United States

Shop
United States

Cart 0

Dirty Dozen: 12 TOP Composting Methods [Pros, Cons & Costs]

By Barrett Arthur

The Dirt on Making Dirt

 

Creating compost is as valuable as it is variable. There are many ways to break down organic matter, so the question becomes: which composting method will work for your home?

 

This article will break down 12 different composting methods and technologies, their pros, cons, costs and provide instructions for each.

 

Let’s dig in.

 

  1. Compost Pile or “Heap” Compost


heap compost, compost pile, how-to compost, pros cons compost pile, easy compost, compost instructions

Otherwise known as the “hurry up and wait” method, a traditional compost heap is best for those lucky enough to have enough yard space to permit a large pile of moist detritus. Heap compost can be either cold, or hot.

 

Note: What’s the difference between cold and hot compost? Our article “How Compost Works: A No-Nonsense Guide To Compost Science” will walk you through it.

 

MATERIALS

 

  • Yard space
  • Shovel
  • Green scraps (1 part)
  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

 

INSTRUCTIONS

 

  • Designate area in your yard or garden (minimum 2 ft x 2 ft)
  • Collect browns & lay them down as base layer
  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer
  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)
  • Ensure heap remains moist (like a damp sponge)
  • *Optional (for hot compost): Mix once a week, or when internal temperature reaches 150 - 160℉

 

PROS

CONS


  • Inexpensive
  • Zero prep work required
  • Hot or cold composting
  • Easy to harvest


  • Requires regular manual turning (if hot)
  • Might attract pests
  • Emits methane
  • Requires ample yard space
  • Difficult to compost during winter months (if not impossible)
  • Unattractive & unappealing
  • Cannot compost meat or dairy

 

COST

 

$ free

 

DURATION

 

  • 3 months - 18 months



  1. Pit or Trench Composting

heap compost, compost trench, how-to compost, pros cons compost trench, easy compost, compost instructions, pit composting, burying compost, burying food scraps

 

Like the name implies, this method involves digging a pit or trench in your yard, adding food scraps to the hole, then covering it back up again. This method is best for gardeners who know well in advance of the growing season the area in which they’d like to have rich, fertile soil.

 

MATERIALS

 

  • Yard space
  • Shovel
  • Green scraps (1 part)
  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Designate area in your yard or garden (minimum 2 ft x 2 ft)
  • Collect “greens” & add them to the hole
  • Cover the “greens” with soil and pack down with shovel

*Optional (to protect soil layer): add “brown” material over “greens” prior to covering the hole with soil

 

PROS

CONS



  • Inexpensive
  • No turning required
  • Invisible
  • Feeds garden in situ (you can bury scraps wherever you plan to garden)


  • Requires digging a hole/trench
  • Composting meat or dairy products might create pathogens & attract pests
  • Cannot harvest compost after the fact
  • Takes a long time to break down
  • Hot composting not possible
  • Cannot compost during winter months
  • Not portable
  • You need to store food waste until you can bury it
  • Requires garden/yard space

 

COST

 

$ free

 

DURATION

 

  • 6 months - 12 months

 

  1. Compost Tumbler Method

 

heap compost, compost tumbler, how-to compost, pros cons compost tumbler, easy compost, compost instructions

 

A compost tumbler is an ingenious design which makes aerating compost as easy as turning a handle. This is one of the choice composting methods for folks who live in a condo, or with very little (or no) yard space.

 

MATERIALS

 

  • 55 gallon drum with turning mechanism/compost tumbler
  • Shovel-full of rich soil (added once or twice per load) to increase microbes
  • Green scraps (1 part)
  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Install tumbler - preferably an outdoor space with good ventilation
  • Collect “greens” & add them to the tumbler
  • Collect “browns” and add them to the tumbler
  • Turn handle 1-3 times a week

 

PROS

CONS



  • Easy to turn
  • Can be kept in small (outdoor) spaces due to small size
  • Keeps out vermin


  • Hot composting is not easy due to turning regularity, which spreads pathogens & weed seeds
  • Limited volume
  • Harvesting is difficult (awkward to empty)
  • Cannot compost easily during winter months
  • Cannot compost meat & dairy

 

COST

 

$ 20 - 225

 

DURATION

 

  • 3 months - 6 months



  1. Compost Bin Method

heap compost, compost bin, how-to compost, pros cons compost bin, easy compost, compost instructions

 

A compost bin is a bit like a tumbler and heap method combined: a contained heap, or a motionless tumbler!

