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Can you make decent compost in these plastic bins?

 
pollinator
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We will be doing a workshop on composting. And I never liked these plastic bins. My gut feeling says that you cannot make decent compost in them because 1) there is not much air flow and 2) they are way too small. Councils like them.  What do you think? Does the compost get anaerobic in them? (I find them very ugly too)
 
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Without knowing what kind of plastic bins you're referring to, I'd say trust your gut feeling. It may well indeed restrict air flow and may not hold enough material to get hot.
 
Angelika Maier
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They look all the same to me. They are all small and nowehere near enough other than for a courtyard.
 
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most compost bins that work well in small sizes are tumbler types not standing types.
a Standing type bin would need to contain 4 cubic feet of material to start with since that is what it takes to get a good heat cycle going and to continue.

I do have one friend that stacked three small bins on top of each other and by doing that he got a good heat cycle going, but that meant that he had to climb a ladder with his starting materials.

I think that tumblers are the best way to go for small batch (1/3 cu. yard or less) composting, they work and they are fast so you can start more batches.

Redhawk
 
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I wouldn't spend any money on any composting contraption. If every year you pile any material you have, leaves, grass clippings, vegatative kitchen waste, including coffee grounds on the ground, you'll get an annual crop of compost. Why spend a fortune to make it a few days earlier? Last years leafs are always composted in time to pile on the new fall supply after harvesting this years compost. You mow your lawn, fill a plastic bin, mow next week, you'll need a new bin. How many bins are you going to buy? 35 weeks, 35 bins, and then you get to the leaf season. You'd need to buy these wholesale, a truck load.

Go simple, make a pile in an out of the way spot.

 
John Indaburgh
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I looked up the composting bins:

Lowes $108 WOW!

For $108 I could buy two yards of mushroom manure delivered. I get a year of benefits. I get 54 cu ft of ummmph in the garden. You buy the $108 marvel you get 7 cu ft a year later. It'd take you almost 8 years to get the production that I get by picking up my phone and yelling 2 yards of it!, please, thank you!.

If you mulch on the ground, you get the benefit of the worm industry. All those worms hauling nutrients back into the soil under the compost pile. Under the marvel you get nothing but weeds.
 
Angelika Maier
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I mysef would never ever buy such contraptions. Most of the bins here are not tumblers they are these square plastic ones and that is what the council here recommends.  They are between 150 and 400 l.It is about producing qualty compost, the stuff you want to make tea out of it.
 
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I suppose it largely depends upon the volume of waste you produce that is worth composting.  I brood my hatchlings in the basement of our house, and from that comes a decent volume of litter.  In previous years, I've cleaned them into the bushel-sized totes and placed them on the porch when my wife starts complaining about the entire house smelling like chickens.  I watered and turned them initially, and then again whenever the heat level started dropping.  It seemed to work fairly decently.  

This year, I'm doing things a little differently.  I got one of the 3' long x 1'wide x 18" deep tubs, and started it with a little soil from last year's container tomatoes.  It stays in the basement brooding area, and gets chicken litter whenever I have a surplus and can't just add more carbon.  

Because it's just my wife and I, we don't produce huge volumes of kitchen scraps, so those not chicken-worthy get added into the compost bin, and it gets watered whenever the chickens or ducks (and soon turkeys) soil their waterer too badly, adding saturated carbonaceous material to the mix.  

Because I haven't started working outside yet (another month until absolute no-frost season) the weed-eater style cultivator stays close by, and it gets thoroughly turned once or twice a week.  We're not getting crazy heat, but it's still getting into the low triple digit range.  Our dry climate, combined with winter temps, make it difficult to sustain an active compost heap off season.  This seems to work fairly well for what we need, which sometimes includes brooding-mortality disposal, as the garbage guys get cranky when you put dead animals in the trash can.  I could go down there now, and likely not find anything more than some banana tops and a few feathers.  
 
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I can’t help but notice that nobody that responded to this thread has actually used one of these types of bins!

