Composting Barrel / Bin: Top Picks

A good composting barrel or bin effectively retains heat, provides good air flow and keeps out unwanted weather and animals. This page shares our top picks for each type: enclosed compost barrel and open-air compost bin...

Which Kind Is Best for Me: Enclosed or Open-Air Composting Barrel?

Pre-Made Compost

If you’re just now getting your compost piles ready but are itching to start your garden, there’s no need to wait!

composting barrel

Good pre-made compost can be purchased to give your plants the nutrients they need while your homemade composting operation is getting underway.

You can never have enough compost. The more you mix into your soil and add as mulch, the healthier your plants will be and the better they will produce.

Unfortunately, the tiny organisms that turn your compost ingredients into garden-ready compost need time to do their thing.

How much time? At least a year for your cold piles (enclosed piles that you gradually add to) and at least a couple of months for your hot piles (large open-air piles built all at once or well-insulated enclosed piles).

Don’t Forget!

In order for any compost bin to work effectively, you need to:

  • Add the right proportion of greens and browns
  • Break up composting ingredients as much as possible before adding to your piles. The smaller the ingredients, the faster they'll break down.
  • Add soil or compost to introduce the organisms that will break down your waste
  • Aerate your pile regularly
  • Ensure proper moisture (keep piles moist but not soggy – about the consistency of a wrung-out sponge)
  • When adding kitchen waste, only add the good stuff: bread, coffee grounds and filters, fruit and vegetable scraps, oatmeal and tea bags)

Therefore, we highly recommend the following...

  • Enclosed Composting Barrel - If you order a larger barrel such as the one recommended below or our recommended tumbler composter, you will probably only need one, especially if done in conjuction with open-air composting.
  • Open-Air Composting Bin - Consider owning at least two, preferrably three.

    Open-air compost bins are intended to hold much more than their enclosed counterparts and are especially good for hot composting yard waste. To keep your hot piles producing abundant compost, it’s best to use at least two open-air bins and to set up a rotation: fresh ingredients go into the first bin and garden-ready compost from the first bin is transferred to the second.

    In a three-bin system, the second bin is used for semi-composted ingredients while the third is used for garden-ready compost.

Although this seems like a big composting operation, it will quickly become a part of your routine. And your plants will reward you for the extra effort!

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Enclosed Composting Barrel / Bin: Our Pick

Most enclosed compost barrels and bins are intended for "cold" composting, meaning that the compost pile is added to slowly thereby allowing less heat to build up inside than "hot" piles.

The good ones keep out rain, wind and animals by being fully enclosed and having tightly closing tops. They also retain heat by being large enough (bins that are too small have piles that can't get hot enough for decomposition) and by being made of heat-absorbing and heat-retaining material.

composting barrel

The EarthMaker Aerobic Composter earned our top pick in the Composting Barrel category for several reasons...

  • It has a built-in three stage system. New waste goes in the top. When the new waste has started to decompose, slide the first "trap door" to allow the material to fall into the second "digesting" container. When the compost ingredients have digested long enough and are mature, open the second trap door to allow the mature compost to be accessed from the bottom chamber as needed.
  • Moving the contents from chamber to chamber "automatically" aerates the material, although stirring will still be necessary (while this three-tier system helps, don't leave this or any enclosed composting barrel to fend for itself - if you don't keep the contents moist and well-churned, you'll have a mess on your hands and it will take much longer to produce useable compost).
  • Relatively simple assembly
  • Large size (123 gallon/466 L) is easily big enough for a family of five or six, producing up to 10 gallons (35 L) of compost per month.
  • It's protected from the elements on all sides.

Our only caveat is that you may want to place it on top of a stable base such as a layer of bricks. This will make the finished compost much easier to remove.

Click here to purchase the EarthMaker Aerobic Composter.

If manually mixing the compost and working with the chambers sounds like too much work, a tumbler composter may be a better fit for you. It's a little more expensive, but the amount of time and energy it saves is well worth it.

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Open-Air Composting Barrel / Bin: Our Pick

Want to learn more about hot composting in open-air compost bins? See our Compost How to Make Hot Piles page.

Open-air compost bins are intended to hold much more than their enclosed counterparts and are especially good for hot composting.

To keep your hot piles producing abundant compost, it’s best to use two or three open-air bins and to set up a rotation: fresh ingredients go into the first bin and garden-ready compost from the first bin is transferred to the second. In a three-bin system, the second bin is used for semi-composted ingredients while the third is used for garden-ready compost.

Here's how a good open-air compost bin handles its requirements...

  • Weather & Animals – The sides are sturdy enough to prevent wind and animals from easily accessing compost (although preventing sneakier animals like raccoons may require the use of a pest control fence). Open-air bins are designed to let rain in, so make sure that your piles’ moisture is kept under control through proper turning and by placing your piles on top of well-drained soil and a “breathable” layer of gravel, straw or other material.
  • Heat – The size and speed at which hot piles are built will ensure that the proper temperatures are met.
  • Aeration – You will need to manually turn your hot piles with a shovel or garden fork to keep them well-aerated.
best compost bin

Ideally, your open air compost bins should be made of recycled plastic or rot-resistant wood that has not been treated with chemicals.

We like the straight-forward Dura-Trel Open Air Composter. It's made with sturdy long-lasting PVC and is backed by the manufacterer with a 20-year warranty.

It has an attractive design, and its front rails are easily removed for turning and moving the piles.

As mentioned above, we highly recommend using at least two (possibly three) open-air composting bins for a systematic fresh/partially composted/mature piles.

Click here to purchase the Dura-Trel Open Air Composter.

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