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Confused? Which Composter Is Best For You?

These days there are numerous composters available; from home made to purchased and from large to small; from wooden to metal or plastic and from static to tumbler the choice can be a touch confusing to the uninitiated. Not to mention price, aesthetics and design feature options such as bases, aeration vents or holes and access hatches.

Additionally there are now related products such as Wormeries (The Original Wormery and the multi-tray Tiger Wormery), digesters (the Green Cone) and hot composters (the Green Johanna) to consider.

If you have acres then large dual bunker designs (e.g. the New Zealand box) are perhaps ideal and for convenience this can be supplemented by a couple of conventional bins located for convenience. You can also buy large (600 Litre+ capacity) tumblers but they will set you back several hundred pounds.

If your garden and pockets are slightly more modest then you still have an excellent range to consider:-

The prime needs to consider are:-

  • Protection from the elements (wind sun and rain)
  • Permit the access of worms and other beneficial invertebrates
  • Keeps heat in (dark colour /insulated/location)
  • Easy to fill up and to access the compost.
  • Size appropriate to your garden.

The simplest and perhaps easiest option is to go for a plastic compost bin (like our Rotol and Garden Kings). Usually conical, they are simple, durable and lightweight (make sure the plastic is UV treated so it wont go brittle after a year or two in the sun). Many sizes are available but one much smaller than 220L capacity is going to struggle to get any decent heat generation going so may take considerably longer to produce compost. If you generate sufficient kitchen and garden waste having two or more composters makes life easier. One finishing off the composting whilst the other is being gradually filled up.

A word on access hatches and doors. Whilst popular and selling 10 times more than models without doors they are not perhaps quite as beneficial as they first appear. The principal is a simple and attractive one. Put the waste in at the top and extract the compost via a hatch at the bottom. So far so good and essentially this is what happens. However as the compost will be moist so it wont simply drop down easily as you take the first spadeful out – you will have to prod around or push it down from the top. No real problem just not such the easy-task one might assume.

Wooden composters and Beehive Composters tend to cost more but do look good and are often of a modular (and thus extendible) design. Choose one with a lid and preferably no spaces between the slats. You can add to the heat retention properties by putting a rectangle of old carpet, bubble wrap or similar on top of the compost. Wooden composters usually have at least one side with removable slats or a wide lid so accessing the finished compost is easy.

You can of course nail a few old pallets together or do away with any container at all and just have a heap or pile. To be frank there is nothing wrong with this at all, but composting will take at least twice as long (and probably more) as it would in a decent container. Still if you have the space, the time and don’t have an obsession with everything in the garden being neat and tidy and just so why not – the choice is yours.

But what about these compost tumblers?

Compost Tumblers range in price from C.£70 to, well, thousands of pounds and they can swing, pivot, roll, be turned by hand (or powered) and even geared for easy and smooth working.

However, I will concentrate on the more common and thankfully cheaper simple hand operated tumblers on an aluminium frame and rollerballs (like the CompoSphere). Frame, mounted hand turned tumblers are good at the first phase of composting, their design facilitates good mixing and aeration. They rapidly and efficiently turn mixed organic waste into a useful and usable mulch. They are not as good as static bins in achieving a fine friable finished compost and this is simply because as they are suspended in air so worms and other invertebrates can’t easily colonise the unit. Still what they lack in achieving a fully finished compost they make up for in process speed. The ideal might be to have a tumbler and a static bin and to transfer over after a few weeks. A minor note of caution is that once a tumbler fills up, so it becomes heavier and harder to turn. When two thirds full of partially rotted and wet compost it is quite heavy to tumble.

A rollerball composter like the CompoSphere combines some of the advantages of a tumbler (speed, mixing and internal aeration) with some of the advantages of a static bin (contact with the ground so access for worms and other beneficial insects and invertebrates. However once much over half full it can be a little more difficult to roll easily.