7 of the Best Composting Methods Experts Use


Composting is an easy way to produce your own plant fertilizer and cut down on your carbon footprint. As 30 percent of the waste in landfills is made up of compostable food waste in the U.S., composting at home can not only save you money on fertilizers, it will also help the environment. But which method is right for you?

Composting methods include open air, direct, and bin composting, as well as vermicomposting. Bokashi buckets are very convenient, as is tumbler composting, but depending on your situation, you may prefer a food recycler for use indoors. If you have the space, open air composting is easy and free.

In this article, we will discuss the basics of composting as well as the pros and cons of the many composting methods, including those best suited for indoor and outdoor use.

Photo of garden waste being composted in the back yard
Photo by Airborne77

How Composting Works

Compost is organic material that worms, helpful bacteria, and microbes break down to make a rich, fertile soil that will add nutrients to the dirt. To help your composted materials disintegrate and turn into humus, a rich organic fertilizer made from composting, you will need to make sure that you care for your composting pile properly.

Composting Materials

Compost piles need the right amount of “green” and “brown” materials to break down your compost fully. Green materials include grass clippings, food scraps, and manure. The green compost materials add nitrogen to the soil, which is necessary if you want a well-balanced, usable soil product. Brown materials, such as leaves and wood, add carbon to the compost mixture.

Getting the right balance between these elements will ensure that your compost becomes fertile soil.

You should only compost organic material such as fruit, vegetables, unseasoned raw grains, coffee grounds, tea, paper, cardboard, hair, and eggshells. Putting processed foods into your compost will disrupt the pile’s chemical and pH balance, which could invite toxic fungus and bacteria to take over your compost. For more information about what you can and cannot compost, check out the EPA’s guide to home composting.

Moisture

For your compost materials to turn into dirt, they will need to be kept moist but not too wet. Compost disintegrates when eaten by worms, microbes, and helpful bacteria that all need moisture to survive. If you live in a hot, dry climate, you may need to add extra water to your compost pile to ensure that the sun does not dry it out.

However, too much water can cause all of the worms and microbes to drown or burst, disrupting the disintegration process completely. If it rains a lot in your area, you may want to cover your compost pile or put it in an elevated place to protect it from the rain.

Aeration

To help your compost break down and keep it from harboring harmful bacteria and fungi, you will need to turn the pile to ensure that the materials get enough air exposure. Turning is the act of tossing the soil, with a shovel or pitchfork, ensuring the bottom section gets moved to the top.

Oxygen will help your compost break down faster, so the more you turn your compost, the faster it will turn into soil. Still, it is vital to make sure that you do not let the pile dry out, which could slow the process.

What are the Different Kinds of Composting Methods?

There are plenty of different ways to compost, and some are better than others for specific locations, amounts of compost materials, and budgets. When you are looking for the best way to start composting, it is crucial to pick the best method for your situation. Though open-air composting is the easiest method, you may not have access to such a space, and may find bin composting more suitable.

Open Air Composting

Open air composting is one of the easiest, most popular ways to compost your organic waste. Open air composting is when you put your compost in an exposed heap outside with no container or covering.

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

Because open air composting requires open space, preferably away from your house or other buildings, it is not the best option for everyone. Composting heaps can also be quite an eyesore, and it can be difficult to hide them from plain sight. They also require manual turning, so if you do not want to get out there and push it around with a shovel regularly, open air composting might not be the right choice for you.

Open air compost piles also attract pests if you do not bury your fresh compost underneath the older compost materials. It can also take a while for your compost to disintegrate fully. You may have to wait anywhere from two months to two years for your humus to become usable, depending on the size of your materials and the weather conditions.

Still, open air composting requires little to no investment in materials or containers, making it the most cost-effective option. It is also simple to put together an open air compost heap since all it takes is starting to dump your organic waste in a pile outside.

Direct Composting

Direct composting, also called pit or trench composting, is a method in which you bury your compost in a hole underground. In burying the waste, you do not need to do any work after covering up your compost. In 6 to 12 months after interring your compost, you can even plant fresh seeds over the pile.

Direct composting also hides your compost, which is often preferable to a large heap or composting container on your property. Direct composting is also free, and you do not have to buy any tools to use this method, although a shovel does come in handy.

