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Composting Basics: Types of Composters

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Worm Composting

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, uses earthworms on top of the microorganisms at work already in the decomposition process to turn waste into usable compost. Worm composters and composting systems keep worms contained, and as you supply organic materials for the worms to eat, they pass it through their bodies and excrete castings, or worm manure. These excretions are the secret of vermicomposters. Worm castings improve the soil and improve plant health in a variety of ways, including introducing tons of beneficial minerals and microorganisms to soil. Worm castings are easy for plants to absorb, can help fix pH problems in soil, and might even help to prevent some disease and pest activity. Worm manure is definitely the best manure you could be adding to your garden.

There are several models of worm composters on the market. Most designs consist of a system of trays stacked vertically with a lid. Worms and a bedding material, like newspaper or cardboard, are added into the first tray, along with a little bit of sand or soil to help them digest their food, and then they can begin to break down waste. When the first tray of organic waste is composted, subsequent trays can be filled and stacked onto the first tray. The bottoms of the trays are typically mesh or have some kind of perforation in them so that compost can fall through and, more importantly, so that your worms can travel up into new trays with new food. Trays can be refilled and swapped out as needed to keep your worms well-fed and your garden well composted. Some models also feature a spigot through which worm tea may be collected. Worm tea is produced by the build-up of moisture in the composter soaking through the worm castings. Worm tea can be dispersed in the garden just like the worm castings, and your plants will be healthier and happier because of it.

Tumbling Composting

Composting with a tumbler is very hot and very fast. If you have limited space, and don’t want to get your hands that dirty, tumbling composters are the way to go. These composters are large cylinders or drums wherein organic waste is added through a door, and the drum is rotated by a handle. The drums are incredibly sturdy, sometimes insulated, and keep the contents inside very hot and actively decomposing. These composters may feature aeration vents in the drum or doors, and screens through which moisture can drain. The advantage of using a tumbling composter, aside from the composting speed, is that you don’t need to turn the compost by hand with a shovel. The tumbling action of the drum eliminates the need to turn heavy and dirty compost.

Tumbling composters also come in a variety of sizes, including very small patio versions for those with limited space. Some models can feature isolated chambers inside for fast batch composting. These composters are odorless, and keep your decomposing materials safe from pests that cannot chew through the metal parts.

Upright Composting

Composting in an upright bin can be a very simple way to compost or more complicated, depending on what kind of composter you get. At its simplest, it is a container in which compostable materials are periodically placed and agitated to control temperature and introduce heat. Unlike simple compost piles, compost bins can keep your materials covered, insulated, and may have several features that allow for the drainage of excess fluid that could slow decomposition and vents to provide the oxygen that is necessary for materials to break down quickly. For example, the 90 gallon Feelgood Composter offered on MasterGardening.com is constructed of dark plastic that absorbs heat, vented for aeration, and is able to drain excess moisture due to the absence of a base, while the Aerobin 400 composter uses an aeration core inside the sealed bin to promote aerobic decomposition.

Of the types of composters, the upright bin is the most common, so finding the right size, color, and features for you should be easy. As there is no built-in way to agitate the materials to introduce oxygen as with a tumbler, you will need to use a shovel, rake, or aeration tool to turn your compost regularly. Proper aeration will ensure that your compost breaks down quickly, so it may be a good idea to use a thermometer to monitor rises and falls in temperature that can signal when oxygen is low.

Visit MasterGardening.com/composters to check out the variety of worm, tumbling, and upright composters we have available for purchase, as well as more information on composting to help you decide which type of composter may be right for you.