Dirty Dozen: 12 TOP Composting Methods [Pros, Cons & Costs]

Updated: Feb 24

The Dirt on Making Dirt

Creating compost is as valuable as it is variable. There are many ways to break down organic matter, so the question becomes: which composting method will work for your home?

This article will break down 12 different composting methods and technologies, their pros, cons, costs, and provide instructions for each.

Let’s dig in.

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1. Compost Pile or “Heap” Compost


Otherwise known as the “hurry up and wait” method, a traditional compost heap is best for those lucky enough to have enough yard space to permit a large pile of moist detritus. Heap compost can be either cold, or hot.

Note: What’s the difference between cold and hot compost? Our article “How Compost Works: A No-Nonsense Guide To Compost Science” will walk you through it.

MATERIALS

  • Yard space

  • Shovel

  • Green scraps (1 part)

  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Designate area in your yard or garden (minimum 2 ft x 2 ft)

  • Collect browns & lay them down as a base layer

  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer

  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)

  • Ensure heap remains moist (like a damp sponge)

  • *Optional (for hot compost): Mix once a week, or when internal temperature reaches 150 - 160℉

PROS

  • Inexpensive

  • Zero prep work required

  • Hot or cold composting

  • Easy to harvest

CONS

  • Requires regular manual turning (if hot)

  • Might attract pests

  • Emits methane

  • Requires ample yard space

  • Difficult to compost during winter months (if not impossible)

  • Unattractive & unappealing

  • Cannot compost meat or dairy

COST

$ free

DURATION

3 months - 18 months


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2. Pit or Trench Composting

Like the name implies, this method involves digging a pit or trench in your yard, adding food scraps to the hole, then covering it back up again. This method is best for gardeners who know well in advance of the growing season the area in which they’d like to have rich, fertile soil.

MATERIALS

  • Yard space

  • Shovel

  • Green scraps (1 part)

  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

HOW-TO

  • Designate area in your yard or garden (minimum 2 ft x 2 ft)

  • Collect “greens” & add them to the hole

  • Cover the “greens” with soil and pack down with shovel

*Optional (to protect soil layer): add “brown” material over “greens” prior to covering the hole with soil

PROS

  • Inexpensive

  • No turning required

  • Invisible

  • Feeds garden in situ (you can bury scraps wherever you plan to garden)

CONS

  • Requires digging a hole/trench

  • Composting meat or dairy products might create pathogens & attract pests

  • Cannot harvest compost after the fact

  • Takes a long time to break down

  • Hot composting not possible

  • Cannot compost during winter months

  • Not portable

  • You need to store food waste until you can bury it

  • Requires garden/yard space

COST

$ free

DURATION

6 months - 12 months


3. Compost Tumbler Method


compost tumbler is an ingenious design which makes aerating compost as easy as turning a handle. This is one of the choice composting methods for folks who live in a condo, or with very little (or no) yard space.

MATERIALS

  • 55 gallon drum with turning mechanism/compost tumbler

  • Shovel-full of rich soil (added once or twice per load) to increase microbes

  • Green scraps (1 part)

  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

HOW-TO

  • Install tumbler - preferably an outdoor space with good ventilation

  • Collect “greens” & add them to the tumbler

  • Collect “browns” and add them to the tumbler

  • Turn handle 1-3 times a week

PROS

  • Easy to turn

  • Can be kept in small (outdoor) spaces due to small size

  • Keeps out vermin

CONS

  • Hot composting is not easy due to turning regularity, which spreads pathogens & weed seeds

  • Limited volume

  • Harvesting is difficult (awkward to empty)

  • Cannot compost easily during winter months

  • Cannot compost meat & dairy

COST

$ 20 - 225

DURATION

3 months - 6 months

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4. Compost Bin Method

compost bin is a bit like a tumbler and heap method combined: a contained heap, or a motionless tumbler!

MATERIALS

  • A drum/bin/bucket, preferably dark in color with a lid and an open bottom

  • Green scraps (1 part)

  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

HOW-TO

  • Place bin outside (on grass)

  • Collect browns & lay them down as base layer

  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer

  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)

  • Ensure heap remains moist (like a damp sponge)

  • *Optional (for hot compost): Mix once a week, or when internal temperature peaks at 150 - 160℉

PROS

  • Small-space friendly

  • Low-maintenance

  • Keeps out vermin

CONS

  • Outdoors only

  • Turning is a challenge

  • Depending on the bin material (wood), may rot under wet conditions

  • Limited volume

  • Might generate odors

  • Cannot compost meat or dairy products

COST

$ 25 minimum

DURATION

3 months - 12 months


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5. Three-Bin Compost Method


This method is one of the most efficient composting methods, though it is one of the most involved. The three-bin system works in a level system: the first bin is for the “just-started” compost pile.


Once this part heats up to a peak of 160℉, you’re ready to send the contents of the first bin into the second bin, leaving your first bin available for more compost materials. Repeat process until you have a beautiful finished product in your third and final bin.

MATERIALS

  • Three-bin compost system (wood, wire, mesh, plastic)

  • Shovel/Pitchfork

  • Green scraps (1 part)

  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

HOW-TO

  • Install a three bin/box system in your yard

  • Collect browns & lay them down as base layer

  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer

  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)

  • Ensure heap remains moist (like a damp sponge)

  • When internal temperature peaks at 160℉, switch compost contents into the second bin

  • Repeat until bin contents have “cooked” through and you are left with a third bin full of completed compost

PROS

  • Hot compost option

  • Easy to access

  • Easy harvesting

  • Easy to maintain once installed

  • Simple concept

CONS

  • Outdoors only

  • Manual turning required

  • Depending on the bin material (wood), may rot under wet conditions

  • Not portable

  • Requires ample yard space

  • Cannot compost meat or dairy products

  • Can be expensive & time-consuming to build

COST

$500 - 2000

DURATION

3 months - 12 months

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6. Vermicompost

Vermicompost is an excellent option for the busy, small-space gardener. By getting worms to do most of the work for you, this is one of the most hands-off compost methods around.

Red Wiggler worms are the most popular choice for worm composting: they are extremely efficient waste-eaters!

MATERIALS

  • Well-ventilated wooden or plastic box (1 square foot for every 2 lbs of worms)

  • Green scraps (1 part)

  • Dry carbon materials (2 parts)

  • Minimum 1 lb Red Wiggler worms

HOW-TO

  • Purchase or build a well-ventilated worm box

  • Purchase or source a minimum of 1 lb of Red Wiggler worms

  • Collect browns & lay them down as base layer

  • Collect “greens” & add them to brown layer

  • Add browns & greens regularly (1:2)

  • Ensure that your worms’ home is sufficiently moist and is properly aerated

  • Drain “worm tea” as needed

PROS

  • Small-space friendly (including indoors)

  • Low-maintenance system

  • Tidy materials

  • Winter composting possible

  • Creates compost tea as well as worm casings

CONS

  • Requires regular moisture

  • Attracts pests, including fruit flies

  • Danger of poisoning or overfeeding your worms (ex: only a small amount of meat, or none at all)

  • Drainage & some maintenance/care required

  • Not ideal for people or children with tactile sensitivities

COST

$20 - $200

DURATION

3 months - 4 months