So you’ve decided: this season, you’re going to start composting. And since it all starts with a composter, it’s best to make the right choice. Basic on-ground bin? Tumbler-style? Vermicomposter? The question is worth asking, and there are a few things to consider in answering it. Here is a compilation to help you choose.

 

First off, what are your needs?

Before you buy a composter, establish what your needs are. There are two key factors to consider:

  • How much kitchen and yard waste will you be composting?
  • How much space do you have in which to install the composter?

You also need to check whether your municipality:

  • Has bylaws regarding the use and size of composters; and/or
  • Offers subsidies to residents purchasing composters.

Bin composter

This type of composter is open-bottomed and installed directly on the ground so that insects and worms reach the organic material easily and help speed up decomposition. This also allows the leachate (i.e., the liquid compost “tea”) to seep freely into the soil.

A composting bin can be made of plastic or wood. Each material has its pros and cons:

Plastic Wood
Pros  
  • Lighter
  • Resists rot and is durable
  • Easier to transport
  • Requires little maintenance
  • Absorbs heat effectively
 
 
  • Eco-friendlier: wood is a renewable resource and can itself be composted when no longer useful
  • Practical models available, with stackable modules that can be removed to make turning the compost easier
  • Easier to retrieve finished compost via the lift gate at the base
 
Cons  
  • Not as eco-friendly
  • Non-biodegradable
 
 
  • Heavier
  • Less durable
 
Look for…  
  • Recycled plastic
  • UV-treated materials
 
 
  • A model made of heat-treated wood or a rot-resistant species like cedar or larch
 

When choosing a composting bin, check:

  • The openings: they must be large enough for easy turning and retrieval of the compost;
  • The cover: it must provide a tight enough seal to shield the compost pile from inclement weather, and must allow for easy turning; many models feature a lid with two openings: a small one for depositing materials and a larger one for turning;
  • The design: some models have a removable front to make turning easier;
  • The shape: cone- or cylinder-shaped units make turning easier. Square or rectangular shapes hold more, but if the bin is fairly deep, it may be harder to turn the compost.

We like:

  • The ease of use and the fact that the leachate seeps into the ground;
  • The ability to compost a wider variety of organic materials;
  • The affordable price.

Good to know:

  • The composting process takes 6 to 12 months;
  • Frequent turning is needed;
  • Decomposition slows down or stops altogether in winter;
  • The bin may emit unpleasant odours if not used properly.

Spinning or tumbler-style composter

Usually made of plastic and, ideally, from recycled and UV-treated materials, spinning composters are barrel-shaped and equipped with a crank handle and mechanism allowing them to be spun (the barrel is raised on supports to make it easier to turn). Many models have two chambers: one for composting and the other for holding mature compost ready to be retrieved.

When choosing a spinning composter, check:

  • That it has air holes (ideally, they should be adjustable);
  • The opening: it must be large enough for easy compost retrieval.

We like:

  • The fact that compost matures quickly (in 4 to 6 weeks);
  • The ease of turning (via a mechanism, not by hand);
  • Its versatility: it can be installed on an apartment balcony.

Good to know:

  • More expensive to purchase than an on-ground composter;
  • Smaller capacity than an on-ground composter;
  • The barrel must be emptied often: if the barrel is too full, it’s harder to spin;
  • Materials tend to bind together;
  • Aeration is limited: the barrel must be spun at least 3 times a week;
  • The barrel should not be turned in wintertime.

Vermicomposter

Vermicomposting is a process of putting red worms to work to produce nutrient-rich compost. Worms greatly speed up the composting process by consuming and digesting large amounts of waste. Unfortunately, they are also intolerant of cold weather—so in our climate at least, vermicomposting has to be done indoors.

When choosing a vermicomposter, make sure it includes the following:

  • A tight-sealing lid;
  • A bin with a perforated bottom for ease of drainage;
  • Vents or holes to ensure good air circulation.

We like:

  • The low cost;
  • The ease of transport;
  • The compact format;
  • The fact that no turning is needed: the worms do all the work;
  • The lack of unpleasant odours in the house;
  • The quality of the compost.

Good to know:

  • Vermicomposting bins tend to be fairly small, but you can get around this problem by buying two;
  • The worms must be fed regularly and adequately—but not too much! If they lack organic waste to feed on, they may die; add too much, and fruit flies may appear. The key is to find the right balance;
  • The leachate (compost tea) tray must be emptied and rinsed periodically.

Our thanks to Louise Hénault-Éthier, an expert and guest speaker with Équiterre, and Emmanuel Blais-Cosgrove, Director, Écohabitation, for their contributions.

Source: Jacqueline Simoneau, “A composter all your own,” Touring magazine Spring 2013.