The Many Types of At-Home Composting
So you’re interested in making your own compost, but you’re overwhelmed by all of the different methods. Or maybe you’re not sure if there’s a method that will work for you. You’re in the right place. With this overview, the decision will be easy.
Your first decision? Indoor or outdoor. Since there are fewer types of indoor composting systems, we will cover those first.
If you’ve chosen to compost indoors, you have two main options.
This method makes use of a special type of worm, usually red wigglers, which you will need purchase from an online store. These little guys help break down and aerate your food waste. It is a type of aerobic composting, which means the compost is in contact with air. Aerobic composting tends to be slower than anaerobic composting and cannot safely break down meat and dairy products, but it tends to have less of an odor, something you’ll appreciate from your indoor compost.
This involves layering food waste a material that has been infused with special types of bacteria, which you’ll also need to order online. Since you use an airtight bin, this is anaerobic composting. That means you can compost meat and dairy products. Waste breaks down quicker than in an aerobic composting system, but because anaerobic compost is very acidic, it needs to air out for several weeks before it’s safe to use on plants.
If you’ve chosen to compost outdoors, you need to choose whether you want “hot” compost or “cold” compost and whether you want to do continuous composting or batch composting. The hotter the compost, the more frequently it is aerated, the higher the rate of decomposition, and the higher the internal temperature. Continuous composting involves one pile that you can take finished compost from while still adding new waste. Batch composting involves making a pile all at once and letting it decompose without adding any new waste. All methods have pros and cons.
Cold + Continuous
This is the simplest composting method. You keep piling up organic matter and eventually, the bottom of the pile will have finished compost. If you’d like, you can purchase a compost container that has a door on the bottom for easy access.
The main advantage, in addition to being low maintenance, is that the finished compost at the bottom will be smooth and free from non-decomposed chunks. A disadvantage is that it’s easier for cold compost to “go anaerobic,” resulting in unpleasant smells. You find you need to turn the compost occasionally to prevent this.
Cold + Batch: 3-Bin and Trench Methods
In a 3-bin system, you create three compost areas. Fill up the first, making sure to use a high “browns” to “greens” ratio, then the second, then the third. After about three years, your first bin should be ready to use.
In trench composting, you dig a trench about three feet deep and layer it with organic matter and soil. Once the trench is full, wait about two months and use it as a garden bed.
Hot + Batch
This involves setting up multiple piles or containers of compost and aerating frequently, between every other day and twice a week. If you finely shred your food and yard waste, this method is the quickest. You can turn the compost with either a tool or a compost tumbler.
Hot + Continuous
If you don’t have the space to have multiple batches of hot compost, you can use one continuous pile. It will decompose faster than a cold continuous pile, but the final product won’t be as homogenous because there will be bits of organic matter that hasn’t broken down yet mixed in.
The Digester: The Anaerobic Option
This is like bokashi composting but in a larger container and without the special microbe-infused material. Like bokashi, it takes a long time, will likely produce a strong smell, won’t break down yard waste, and produces the greenhouse gas methane. The benefits are ease of use and the ability to compost meat and dairy products.