University of Illinois Extension
Composting in the Home Garden

the composting process
layering compost
what to compost
types of compost bins
troubleshooting
common questions
Composting in the Home Garden - Types of Compost Bins

Types of Compost Bins

Holding units are low maintenance, and are good choice for those with limited space, such as apartment dwellers. These units do not require turning, however the lack of aeration causes the composting process to take 6 months to 2 years. Holding units are available from stores and catalogs.

Portable bins are similar to holding units, except that they can be taken apart and moved. Materials can also be mixed with this type of bin. Plastic units are available for purchase, or you may construct a bin from wire fencing framed in wood.

Turning units are designed so that they may be aerated. Turning units produce compost faster because they supply oxygen to the bacteria in the pile. These units may also have less odor problems, which are associated with poor aeration.

Turning units may be either a series of bins or a structure that rotates, such as a ball or barrel. These systems often cost more and are more difficult to build. Materials must also be saved until a unit can be filled to the correct level. Once these units are filled and the turning process begins, new materials should not be added.

Heaps are an option for those who do not wish to build or purchase a bin structure. Turning the heap is optional, but remember the composting process will be slowed if the pile is not turned. Woody materials may take a very long time to decompose with this method, and food scraps may attract pests.

Sheet composting can be done in the fall. With this method, a thin layer of materials such as leaves (that have not been composted) are worked into the garden. By spring, the material will be broken down. The decomposition process ties up soil nitrogen, making it unavailable to other plants. Because of this, sheet composting should only be done in the fall when the garden is fallow.

Soil incorporation is also known as trench composting. Organic material are buried in holes 8-15 inchesdeep, and then covered with soil dug from the hole. Decomposition takes about a year, as limited oxygen slows the process. It is recommended to avoid planting that area for a year, as the nitrogen available to plants may be limited by the decomposition process.

Where to place the compost

Placing the compost bin in your yard depends on both functional and aesthetic needs.

For the compost bin to function properly, place the compost pile in an area with good air circulation. Do not place the pile so that it is in direct contact with wooden structures, as this will cause decay. It is best to locate the pile in partial shade, but this is not a necessity.

You may want to locate it close to the garden and close to a water source. If kitchen scraps will be added regularly, it may be more convenient to have the pile near the kitchen.

You may also want to screen the pile from view with a fence or by placing it behind shrubs or a taller structure. You may also wish to avoid placing the pile near outdoor entertaining areas.

the composting process | layering compost | what to compost | types of compost bins | troubleshooting | common questions | credits