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Composting: Getting Started

Composting: Getting Started

I want to start composting. I live in an apartment building, and recently moved to an apartment that has ground floor outdoor access – so I can finally have a compost bin and a small garden. Pretty exciting stuff!

So now I have to get started and figure out what I need to know to hit the ground rolling and start returning my food waste to the soil. I reached out to Sarah Sullivan, the Antioch New England Campus Compost Coordinator to ask for her advice on getting started.

According to Sarah, the first thing that I would need to choose to begin composting, is which type of container I want to use to hold my food waste while it decomposes. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the three main types.

Compost Bin Types

The Three Bin System

A three bin system has three bins lined up in a row. These bins can be made from wood pallets and chicken wire. It also looks like you can buy bins made from nice wood if you’d like. This system holds a lot of compost. To use this system, you put everything in the bin #1 until it is mostly full. You then shovel all the compost into bin #2. You start filling up bin #1 again until it gets full. Once bin #1 is full again, you transfer the contents of bin #2 to bin #3 and then bin #1 to bin #2, and so on. By the end of a cycle, the compost in bin #3 should be done and ready to put on your garden!

Three Bin Pros:
It can hold a lot of compost!
The waste gets a lot of air which helps it decompose quickly.


Three Bin Cons:
Relatively labor intensive
You have to keep shoveling the compost into the next bin.

The Tumbler Bin

Ok, so that is not really a picture of compost tumblers – but they totally look like they could be! Tumbler bins turn food waste into soil quickly. Each time you put food scraps into the bin, you “tumble” the scraps. This process aerates the compost and speeds up the decomposition. You can buy this type of composter, but it’s relatively expensive. You can also make your own! This is what one actually looks like:

Tumbler Pros:
Lightning quick (well relatively quick) composting
Easy to use
Not much manual labor involved
They sometimes carry cryptic messages from Old Ben Kinobi

Tumbler Cons:
They are relatively expensive if you don’t make your own.

Big Plastic Bin

These generally all have an opening at the top where you put the food waste, and then a little door that opens at the bottom so you can get the soil out when it is done. This bin type perhaps doesn’t allow for enough air. These seem like the least reliable of the three types. The good part is they pretty much require no effort on your part – you just put food in the top, and then shovel the compost out of the bottom door.

Big Plastic Bin Pros:
No effort required! (As with most things that don’t require effort, this may not be the best option in the long run)
Just set it and forget it!
Relatively cheap

Big Plastic Bin Cons:
Compost may take longer
Compost may not get enough aeration

So that pretty much sums up the compost bin options. I am leaning towards the tumbler as my compost bin of choice.

My next post will talk a bit more about what you actually need to do when you get a bin. I may also try and investigate making my own tumbler and see how tough it is. I am pretty sure that if I am able to do it, anyone would be able to. Thank you to Sarah for taking the time to share her thoughts and experience with composting!

Do you have any experience with any of these bins? Any advice that you would give to a composting newbie? Please share!

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