Inexpensive Composter Bins

Building vs Buying an Inexpensive Compost Bin

It is relatively inexpensive to build a composter from scrap materials. You can fit the design to your own needs, especially since you are in control of the composter design. My dad would scarf up wooden pallets from anywhere and create adirondack chairs from the wood. If this is you, you can build your own compost holder.

But if you aren't working with scrap materials, the costs can start to add up in a hurry. The wood costs can be relatively high, especially if you start looking at wood products that will last a while like cedar, and want to avoid pressure treated lumber because you aren't comfortable with the chemicals that the wood has been treated with.

In addition, there are some features that you can find on some of the inexpensive composters that are not simple to build in, for example a fully enclosed bin to keep out the vermin and other pests.

Another advantage of using a low cost compost bin is that you may find that the smaller size is to your advantage, as you can start on one batch of compost, then you can add another to queue up the contents for the next batch while the first one is being actively worked and turned on a regular basis.

So here's a look at some lower cost com posters. These won't have all the features of the higher end designs, but they all will get the composting job done after a while, and you can match your composter features up to the budget you have. Plus, they all look better than hiding an open pile of compost behind your garden shed or in plain view of your beautiful garden.

Simple Wire Compost Bins

About the simplest compost bin that can be built is a wire mesh similar to chicken wire creating an enclosure.

The advantage to this style of composter is that it is low cost, easy to assemble and set up, and small enough to easily store when not in use. They typically have some type of treatment on the wire like a plastic covering to keep from rusting and extending the life of the bin.

Of course, they are not covered, and so the moisture regulation can be difficult in arrid conditions, as the sides of the pile will tend to dry out. In addition, the pests in the yard have virtually free access to the pile as well.

The Earth Machine Composter

This is one of the more popular composters around. There have been over 2 million sold, or at least in use. One of the reasons that it is so popular is that many local municipalities make them a part of their "green" efforts, so many of them have either been given away or sold at a discount.

That being said, they are a nice little composter. It doesn't have a base, so the bottom rests directly on the ground, which has its pros and cons. It has a small door so that the finished compost can be removed from the bottom as you add more fresh material at the top.

It's made from plastic, and holds about 10 cubic feet of material, as it's about 33 inches in each dimension.

The Soilsaver Compost Bin

This is my personal favorite of the basic inexpensive compost bins, The Soilsaver compost bin is a fully enclosed unit. The floor keeps the extra critters out of the pile. It's a generous size (slightly over 11 cubic feet) and has 2 doors to allow access to the finished compost. The fresh material is easily loaded into the top door, which is about 2 feet square.

The top door of the Soilsaver composter also allows rain to drain and add needed moisture to the working pile. It has nylon hardware that won't rust or corrode over the years.

While you can turn the pile using a compost turning tool, perhaps the easiest way to turn the whole pile is to simply lift the compost off the top of the pile, and set it next to the pile, which is then loaded back in, giving it a thorough turn.

The Soil Saver composter is a great value for the price.

Compost Turning Tools

With any of the lower cost composter, or even just a compost pile, you will find that the key to getting your compost working fast is to turn the pile regularly. This gets the uncomposted material into the active hot center of the pile, and also works to aerate the pile and get oxygen into the pile and heat it up.

Of course you can do this with multiple bins or piles, and turn it with a pitchfork. The lazy man's way to do it is to use a compost turning tool or compost aerator. These are generally not much money, but do wonders to make any compost bin or pile work that much more effectively. It should be in the tool shed of every gardener.

Compost Activators

Some folks swear by compost activators, others swear at them.

Generally, if you have a good mix of materials so the carbon to nitrogen ratio is good, and you can seed the pile with soil or compost from a previous pile, there is probably little to gain from an activator.

But if you are working on a pile of dead leaves or something tough like wood chips, an activator can help move things along. Even a few handfuls of cottonseed meal or some other nitrogen source can be good, but it's best if it's in a slow release form.

The End Result - Black Gold

The start of our compost harvest.
The start of our compost harvest. | Source

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Comments 6 comments

Rees Cowden profile image

Rees Cowden 8 years ago

Some nice thoughts on composters John,

I agree with you that composters don't have to be expensive to work well. I haven't tried the tumbler type yet but that's because I actually enjoy turning my compost by hand. My favorite one has removable panels and no cover. I've found that once I have a good healthy bacteria and insect community going I don't have a need for the activators.

Thanks for your info.

Rees Cowden

dlarson profile image

dlarson 8 years ago from Priest River, ID

Good Hub John. I have the Earth Machine and it is not a good composter. It doesn't let in enough air and its difficult to stir a deep pile without lifting the entire bin which tapers up to the top. I've found that a simple wire bin works better but is not as clean (i.e. you can smell it).

Maybe I'll try your idea of simply moving the bin and then reloading it with the pile. Thanks for the great idea!

jencantwell 7 years ago

I like your article about inexpensive composters. Some cities/counties also offer discounted composting systems for citizens. I have been experimenting lately with flow-through worm bin designs for under $20. Good stuff!

2uesday profile image

2uesday 7 years ago from - on the web, I am 2uesday.

As well as lots of useful information here I like the way you write it. Interesting and informative.

Dobson profile image

Dobson 6 years ago from Virginia

Wow, this is another great source of information about composting options. Thanks for putting it out here!

baby-gifts profile image

baby-gifts 6 years ago

Thanks for this information on building vs buying a compost bin. This provides me with multiple options now before I look into what is the best and most affordable one for me.

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