, when you could buy a nice looking compost bin.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 9:43AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I use a fence panel bin with hardware cloth stapled on the inside. I bought two 8' pre-fab fence panels when they were on sale, cut them in half, stapled hardware cloth on the inside, placed hinges at three corners. The thing stands up square and opens on one side. It can fold flat if needed.

Btw, maggot poo = compost

At the top of this forum is a FAQ link with a brief intro into composting, it discusses a few types of bins.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 10:54AM
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ColesvilleEd(9 / Silicon Valley)

I too have a tiny yard but make room for composting. Really you need room for two piles, when you turn the pile you build a new one next to the pile you're turning. Once in a while I need to have two piles going simultaneously and then to turn them I have to pitch the compost out onto the lawn because I don't have that empty spot.

Oh, I use compost rings. The pile blends right into the landscape LOL.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 11:49PM
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The pallet trick is the simplest and easiest. Within five years of sun and water the pallets will rot if you don't treat them... BUT who cares they are free. Have a pile of dirt or coarse sand next to your compost pile. Throw your leaves, small amounts of yard clippings, a little dirt. let it rot for a while... flip it with a shovel or hay rake when it needs it. If you put raw foods on it throw a good 3" layer of sand or topsoil on it. repeat process until you have your mix.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 3:35AM
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