Compost expert Barbara Pleasant insists that compost doesn't need to be pretty or a secret. She advocates for open piles over expensive, shiny composting units. However, using a compost bin does help you to keep hungry critters from going after kitchen scraps, and some of those expensive, shiny units make turning compost easier--and, therefore, finishing compost faster. Compost bins present several uses to the gardener on a quest for richer, healthier soil.
Compost results from helpful bacteria that consume your scraps and throwaways, leaving nutrient- and humus-rich soil behind. Successful composting requires a mix of carbon- and nitrogen-containing ingredients, which feed and promote reproduction in the microbes, respectively. As such, just-started compost contains lots of scraps that you'd ordinarily identify as garbage--vegetable peels, plate scrapings and paper food wrappers--that make the new compost heap very attractive to animals. Everything from neighborhood dogs to rats and raccoons may see your new compost pile as an all-you-can-eat buffet, so keeping it covered when you're just getting started will deter animals from helping themselves. Once the composting process is under way, those enticing food scraps will decompose into dirt and, if you find it easier to turn and check your compost outside of the bin, you can remove it to an uncovered pile then.
Compost is a natural process and, for all the thought and effort that some gardeners put into striking just the right balance of ingredients, it will happen no matter what, just at faster or slower rates. Hot composting, however, produces compost in as little as six weeks by adding ingredients in a proportion and with conditions ripe for the microbial activity needed to break down materials into compost. Hot composting requires high levels of nitrogen-rich material to promote bacterial reproduction, as well as frequent aeration and size adequate to hold heat in the core of the pile. Some composting units, particularly compost tumblers, are designed to make hot composting easier, and if you want compost quickly without having time or materials to maintain a pile large enough for hot composting, a compost bin or tumbler may be a solution.
Vermicomposting uses earthworms to break down kitchen scraps and yard waste into compost. Especially popular with gardeners who don’t have room for a compost pile or standard compost bin, vermicomposting uses a smaller bin to house the worms as they turn trash to garden treasure. Although special vermicomposting bins are commercially available, Barbara Pleasant recommends using an ordinary plastic storage bin 10 to 30 gallons in size and drilling about 30 holes in the sides so that your worms can get air. The worms excrete nutrient-rich soil that you can scoop out and add to your potted or container plants.