How to use compost bins and tumblers to make your own compost
This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.
If you have a garden, and can afford a small corner of space, then making your own compost is one of the most environmentally sound practices you can do.
It gives you a handy way of disposing of garden and kitchen waste, provides you with nutrient rich compost that will feed your plants and improve the soil, and also helps keep armies of worms and bugs happy as they get on with the work.
At its simplest, all you need to do is create a pile of suitable material and, with minimal effort it’ll, eventually turn into compost if you give it a year or two.
But these days there is all manner of equipment to make the task a little more efficient and tidy – in both your garden and the kitchen – and in this piece we’ll take you through some of the most beneficial products for those looking to get their compost creation up and running.
The composting process
But before we look at the kit, let’s look at what goes towards making the best compost. The organic matter you’ll be adding to your compost bin is commonly divided into two groups: green waste and brown waste.
‘Green waste’ is generally plant material that is packed with most of the nutrients and tends to contain water. This includes such items as grass clippings, plant trimmings, fruit and veg scraps, spent tea leaves and coffee grounds.
‘Brown waste’ tends to be full of carbon and includes paper and cardboard (without glue or inky coatings); broken up wood such as sawdust (so long as the wood it came from wasn’t treated) or small twigs and piece of bark; and dry plant matter (leaves, straw, etc).
Things to avoid are non-plant based kitchen scraps such as meat, fish, pet food, baked foods or anything that has received chemical treatment.
You can chuck in weeds, but it’s advisable to not include those with seeds or some of the more troublesome and rapidly growing roots (we are mostly thinking of bindweed here).
You’ll need a good mix of both green and brown waste to get the composting process working efficiently without causing a stink.
Too much dry brown waste and it won’t get going; too much wet green waste and it’ll clump together and smell. Start with a roughly even mix and adjust as you go along (for example, a big load of fresh grass clippings tend to need balancing out with extra brown waste).
Composting works by various worms and microorganisms breaking everything down until you’re left with a dry, crumbly compost – so give these workers a helping hand by chopping larger items up before adding them.
The mix will heat up during the process and again you can help to increase the temperature by sealing your compost in a suitable container and placing it in a sunny spot. Regularly turning the waste will help to mix everything together and provide aeration, further improving your chances of a quality end product.
The composting kit
In this list we’ve featured a broad range of items that will help you get up and running with your home composting in no time, along with a few kitchen products that will help with kitchen waste – even if it’s collected for the council’s compost heap.
The biggest of these products the compost bin (assuming you’re not going down the simple ‘pile’ route), of which we’ve chosen a few options, but it’s also worth checking with your local council as they may have a recycling scheme that provides one at a discount.
Once started with the right kit there’s very little effort involved, so give home composting a go and you and the environment will reap the benefits.
For your kitchen, it’s worth reading our guide to devices that help cut down on food waste, too.
Nose around an allotment or wander past a row of gardens and it won’t be long before you spy a green or black conical compost bin, the current design standard for plastic composters.
Blackwall’s is an archetypical example of the style: a wide base with a flexible hatch at the bottom, narrowing to a fat, bulbous lid that snaps tightly around the rim.
Made from UV stabilised (to prevent it from degrading) recycled plastic and with a 330 litre capacity (220 litre versions are also available) it lays claim to being the UK’s best selling compost bin.
This is perfect compost bin for a household - it won’t take long to recoup the cost on compost purchases.
If you prefer square edges to slot within the design of your garden then GEEZY has banished curves in their box-shaped composter (apart from the slight curves to edges and corners to minimise injury).
The lid is hinged, which makes access quicker and easier than most cylindrical composters’ removable lids, and the rectangular hatch at the bottom makes compost removal a straightforward task.
Made from tough plastic, it has a 300 litre capacity and is well priced at a hair over £40.
You might be thinking that it’s all well and good flashing your eco-credentials with a compost bin, but if the bin is made of plastic then you’re slightly undermining those creds. In which case, you might want to go wooden.
If you’re any way handy with a saw then making your own is a worthwhile project (you can convert pallets to recycle and save money – timber isn’t cheap at the moment), or you could buy a flat pack composter such as this one from Forest Garden.
It’s very basic and, unlike those plastic alternatives, doesn’t have a lid so won’t get as hot, but it’s a more natural looking solution and getting your fork into it for turning is much easier.
Made from pressure treated wooden slats that simply slot together, it’s guaranteed against rot for 15 years and at 99cm square, with a height of 61 cm, it boasts a whopping 600 litre capacity - this is one large compost bin.