To bury your compost, you have to dig a trench or pit to put it in. This takes a bit of effort every time you are ready to bury. If that sounds like too much work, you might want to use another method. Keep in mind that buried compost also has less oxygen exposure, so it usually takes six months to a year for the materials to break down entirely.

Tumbler Composting

Tumbler composting uses a special container called a tumbler that can make turning your compost easy. Tumblers are usually large drums or barrels with a handle that allows you to turn them. They do not take up much space and are easy to fill, which makes using them much more straightforward than other composting methods. They also contain your compost, which deters pests like insects and vermin.

The only downsides to this method are that it can be difficult to empty, and it has a limited volume. Since compost tumblers are large, awkward barrels, it can be challenging to remove your compost once broken down. You also have to empty the tumbler regularly to keep it from overflowing.

Photo of a indoor worm composter standing against white wall. The composter consists of four pine wooden legs with grey curved plastic compartments on top for holding the worms and compost.
Photo by Ashley Belle Burns

Bin Composting

Bin composting is one of the most popular methods since the container hides all of your compost materials, keeps them moist, has less odor, and is easy to fill. Compost bins can come in any size you want, and it is easy to make your own from a plastic tote, rain barrel, bucket, or any other materials that you might have on hand. Composting containers also keep out pests and contain any foul smells from your compost.

However, bins can only hold so much compost at a time, so you will have to empty yours to ensure that it does not overflow. It is also challenging to turn the compost in a bin, as the area is often narrower.

Vermicomposting or Worm Composting

Using worms in your compost can speed up the composting process and help you get the most balanced humus from your food waste pile. Vermicomposting is similar to bin composting, but you can only add a bit of material at a time when you make a worm box. By using worms, you can ensure that your finished soil is very rich and non-infected by harmful bacteria and fungi, which makes vermicomposting an excellent choice for gardeners.

Vermicomposting also takes significantly less time than most other composting methods. You can bring your worm box indoors or outdoors, and it is very convenient and easy to use. It is also easy to empty worm boxes, making it simple to transfer composted materials straight to your garden or lawn.

With vermicomposting, taking care of the worms is vital. Their health will directly affect your compost and if they die, you will see a decline in quality. To keep your worms alive, you have to keep them in a well-ventilated wooden or plastic box. Similarly, it is crucial to not overfeed them, adding just a little bit of compost at a time. We go into more details in our apartment composting guide.

Bokashi Buckets

A bokashi bucket is a traditional Japanese indoor composting method that pickles or ferments your compost in a bucket. Bokashi buckets use a special inoculated bran that breaks down your compost and pickles it using helpful fungi and live cultures. Bokashi buckets are helpful in small living areas without lawns since it is primarily an indoor process.

Bokashi buckets are essentially buckets with airtight lids that have a spigot at the bottom to drain off fluids. Because they are small, they are relatively inexpensive, and are easy to make on your own. It also takes around ten days for your compost to ferment in a bokashi bucket, and the liquid produced can also be used as fertilizer.

Unlike other methods, bokashi buckets do not compost your materials. Instead, they ferment them, making it easier to compost them later. It is best to bury the waste from bokashi buckets after fermentation, which means you will still need a place to dispose of your compost.

The good news is that after you bury your compost, it only takes around one month to break down entirely. When you invest in a bokashi bucket, you will need to buy a bokashi starter, the inoculated bran that makes your compost ferment.

Food Recyclers

Food recyclers are a relatively new invention, and they make short, easy work of composting. They mechanically compost your food scraps for you in a matter of hours, and the soil that it makes is always sterile and pathogen-free. Food recyclers are also very small, which makes them a terrific indoor composting method.

Since food recyclers produce compost in such a short amount of time, they will never get any pests, and they require no turning. Using a food recycler could save you a lot of effort and time. They are also highly portable, meaning you can take them with you anytime you travel or move.

Unfortunately, with all of the benefits of food recyclers, there are a few downsides as well. They can be pretty expensive, so if you want a cheap composting method, they might not be the right option for you. Food recyclers need electricity to run, which is one of the only downsides to food recycler composting. They also only break down the food to 90 percent compost, so you will have to bury your compost after processing as with the bokashi bucket.

The Pros and Cons of Different Composting Methods

Every composting method has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. In the table below, you will see side-by-side comparisons to help you make the best choice.

