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Compost Bins: For Aerobic Action

The advantage of a compost bin over a mere pile of debris in the garden is that the mess is contained. Also, having walls allows the pile to be stacked vertically, increasing the efficiency of the composting process. Dark colored bins can be useful in helping to keep the pile warm during cool weather.

A Three Bin Composting System

Bins can be constructed from a number of materials. Wooden slats, wire fencing, and cinder blocks can all make excellent compost bins. With cinder blocks, it can be just a simple matter of stacking the blocks into a three foot square, about three feet high. The disadvantages of using blocks is their weight, the extra space they take up, and the low aesthetic value of blocks. Building a bin from wood is doable, and looks good, but the materials can rot over time, and the composting process itself accelerates this process. (Also, you may wish to avoid using treated lumber, because they are soaked with chemicals that inhibit decay.) Probably the easiest and least expensive solution is to build the bin from wire fencing. A couple of stakes in the ground (or not) surrounded on three or four sides by a wire fence can make an excellent place to toss garden debris.

Those with space will want to build a three bin system that allows for the continual turning and segregating of decayed matter. The photo above shows one near the author's house. This involves three open bays situated side-by-side. The original material is thrown into the first bin and turned periodically. When it seems to be getting along in the composting process, or considerable new material is to be added, some or much of the pile can be moved to the next bin. As the compost in the middle bin becomes finished, or nearly so, it is tossed into the final bin to await use by the gardener. The three bin system is very convenient because it allows the gardener to deal with the fact that finished compost is invariably at the bottom of the pile. By moving it in this manner it is more easy to access and manage.

A Full Compost Bin Image

Compost bins are also manufactured commercially. These can be very convenient for smaller spaces, and for those who like the looks and efficiency of a ready-made compost bin. Most basic bins, like the ones in the photo at right, are basically four walls of a heavy durable plastic material that operate much in the manner of a more natural bin or a pile. They are usually dark in color to take advantage of the sunshine in the colder months.

Finally, there are barrel or drum compost bins. These are positioned on a rack so that the drum can be turned. Raw materials are added along with a starter (usually some semi-finished or finished compost). These contents are periodically spun and wetted. Manufacturers of these bins claim a very fast production time for compost.

Vermicompost bins are very popular with gardeners with limited space. These are normally kept in doors (because of the sensitivity of the worms to below freezing temperatures) and are especially effective at dealing with table scraps. Vermi - meaning worms - are the active force within the bin, and the result is very nutritious (for plants) worm castings.

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