I know it’s an older thread, but I hate to think that someone might run across it and pass on buying an excellent tool that would be perfect for their particular situation because of the comments here.

Based on 8+ years of experience with Algreen SoilSavers, the answer to the OP’s question is yes, you can make great compost with a plastic bin unit.  

I’d be happy to share more information and address some misconceptions if anybody is interested.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Elizabeth, I think it would be good for you to voice your experiences with the compost bin.

I have built and worn out 3 tumbler compost bins, currently I don't have one up and running but I will most likely build a new one over the winter.
I love the tumbler types because I can compost all our manure and bedding and get finished compost in under 30 days in the summer months.
My first was a monster, 8 feet long and 4 foot diameter, but at that time I was producing 2 cu. yards of compost materials per week.
Now that I'm way out in the country on my farm I seem to produce less materials for composting since a lot of the materials also serve as foods for our hogs, chickens and the donkey.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
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Elizabeth Geller wrote:I can’t help but notice that nobody that responded to this thread has actually used one of these types of bins!

I know it’s an older thread, but I hate to think that someone might run across it and pass on buying an excellent tool that would be perfect for their particular situation because of the comments here.

Based on 8+ years of experience with Algreen SoilSavers, the answer to the OP’s question is yes, you can make great compost with a plastic bin unit.  

I’d be happy to share more information and address some misconceptions if anybody is interested.



This seems like something a sales rep would say.  

Also, nobody said they had no experience.  The bins I have used and observed others using are way too small to contain a cubic meter of material, the recommended minimum for achieving thermophilic levels.  Mesophilic are fine, but can require their own set of rules for proper management.
 
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An average compost bin is fine for the average person. People will get good enough compost eventually using everyday household items. For many people it’s more about preventing their scraps going to landfill thAm about creating high volumes of the end product. For serious gardeners, they’re going to put in more effort anyway and will get compost fast by turning it over regularly. My compost bin with no air holes gets hotter than an aerated one, and so long as it’s turned over now and then it doesn’t become anaerobic.
 
pollinator
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Now I'm totally confused about what I need to get in the way of a composter. I have little dogs who love nothing more than rolling around in chicken litter and stinky kitchen scraps. Even when I dump it into the middle of big brush piles, they manage to climb down in between the branches and perfume themselves. Then they are determined to sleep with me!

What I want is something to dump kitchen scraps and chicken litter (mostly pine shavings, sometimes leaves) into and just leave it, no turning, not expecting any compost to come back out anytime soon but having a place to put it where it can rot down and the dogs can't get into it. I was looking at those black free-standing bins with the open bottom, but then I read some reviews that said the squirrels chewed into the plastic. Most of my leaves and branches I just pile on the ground, but I could use some to keep the green stuff from getting too stinky if the pine shavings wouldn't be enough.

What would y'all recommend? Would I be happy with a Soilsaver? How do the squirrels do with those? I've thought about doing a pallet compost bin, but that's larger than I have room for.

 
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My sister has used one of those black plastic compost bins in Boston for over 20 years and I don't think she ever had a problem with squirrels. She may have rarely had mice, a lone rat, or a raccoon problem, but she solved the first two by making a dry-laid brick base to keep it on, and the raccoon by keeping a brick or stone on the lid. She throws everything in there, including those things you see in lists of things not to compost: meat, dairy products, bones, hair, paper, sponges, sour wine, and of course all the normal kitchen waste and yard detritus and the neighbor's leaves.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Diane Kistner wrote:Now I'm totally confused about what I need to get in the way of a composter. I have little dogs who love nothing more than rolling around in chicken litter and stinky kitchen scraps. Even when I dump it into the middle of big brush piles, they manage to climb down in between the branches and perfume themselves. Then they are determined to sleep with me!

What I want is something to dump kitchen scraps and chicken litter (mostly pine shavings, sometimes leaves) into and just leave it, no turning, not expecting any compost to come back out anytime soon but having a place to put it where it can rot down and the dogs can't get into it. I was looking at those black free-standing bins with the open bottom, but then I read some reviews that said the squirrels chewed into the plastic. Most of my leaves and branches I just pile on the ground, but I could use some to keep the green stuff from getting too stinky if the pine shavings wouldn't be enough.