Composting MethodProsCons
Open Air CompostingSimpleFree  Outdoor onlyLarge and unattractiveTakes up lawn spaceRequires manual turningCould attract pestsComposts in 2 months to 2 years
Direct CompostingNo turningThe compost heap is not visibleYou can plant seeds over itFreeOutdoor onlyRequires a trench or pitIt takes 6 to 12 months to break down
Tumbler CompostingSpace-efficientEasy to turnEasy to fillDeters pestsComposts in 3 to 6 monthsRequires a tumblerLimited volumeHard to empty
Bin CompostingEasy to fillSpace-efficientEasy to make your own binDeters pestsComposts in 3 to 12 monthsOutdoor onlyRequires a binDifficult to turnLimited volume
VermicompostingIndoor and outdoor useComposts in 3 to 4 monthsRequires a worm box and wormsCan attract insectsRequires close control of moisture and ensuring good worm health  
Bokashi BucketsIndoor-friendlyInexpensiveSpace-efficientSpeeds up compostingIt does not compost, only fermentsRequires inoculated bran  
Food RecyclersIndoor-friendlyNo pestsNo turningComposts in 4 to 6 hoursSpace-efficientPortableSterile compostFood recycling machines are priceyRequires electric outletIt needs a new filter every 3 to 4 monthsOnly composts to 90%

Which Composting Methods are Best for Indoors vs. Outdoors?

Some composting methods are only suited for outdoor use, others are just for indoors, and some can be used in both. Research each method carefully to see which is the best composting process for your living situation.

Best Indoor Composting Methods

When considering indoor composting, it is important to keep in mind that there will likely be limited space. Since compost has an unpleasant smell, you should also be looking for something that will contain any odors and potential pests, such as fruit flies.

Food Recyclers

If you have the money to spend on a food recycler, using one is your best bet for indoor composting. Food recyclers are smell-free, pest-free, easy to use and fill, and only take a few hours to process your compost. They are also small, especially when compared with the other indoor and outdoor composting methods.

Bokashi Buckets

Bokashi buckets are another fantastic indoor composting method. Since bokashi buckets are small, they can easily fit on your counter or in a closet. Bokashi buckets are also relatively inexpensive, making them an excellent option for anyone working with a tight budget. Remember that they do not fully compost your waste, so you will need to find somewhere else to empty your bucket.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is a popular indoor composting method since the worm bin can be any size you want it to be. This method also breaks down your compost day by day in small amounts, so the container never gets overwhelmingly full, and your compost becomes a rich fertilizer within a few months. If you live in an apartment, however, you should check to make sure your building allows this kind of composting.  

Best Outdoor Composting Methods

With outdoor composting, the smell is less of any issue. Still, you may want to consider containing it should the compost be close to your home, since they do attract pests. Similarly, composting piles can be unsightly and you should think about some kind of container if you or your neighbors have a direct line of sight to the pile.

Bin Composting

Bin composting is one of the best outdoor composting methods since it is easy to make your own bin or find an inexpensive one. You can get containers of any size, so it is easy to find the right one for your space. Composting bins also shelter your compost, keeping your waste looking and smelling orderly while repelling pests. Bins are also very easy to fill, and they keep your compost warm and moist so that you do not have to do as much work.

Direct and Open Air Composting

Direct composting and open air composting are other excellent options because they are entirely free. You can start a compost pile or dig a trench for your compost at any time with little preparation. It is also easier to turn direct and open air compost piles since you do not have to work around any containers.

Tumbler Composting

Tumbler composting is one of the easiest ways to compost since the tumbler makes turning your waste very simple. They are also easy to fill, and keep your compost contained, preventing pests from getting into your compost. Tumblers break down your waste in three to six months, making them one of the quickest outdoor composting methods around.

What is the Easiest Way to Compost?

The easiest way to compost is direct composting, where you dig a hole and bury your waste. In this case, you can bury the waste and essentially forget about it. As it breaks down, it will fertilize the area around your hole. You can bury your compost around your garden or flower beds or plant new seeds over the compost within a few months. Burying your compost keeps your food garbage out of sight and out of mind.

Closing Thoughts

Composting is a great way to cut down on your household waste, and it can provide you with an organic fertilizer for your lawn, garden, and potted plants. From open air and tumbler composting to electric food recyclers, there are plenty of different ways to compost. Some may be better for people in certain living situations or for people with certain amounts of time and money for composting.

No matter what your situation, there is a composting method that will work for you.

Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.

Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.

Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.

Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.

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Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

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