Choosing a Composting System for Your Home

By Amanda Streets
December 5, 2018
compost sign pic

When choosing a compost set up for your home, you need to consider a few things:

  • How much space and what type of space you have available;
  • Large yard, small yard, or no yard;
  • How much green waste you generate from your kitchen and lawn or how much you want to collect from community sources and how much brown waste you can accumulate; and
  • Possibly the most critical aspect – what is your budget? The initial cost to get started may make the choice a lot easier although there are many wallet-friendly DIY options that work just as well as pre-fab products.

Open Systems

This wire ring is my personal favorite. It’s made from quarter inch hardware cloth rolled into a cylinder. I can move the compost around my yard and generate very large volumes close to where I’ll use it. I even put this in my raised bed once. When it was done, I opened it up and spread it. No wheelbarrow – so very easy.

wire frame pic

A 3 bin system can be made with scrap materials and be one, two, or three bins. The 3 section bin is popular because you actively add to one part, another part is waiting to be done, and the final section is at a different stage of completion, or is finished already.

wooden pallet pic

Either of these open systems can be so very cheap to make – you could even make a heap on the ground. They can hold a very large volume of materials – I just got almost 2 cubic yards of finished compost from my last batch. Because of the large size, open compost piles have the potential to get hot, so you can have more compost done faster. Ground contact helps earthworms and various microbial critters find their way naturally into the compost and also help break it down faster.

An open pile requires some muscle. It needs to be turned to prevent it from going anaerobic (without oxygen) to create the ideal environment for healthy soil organisms. Turning it requires either a pitchfork or shovel. Sometimes open systems get a bad rap because people say they attract unwanted visitors. Following good composting practices will minimize this – using the correct amount of carbon to keep the food scraps covered and preventing odors is the key.

Closed Systems

tumbler pic

Tumblers are great. The compost is enclosed, it has a handle to turn easily, and this one is high enough to put a bucket or wheelbarrow under it so you can easily empty and use the finished compost. This particular set up is DIY and each side is quite large. No pitchfork required.

BUT the compost has no contact with the ground where it would get healthy earthworms and microbes to help break the materials down effectively. It can be easy to neglect adding brown materials to a tumbler too, since you aren’t layering like you would in an open system.

No outdoor area?


Vermiculture, or composting with worms, is a great option for people who may not have an outdoor space to put a larger compost system and for those specifically interested in worm castings. I have a stacking worm bin that I purchased but you can make one with cheap or repurposed materials very easily. Bokashi is another option. This is a topic for a whole other post, though.

Photo Sources:

Published by Pinellas Community Composting Alliance

Pinellas Community Composting Alliance was formed as an education and advocacy group to promote community composting in our Tampa Bay area. We do this by holding classes, helping to establish community compost drop off stations, and working with others to help create a more sustainable local food system.

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