 

MATERIALS

 

  • A drum/bin/bucket, preferably dark in color with a lid and an open bottom
  • Green scraps (1 part)
  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Place bin outside (on grass)
  • Collect browns & lay them down as base layer
  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer
  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)
  • Ensure heap remains moist (like a damp sponge)
  • *Optional (for hot compost): Mix once a week, or when internal temperature peaks at 150 - 160℉

 

PROS

CONS



  • Small-space friendly
  • Low-maintenance
  • Keeps out vermin


  • Outdoors only
  • Turning is a challenge
  • Depending on the bin material (wood), may rot under wet conditions
  • Limited volume
  • Might generate odors
  • Cannot compost meat or dairy products

 

COST

 

$ 25 minimum

 

DURATION

 

  • 3 months - 12 months



  1. Three-Bin Compost Method

 

bin compost, compost piles, how-to three bin compost, pros cons three-bin compost, easy compost, three-bin compost instructions

 

This method is one of the most efficient composting methods, though it is one of the most involved. The three-bin system works in a level system: the first bin is for the “just-started” compost pile.

Once this part heats up to a peak of 160℉, you’re ready to send the contents of the first bin into the second bin, leaving your first bin available for more compost materials. Repeat process until you have a beautiful finished product in your third and final bin.

 

MATERIALS

 

  • Three-bin compost system (wood, wire, mesh, plastic)
  • Shovel/Pitchfork
  • Green scraps (1 part)
  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Install a three bin/box system in your yard
  • Collect browns & lay them down as base layer
  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer
  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)
  • Ensure heap remains moist (like a damp sponge)
  • When internal temperature peaks at 160℉, switch compost contents into the second bin
  • Repeat until bin contents have “cooked” through and you are left with a third bin full of completed compost

 

PROS

CONS



  • Hot compost option
  • Easy to access
  • Easy harvesting
  • Easy to maintain once installed
  • Simple concept


  • Outdoors only
  • Manual turning required
  • Depending on the bin material (wood), may rot under wet conditions
  • Not portable
  • Requires ample yard space
  • Cannot compost meat or dairy products
  • Can be expensive & time-consuming to build

 

COST

 

  • 500 - 2000

 

DURATION

 

  • 3 months - 12 months



  1. Vermicompost

 

vermicompost, how-to vermicompost, vermicompost pros cons, worm composting, easy vermicompost, vermicomposting instructions

 

Vermicompost is an excellent option for the busy, small-space gardener. By getting worms to do most of the work for you, this is one of the most hands-off compost methods around.

Red Wiggler worms are the most popular choice for worm composting: they are extremely efficient waste-eaters!

 

MATERIALS

 

  • Well-ventilated wooden or plastic box (1 square foot for every 2 lbs of worms)
  • Green scraps (1 part)
  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)
  • Minimum 1 lb Red Wiggler worms

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Purchase or build a well-ventilated worm box
  • Purchase or source a minimum of 1 lb of Red Wiggler worms
  • Collect browns & lay them down as base layer
  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer
  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)
  • Ensure that your worms’ home is sufficiently moist and is properly aerated
  • Drain “worm tea” as needed

 

PROS

CONS



  • Small-space friendly (including indoors)
  • Low-maintenance system
  • Tidy materials
  • Winter composting possible
  • Creates compost tea as well as worm casings


  • Requires regular moisture
  • Attracts pests, including fruit flies
  • Danger of poisoning or overfeeding your worms (ex: only a small amount of meat, or none at all)
  • Drainage & some maintenance/care required
  • Not ideal for people or children with tactile sensitivities

 

COST

 

  • 20 - 200

 

DURATION

 

  • 3 months - 4 months



  1. Chicken Coop Compost

 

chickens, raising chickens, how-to chicken coop, chicken composting, chicken compost, chickens pros cons, chicken composting instructions

 

Just hear us out: chickens are some of the cheapest & cheeriest pets to care for, not to mention some of the most efficient waste diverters. Chickens are natural “scratchers”; turning compost is pretty much in their DNA!