Composting in a standard bin can be a slow process, but invest in a tumbler and you can get the desired results in around 8 weeks. Regularly rotating compost gets the important aerobic bacteria to work through the entire mix and, especially if positioned in a sunny spot, it’ll break everything down much quicker.
As they’re required to rotate with a heavy load of compost-in-waiting, tumblers need to be solidly built, but not so unwieldy as to make the task difficult.
Draper is a trustworthy British tool manufacturer that has the tumbling action about right with their composter. The bin, with secure fitting lids at both ends, sits on a strong, wide base and can be locked when not required to rotate. Air can get in through holes in the lids, but the only thing that will escape is excess moisture.
Construction took us around 40 minutes – it’s easy to build but there are lots of bolts to fix in slightly fiddly positions – and, when empty, it’s light enough to be able to comfortably move into position.
An excellent option for rapid compost creation.
Worms are a vital inhabitant of any compost bin (they’ll show up soon enough, but if you’re worried about a worm scarcity in your patch then you can buy them) and an increasingly popular alternative to the compost bin is a wormery.
These products have trays loaded with worms that chomp up kitchen waste and convert it into compost – you can add a small amount of garden material, but for these it’s mainly the food they’re after.
The WormBox is a neat looking cylindrical composter, which you can order with two, three or four trays (or add them later) and a lid that can be replaced with a planter for extra visual appeal.
As you fill the lower compartments you add new trays to raise the level – the worms will wriggle up for the new food and a liquid feed can be collected from the lower level.
It’s a very neat way of harnessing nature to your advantage and, for this composter, you’ll need a whole army of worms ready for action so don’t forget to add them to your order.
A Bokashi composter is a little unusual in that it can deal with all forms of organic kitchen waste, including meat and fish. It works by adding ‘Bokashi Bran’ to the scraps – a bran inoculated with the vital microorganisms that set about a process of fermentation to break down the waste.
With Hozelock’s 16 litre Bokashi Composter you get a 1kg bag of bran (which will last an age) and thorough instructions on how to use it (it’s easy).
The composter has a tightly sealed lid, which is more important for the process to work than keeping any smells at bay – you won’t find anything offensive in the olfactory department during decomposition, only the slightly sour, cidery smell of the bran.
The waste needs to be chopped up before adding then flattened down in the composter (flattening tool provided) and, in less than a week, you’ll be able to pour off a concentrated liquid fertiliser to use in your garden.
In another 15 days the remaining waste can be added to a regular compost heap or dug straight into the garden where it will provide further nutrients.
Compost should be turned from time to time, for which task you’ll need some sort of fork. A regular garden fork does the job, but to adopt the swagger of an old-school pro, sling a compost fork over your shoulder and dangle a piece of straw from the corner of your mouth.
Compost forks (or pitchforks) have tines that are longer and thinner than regular forks with a wider space between them, allowing you to more easily lift and turn large clumps of garden matter without it getting stuck.
Fiskars Xact Composting Fork is lightweight (the load of compost will be heavy enough), ergonomically designed to put less strain on your back and has a soft grip handle.
Solidly made from stainless steel, it’s ideal for shifting large clumps of grass, leaves or weeds to your compost heap, besides turning a hefty pile of decomposing matter.
Whether you’re collecting food scraps for your compost bin or for your council’s kerbside collection you’ll need something to tidy them away in the kitchen.
For those whose kitchen space is at a premium, we found this small caddy a smart option.
It’s not too obtrusive when free standing, but it also comes with a hook that allows you to hang it on a cupboard door, and an invisible sticker that can attach it to a wall, allowing you to maintain valuable worktop space.
A removable rim keeps the compost bag in place and the lid, which can clip on the side while you’re filling with waste, adds to its tidy functionality.
While a good compost will have a natural, earthy odour, food scraps can cause a bit of a whiff while they’re being collected in a kitchen (particularly if you don’t empty your caddy frequently during warmer months, or they contain fishy waste for a Bokashi composter or council collection).
Kilner’s kitchen composter is a no-nonsense, stainless steel design that looks like a miniature version of an old fashioned ash bin, but the lid is fitted with a carbon filter to deal with any potential pongs (replace the filter every two to three weeks for best results).
With a 2 litre capacity it’s suitable for standard food waste bags, but its tough steel construction makes it easily cleanable for those who want to do without bags.