What would y'all recommend? Would I be happy with a Soilsaver? How do the squirrels do with those? I've thought about doing a pallet compost bin, but that's larger than I have room for.



hau Diane, If you have a small space where you can dig a hole you can use an in-ground composter setup. I used a plastic waste bin (garbage can in the USA) buried it a little deeper than half way, cut out the bottom and planted it lid up.
Now I can simply toss anything I want to compost into this bin, put the lid on and wait until I have something else to add to it. I never turn never have to remove anything but, if I wanted to get the compost from this bin all I'd need would be a dog poop picker upper and a bucket to drop my compost in after I grabbed a scoop full. Worms will do a good job of moving the decomposed goodies under ground for you. (my old one that was used for 20 years, had quite a large circle of superior soil around it starting at 1 year and the circle just kept growing larger every year after that.

Redhawk
 
Diane Kistner
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
I used a plastic waste bin (garbage can in the USA) buried it a little deeper than half way, cut out the bottom and planted it lid up.



That would be a lot cheaper. What size do you recommend? And do you need to drill holes in the sides, or is the bottom cut out sufficient? And is plastic okay, or would you advise another material?

 
Bryant RedHawk
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The commercial units come with holes in the bottom half but I just cut out the bottom of mine. I used a 30 gal sized bin since it was rectangular instead of the normal round style, the lid has a lip that has around a 3 inch interlocking lid (snaps on by pressing down).
My first one was the same type and was at the corner of the vegetable garden area, it was still being used by the new owners of the house just 5 years ago (almost 40 years total) since this bin was set in a deep shade spot the plastic was still solid (I stopped and asked how it was doing or if they even knew it was there).

This is actually one of the few times I prefer plastic over other materials, you want this thing to last a good amount of time and I don't want to have zinc eroding into the soil around such a bin or the rusting steel that would follow.
The reason for the holes in the sides is so worms can get in at different levels, you have some choices that all work; just the bottom cut off, bottom cut off and 1/2" to 1.0" holes drilled into the bottom 1/2 of the sides, holes drilled in the bottom and holes drilled in the sides.
You can compost just about anything organic in one of these, including pet poop with no worries about contaminating your soil, the bacteria and fungi along with the worms working will take care of the pathogens should any be present.

Redhawk
 
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I do similar set-up to what Dr. Redhawk described, but with galvanized steel trashcans.  Keeps out any rodents, but lets in worms if you drill holes or pop the bottom off..
 
Diane Kistner
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Mk Neal wrote:I do similar set-up to what Dr. Redhawk described, but with galvanized steel trashcans.  Keeps out any rodents, but lets in worms if you drill holes or pop the bottom off..



Now my little creative brain is going. Thanks, guys!

I've got a bunch of Firehouse Subs 5-gallon buckets and a bunch of 12" square pavers. A paver just covers the top of a bucket, and I think they are heavy enough that the critters we have around here could not move them. So I'm thinking I may try to kill two birds with one stone, as it were, by laying the pavers out along an area where I want to have a path, then hire some brawny guy to come dig the holes for me to seat the buckets down into the ground. If I can get all but the last few inches of the buckets in the ground, then I could shove mulch up around the bucket edges, helping disguise their fire-engine red color. I figure, then, I'll have a nice path plus the worms can work the compost into the beds on either side. That would work, wouldn't it? Round pavers would work better than the square ones, but I haven't seen many of those around in my area. But it would cost me nothing but the labor, and I'd rather spend the money on the labor than on buying more plastic from Amazon or Home Depot.

Any downsides to this plan that anyone can foresee? If I got smell, I could spray LAB serum into the buckets, and I could rotate which ones I stick scraps in. Or maybe I could just put some mycelium-laced wood chips on top on occasion....



 
Bryant RedHawk
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sounds to me like you have a good plan Diane.