 

If your home is or could be set up for a chicken run and coop, and you’re interested in sharing your home with some clucky little ladies, then you’d be in the perfect position to feed the majority of your food scraps to your new pets.



MATERIALS

 

  • Chicken Coop
  • Fencing/enclosure
  • Water supply
  • Heat supply (for winter months)
  • Additional food supply (chicken feed)
  • Food scraps
  • Carbon-based bedding (straw, cardboard, wood shavings)

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Install coop & enclosure
  • Purchase chickens & “accessories”
  • Put down carbon-rich bedding, with an added layer in one corner of the coop
  • Add kitchen scraps to the extra bedding layer
  • Intersperse a daily load of kitchen scraps with a few scoops of carbon-bedding

 

PROS

CONS



  • Chickens like to scratch - no turning required!
  • Reduces amount of feed purchased for chickens
  • Improves quality of eggs
  • Hot and cold compost option
  • Chickens consume bugs/pests (even some rodents!)



  • Must have local permissions to have farm animals/chickens
  • Generate ammonia-dense feces
  • Regular clean-up and care required
  • Requires winterized enclosure
  • Additional food supply
  • Potential vet bills
  • Cannot add most meats, dairy or processed foods
  • Requires ample yard/outdoor space

 

COST

 

  • 5 - 10 (per chick), $ 10 - 25 (per chicken) ; $ 200 - 1000 (coop) ; $ 35 per bag (chicken feed)

 

DURATION

 

    • 3 months - 4 months

*(dependent on number of chickens & regularity of scrap collection)



  1. Black Soldier Fly Composting

 

black soldier fly, bsl, black soldier fly larvae, bsl compost, black soldier fly composting, black soldier fly compost pros cons, instructions

 

Black Soldier Flies (BSL) are naturally industrious insects whose larvae feed on decaying food. These little guys are naturally occuring in areas with a good amount of decaying material, and on farmyards with a chicken coop (chickens love to eat the larvae!).



MATERIALS

 

  • Enclosure/container
  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)
  • Food scraps (1 part)

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Install enclosure/container
  • Collect browns & lay them down as base layer
  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer
  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)
  • Ensure heap remains moist (like a damp sponge)
  • Wait for BSL to begin harvesting your waste

*Optional (if you would rather not wait for a BSL colony to move in): you can also purchase Black Soldier Fly larvae by the pound from certain gardening or farm supply stores

 

PROS

CONS



  • Speeds composting process up
  • Larvae & flies are harmless to humans & pets
  • Naturally-occuring, especially near farmyards
  • Attracts birds
  • No turning required
  • Can serve as additional source of chicken feed (protein)



  • Outdoors only
  • Meat and dairy will attract other pests, and risk pathogens
  • Unappealing
  • Noisy (flies buzz as loudly as bees)
  • Winter-composting is difficult
  • Not as easily purchased as Red Wigglers

 

COST

 

  • Free - $20

 

DURATION

 

    • 1 larvae consumes twice its own body weight in one day

*(dependent on number of larvae & amount of waste)



  1. Green Cone Composter

 green cone compost, green cone composting, green cone how-to, green cone pros cons, green cone instructions, green cone cost

 

This nifty innovation is one of the cleverer designs for speeding up waste decomposition. Shaped like a giant green pilon, the Green Cone helps to circulate air to your food scraps and allows the existing bacteria and worms in your garden soil to break down your organics.



MATERIALS

 

  • Green Cone composter
  • Food scraps

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Install your Green Cone compost system on a flat, open-soil surface with excellent drainage
  • Add food scraps daily to the removable basket daily/as needed
  • Ensure that the scraps are not overflowing from the Green Cone installation site at any point

 

PROS

CONS



  • Handles an average of 2 liters a day of food waste (even in winter)
  • No pests
  • No odors
  • No turning
  • Emptying required only ever 5 years or so
  • No maintenance
  • Can take meat, bones, dairy & some animal excrement
  • Does not require carbon (brown) materials



  • Outdoors only
  • Slows down/becomes near impossible during winter months without accelerant additive
  • Requires specific site conditions
  • No compost to harvest, in situ only
  • Not portable
  • Requires additives

 

COST

 

  • 135 (not including additives)

*available for government subsidy in certain municipalities

 

DURATION

 

  • 5 years (ongoing)




  1. Sheet Mulch

 

sheet mulch how-to, sheet mulch compost, sheet mulch pros cons, sheet mulch instructions

 

Similar to trench composting, sheet mulch is excellent for the permaculture gardener with a clear plan of where and how they would like to utilize their yard space for gardening. In theory, sheet mulching is like an inverted trench compost system.  

