Help Me Choose a Composting System: Should We DIY or BIY?

kitchen scraps ready to be composted

Kitchen scraps like vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grinds and tea bags all make great additions to your compost bin.

We recently moved to a new house, and along with leaving our garden (insert a little tear and sniffle), we left our compost bin. While we’ve built a new garden that is going gangbusters already in one season (I am quite proud of this progress), we have not yet replaced our composting system. After several years of learning how to compost everything possible—kitchen scraps, garden waste, fallen leaves—it feels wasteful and just weird to not compost. So now that the garden is kicking, it’s time to turn to choosing a new composting bin. But I’m not sure yet whether we’ll DIY or buy (BIY).

At our previous house, we had a stacking black plastic bin in which we added kitchen scraps and discarded plants from the vegetable garden. (Only ones without signs of disease, of course — anything diseased should be trashed so it doesn’t infect the compost.) The black retained heat and kept the compost warm, while the stacks let airflow in, creating a good system for quick compost that, with a little turning and materials adjustment every now and again, was ready in a season or two.

Our bin was purchased, but a similar DIY setup involves using reclaimed wood shipping pallets to make a compost bin. My only caveat on this is that wood absorbs moisture and not sunlight, so you’ll need to make sure that your compost bin has the right amounts of water and heat.

a compost bin made from wood pallets

A slatted system needs to give you access to the base of the compost pile, where the richest “black gold” will live.

The one-bin system worked well for us as beginners, but I think we’re ready to graduate to a larger more sophisticated system this time around. The spinning composters intrigue me, in part because I think they look kinda cool and also because it would eliminate the need for me to use a pitchfork to turn the compost. While I will invent reasons to use a mattock, a pitchfork isn’t really my favorite tool.

I personally would only consider a plastic or resin composting system if it were made from recycled materials. After all, recycling is the whole point of composting. This high-capacity compost tumbler is made from recycled resin, so it fits the bill. It also—genius!—includes a reservoir for harvesting compost tea, an all-natural plant food made by steeping compost in water. While there are other methods for brewing compost tea, I’m intrigued by the idea of incorporating the process into my compost bin. (Note the air holes on this tumbler, too. This is very important! A friend, who shall remain unnamed, recently told me that he just puts his scraps in a plastic trash can with no holes. This is NOT a good idea, folks. Compost needs air, or else it’ll just become a sludgy mess.)

A DIY three-bin system also looks like a good option, and it’s where I’m leaning right now. I’ve seen these at several gardens I’ve visited over the years, and it makes a lot of sense because you can keep compost organized in three stages of decomposition: fresh scraps, compost in process, and compost ready for the garden. This video shows the basics of how to make a three-bin compost system using wood and wire mesh.

What about all you other composting fanatics out there? Tell me about your composting system, whether DIY or BIY, and help me decide. You can also see 14 tips for fertilizing your lawn in the photo gallery below.

7 Responses

  1. @mena99260 says:

    I like the new look! Bigger letters maNice new look but sorry to see "Tuesday Toolsday Giveaway" end. It's been fun :) and challenging. Look forward to whatever is planned. – as an example

  2. You could put worms in the compost pile, but they'd only stay within the top few inches of the pile, as they prefer a shallow environment. There are special composting bins available for keeping worms.

  3. Jubal says:

    Is there suppose to be worms in your compost pile?

  4. Julie Swanson says:

    Great post! No pun intended! Haha! My husband and I will be moving into our renovated house next month and finally get to have a compost pile after years of apartment living! Thanks for the tips!

  5. I like the idea of the 3 bin system. It looks great and would fit nicely into any yard. I live in a city and crave my own plot of land to have a compost pile (and garden!) one day. My composting solution is freezing my compost and then dropping it off at a city collection site. But doing-it-yourself even better! Good luck choosing a system, Kelly!

    • Kelly Smith Trimble says:

      Thanks, Tiffany! That's pretty cool that your city has a collection site for compostables. Do they also offer compost for pickup? Cities are often a great resource for compost and leaf mold (leaf compost).

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About Kelly Smith Trimble 

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I grow vegetables wherever I can find enough sunlight and forage roadsides and hiking trails for plants that can be used to make natural dyes. You can find both vintage ...

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