Redhawk
 
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Pine shavings work well.  I have the opposite issue a lot of people have-more greens than browns.  So I buy pine shavings to make up the difference.  The compost in this picture was made of coffee grounds, alfalfa pellets and yard waste plus kitchen scraps and bananas with pine shavings as the primary carbon component.  My goal was high quality compost fast hence the alfalfa pellets.  I am using a tumbler type composter for the same reason.  If compost isn't your primary goal just get a plastic bin-type composter with an open bottom and cover the outside with hardware cloth to keep the rodents out.
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Angelika Maier wrote:We will be doing a workshop on composting. And I never liked these plastic bins. My gut feeling says that you cannot make decent compost in them because 1) there is not much air flow and 2) they are way too small. Councils like them.  What do you think? Does the compost get anaerobic in them? (I find them very ugly too)



This is discussed in the Humanure Handbook 4th edition. I'll excerpt here:

One of the reasons dry toilets don’t reach and maintain thermophilic conditions is that the volume of the material inside the toilet chamber is too small. One interesting research study published in 2007 compared temperatures achieved in three different “backyard” compost containers: a plastic bin, a wooden bin, and a small open pile. The volumes were small by composting standards at 74 gallons each for the plastic bin and the open pile, and 209 gallons for the wooden bin. The organic mix was made from plant material; no food scraps or manures were used. A hundred cubic meters of the mix were generated using shredding machines; 30 cubic meters were used in the numerous bins being tested, while the remaining 70 cubic meters were left in a pile. To make a long story short, none of the bins achieved thermophilic temperatures. The maximum temperature reached was about 77°F (25°C ), whereas the temperatures in the big left-over pile ranged from 104°F (40°C) to 158°F (70°C). The researchers concluded that “the small volume of material is thought to be the most likely cause of the lack of temperature increase.” They also suggested that bins of at least a cubic meter in size “have greater potential to maximize heat generation,” and that “composters should attempt to better insulate compost vessels,” as well as keep some type of cover on top to protect from excessive rainfall and to insulate the pile. My own experience bears this out.

Humanure Handbook, 4th edition, Chapter 12, page 145. https://humanurehandbook.com/store/Humanure_Handbook.html

Joe Jenkins

 
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I get pretty good results out of a plastic bin my mother-in-law gave us.  It doesn't get as good of a thermophylic period as my pallet bin does, but it does get around 120 degrees for a couple weeks before cooling down.  It also gets way better conposting worm action than my hotter bins, maybe because of the lesser heating. This is after 1 1/2 months of composting, not there yet but coming along.
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Elizabeth Geller
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Chad Sentman wrote:
This seems like something a sales rep would say.  


I recommended a specific model because I've used other types and I found the Soil Saver to be better than the others due to size, durability, and low price.  I was simply trying to be helpful.

Diane Kistner wrote:Now I'm totally confused about what I need to get in the way of a composter. I have little dogs who love nothing more than rolling around in chicken litter and stinky kitchen scraps. Even when I dump it into the middle of big brush piles, they manage to climb down in between the branches and perfume themselves. Then they are determined to sleep with me!

What I want is something to dump kitchen scraps and chicken litter (mostly pine shavings, sometimes leaves) into and just leave it, no turning, not expecting any compost to come back out anytime soon but having a place to put it where it can rot down and the dogs can't get into it. I was looking at those black free-standing bins with the open bottom, but then I read some reviews that said the squirrels chewed into the plastic. Most of my leaves and branches I just pile on the ground, but I could use some to keep the green stuff from getting too stinky if the pine shavings wouldn't be enough.

What would y'all recommend? Would I be happy with a Soilsaver? How do the squirrels do with those? I've thought about doing a pallet compost bin, but that's larger than I have room for.



The Soilsaver is made of thick and sturdy plastic, and I can't imagine a squirrel would worry it at all.  In contrast, the Redmon Green Culture is pretty flimsy, and a poorer design overall.  I think the Soilsaver would work well for your needs, but it sounds like you have an alternative plan.  Good luck.
 
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