 

Many gardeners choose sheet mulching because it mimics the natural process of soil creation through layering of both carbon and nitrogen-rich materials.



MATERIALS

 

  • Food scraps (1 part)
  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)
  • Rake

*Optional: soil amendments, existing compost, selected seedlings

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Select location for your sheet-mulch garden bed
  • Lay down dry carbon bedding

 

PROS

CONS



  • Very little digging or tilling
  • No turning
  • Mimics natural process
  • Drought resistant, holds water
  • Smothers weeds
  • All-season composting
  • Can harvest sections easily/as needed



  • Requires levels of carbon (brown) materials
  • Requires yard space
  • Unnattractive
  • Not portable - in situ only
  • Attracts slugs & other pests
  • Cannot compost meat or dairy products, green only
  • Requires more green materials than you might have at one time (& manure)

 

COST

 

$ free

 

DURATION

 

  • Ongoing - permanent fixture



  1. Bokashi Bucket

 

bokashi how-to, bokashi compost, bokashi pros cons, bokashi instructions, bokashi costs, bokashi composting

 

A bokashi bucket system is an ancient form of food waste diversion, developed in Japan. While not technically compost, it does reduce the volume of your food waste by up to 90% and can be held in a very small space - even indoors!



MATERIALS

 

  • Bin with drain
  • Inoculated bran
  • Outdoor area for burying bokashi scraps to “cure”
  • Shovel

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Purchase bokashi bin, or create your own (with spigot and lid)
  • Add “greens”, including meat and dairy
  • Sprinkle a thin layer of bran over food scraps
  • Repeat layering until bin is full
  • Once bin is full, remove to a secondary location (cool and out of direct sunlight)
  • Every day or every second day, drain off liquid from spigot (can be used in diluted forms as spray-on fertilizer)
  • After 10 days, bury pickled food waste remains a minimum of ½ foot deep, cover and pack down with shovel

 

PROS

CONS



  • No turning
  • Small-space friendly
  • Creates concentrated natural fertilizer/slug-killer



  • Not technically compost (anaerobic/fermentation process)
  • Requires additional curing period underground
  • Requires regular additives
  • Must dig up cured compost to harvest

 

COST

 

$ 40 - 100 + $ 15 bi-yearly (for additives)

 

DURATION

 

  • 4 weeks approximately (2 weeks in the bin, 2 weeks in the ground)



  1. Food Recyclers

 

 

The most modern version of traditional composting, food recyclers have revolutionized an age-old process into something which can go from plate to garden in in a single day (or less).



MATERIALS

 

 

HOW-TO

 

  • Add food scraps to unit
  • Turn unit on

 

PROS

CONS



  • No turning
  • Zero odors
  • Zero pests
  • Nutrient-dense organic fertilizer
  • Does meat, dairy, some bones & processed food
  • Quiet
  • Small-space friendly
  • Breaks down food waste by 90%
  • Zero methane emissions
  • Zero maintenance
  • Zero-very few additives
  • Portable
  • Takes up to to 6 liters of food waste a day
  • By-product is completely sterile and pathogen-free (kills weed seeds)
  • Completes cycle in 3-24 hours (depending on model)



  • Consumes small amount of energy (0.8 kWh per cycle)
  • Cost can vary from mid-range to very expensive
  • Requires filters every 3-4 months
  • Not technically compost until added to soil for curing period

 

COST

 

$ 299 - 1299 + 20$ 3-4 times yearly (for filters)

 

DURATION

 

  • 3 hours - 24 hours














    Flag Country

    Hey! We think you’re in

    ×

    Change Country