Thoughts on our Compost Bins

While lying in bed, surrounded with a lot more books now (so I’m feeling better!), what better things to do than dream, despair over how little we’ve done (as a prod), and plan our next moves. One of our priorities is our compost bins.

The Starbucks coffee grounds and the neighborhood orphan pumpkins have filled our two Earth Machines to the brim. So much so that we’ve stopped collecting from Starbucks and are praying no more pumpkins come our way, at least until we’ve set up a “second stage” composting area.

I think I’ve figured that stage out now. It will be further away from the backdoor but closer to the future garden and right next to the fenced-in-area for leaf-mold (thanks Opa!), in the far corner of our backyard for immediate access to carbon.

But what kind of bin? I like that stationary three-bin system, with the plexi-glass lid and all, in Storey’s Country Wisdom (*) (p.438). But really it’s too involved and expensive.


  • Portable wire mesh cylinder

I also like a more portable system, and one that is very easy to turn.  Storey’s also has a circular wire mesh bin (p.437): you roll up some 36″ wide 1″ poultry wire to a diameter of about 3 1/2 feet, place it and set 4 to 5 metal or wooden stakes against the inside  of the cylinder, pull it taut and drive in the stakes there it is, after some cosmetic adjustments. The idea is that when it’s time to turn the pile, you simply lift the cylinder up over the stakes, letting the compost tumble out, then move the cylinder next to it and simply fill it up again.

The wire mesh will allow for a lot of aeration, and we plan on putting in a chimney: another wire mesh tube, or long PVC pipe with lots of holes, that sits in the middle of the pile, sticking out quite a bit so that it doesn’t accidentally get filled. It’s supposed to do wonders and also minimizes having to turn the pile.

One great tip I hadn’t read before was to open up the soil underneath the bins with a fork before you set the bin on it: that helps drainage and  facilitates access for the earthworms.

I’ll need to reserve three spaces: two for bins, and one empty one for the turning process, like so:

O  O  O

1   2  3

Set full bins on 1 and 3, and when it’s time to turn, lift up bin on 1, move  to 2, shovel in the tumbled out compost. Then lift up bin on 3, move it to 1, and fill it up with the tumbled out compost.  As they’ll be close together, 1 and 3 are not a stretch. We just need to take care that there’s enough space in between to accommodate the compost tumbling out.

The proposed site is exposed on all sides, and we’re on a hill. There are lots of trees around but in winter they prove to be a windbreak full of holes. But our neighbor has promised us some free planks (the outsides of the trunks he cuts up) and so we’ll make an enclosure around the three bin spaces on all sides except the south.

This system is so simple and portable that, once we have even more compost we can easily set up more of them, and wherever we want on our property.

  • Some concerns

Do we need a lid and do we need to secure the bottom of the bin to keep the critters out? I hope in this second stage, when most of the contents of our Earth Machine have decomposed some, no critters will be interested in them anymore. We’ll keep an eye on it, and if we see critter activity, we’ll anchor the bottom rim of the wire with screws or stakes into the soil (like our Earth Machines), and we’ll devise a wire mesh lid or hatch. Roll with the punches.

As we’ll be filling up that bin or bins immediately, I will also be able to make the timing of our composting more precise. So far we’ve just been throwing in our kitchen wastes, coffee grounds and pumpkin whenever they come round, and we’ve only used a little of the finished compost for our “Bomb-Proof Mulch” experiment. I’ve read (in Storey”s) that if you leave finished compost too long its nutrients deteriorate leach away, but then elsewhere (about every other book) it says you need to put compost through several rounds of heating before it is “finished”. Needs more study!

In any case, we’ll be investing in a compost thermometer. This news made DH salivate: “Oh, one with several sensors and a digital, wireless reader?”” “No honey, an analog meat thermometer, only longer”. Needs careful attention to purchasing!

Any suggestions are very welcome!

(*) This collection of the many of the small Country Wisdom Bulletins is possibly the most useful book I’ve ever bought. And I love the format: bound large newspaper sheets with lots of room for notes.

Join the Conversation


  1. I have been following your lovely blog for the past week or so. Not sure how serious the critter factor is in your part of the world. It is big here, bears, bears and more bears. We asked around the local ag agencies for suggestions and they recommended repurposing old chest freezers as compost bins. I guess the appliance drop of centers will remove hazardous waste from the freezers for you. Not attractive, but resourceful, and supposedly very effective. Some folks do worm composting in these huge freezers.

    Happy composting!

  2. Hi Brynn,

    Thank you for the compliment! Before I head on over to your blog, I wanted to share what we’ve been thinking about those chest freezers.

    We were actually going to use one of those big ones as a root cellar. All we’d need to do is dig a pit, bury it so the top sticks out and is easily accessible Then make sure there is proper ventilation: one pipe out the top and one out the bottom, preferably with some sort of vent (solar maybe?) in between. And get rid of the freon and whatnot: your tip about appliance drop-off centers is very welcome here. The people in the Riot 4 Austerity group were very helpful with advice.

    Unfortunately we don’t have one of those freezer. We were going to get a broken one via FreeCycle but the deal fell through. Somehow people trying to get rid of their broken freezer aren’t so keen anymore once you tell them what it’s for. LOL!

    I might post my request on Freecycle again and once we’re off with the experiment, I’ll blog it. but in the meantime we’re also considering a corner in our large unfinished basement. That idea is now taking precedence: more accessible and… no digging.

    You’ve got bears!

  3. We haven’t taken on this chest freezer endeavor as of yet. My understanding is that the folks who suggested this idea got their freezers from the appliance drop off centers, where they have already removed the freon. Does that help?

    I love the root cellar idea. Sounds like there is some potential for a market of used chest freezers!

  4. Home Ground looks so very interesting. Thanks for directing me there. Loved your enthusiasm. I get all riled up around these ideas, too :)

    Going to do an interlibrary loan request!

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