Dec 292017

In October, 2017, we asked subscribers to our newsletter, Cuttings, to answer a number of questions in a survey about composting. Although the number of respondents was not high, some interesting insights have been gained.

There were 149 respondents out of the 4800 who opened the newsletter. Even though this was not a high percentage, the results provide some interesting insights.

What type of composting system do you use?

Plastic bins with either open or closed bases were the most popular with about 17% of respondents using one of these and almost equal numbers using a combination of two or more different composting methods. Close behind in popularity were worm farms, then tumblers and open heaps. Bokashi bins or bucket or various types of open cages were least used

What was the cost of your composting system?

Almost 50% of respondents had spent $50 or less. Twenty seven percent had spent $51-$100 while much fewer spent higher sums – a few of $300 or more.

How old is your composting system?

About 40% of respondents had been composting for 1–5 years, 34% for 5–10 years while 21 % had been composting for 10 years or more.

How easy is it to use your composting system?

For 70%, composting was very easy. Thirty six people provided comments on this question.  The most frequent observations were difficulty of turning tumblers, especially when full, the need to turn the compost to get fast breakdown and problems getting the ratios of “green” to “brown” components right.

What do you like most about your composting system?

Analysing 130 comments can be done through a ‘wordle’ which yields a visual representation of the frequency with which words appear. Below is a wordle of the comments from which the words “garden” and “compost” have been removed because they overwhelmed the frequencies of the more interesting words.

From looking at comments and the wordle the overall conclusion is that people liked their system and found it a great way to use household and garden waste productively. Worms were popular in either a worm farm or when found in any of the systems where waste material was in contact with the ground.

What do you like least about your composting system?

Again it was necessary to remove “compost” from the comments to create the wordle below. It is clear that many people found nothing to dislike!

However, as noted in the earlier question, some found difficulties with turning tumblers since they became heavy when full. A number of respondents did not like the sometimes hard nature of the product when decomposition was completed. Many with open or closed systems thought that it took too much time for decomposition, especially in winter. And some complained about the physical work involved in turning the material in the open systems – although a few commented that it was a good way of getting fit.


Most problems were reported with open heaps or tumblers unless respondents thought that the physical work helped them keep fit. A problem with any system was smelliness if the right ratio of brown to green was not achieved.

So, if you’re wondering which type of composting method to start using,  some sort of closed or semi-closed system appears to be best – not tumblers – but some patience is required to get good quality compost.  And, of course, worm farms!

  18 Responses to “Composting Methods our Subscribers Prefer”

  1. I have put plastic pipe in both my bays and when the compost starts building I shake the pipes up, down, sideways. The bins are open- an old pine stand with two shelves. Now laid flat with the top on slope to prevent movement down the hill. Corrugated iron top which I open and or shut in the rain. Couldn’t afford anything else! Bingo and not a bad little compost.

  2. SharronPs comments on the corkscrew device would be good for the more mature among us. I would like to see some comments from those among us that have opted for worm farms

    • The corkscrew aerator is the key to successful compost.
      Also adding enough carbon matter is important. I have plants ( without seeds) that I have weeded out of the garden in an open air pile next to my compost bin. This pile dries out quickly and becomes my carbon matter which I add every time my veggie scraps (nitrogen matter) goes into the bin.

  3. I have been composting for many years but since my retirement I become more serious.The best tool is the spiral screw, I use it in both open heap and closed bin with good results in both. We do have a small mulcher which is very handy to put light prunings & corn stalks or similar through,These are very good in the mix.
    Finally on the roller being hard to roll over don’t have your mix to wet.

    • Thanks for the tip. I am going to buy one! I usually unpack the bin contents onto a tarp then randomly put back in the bin, to mix. It is hard work!

  4. I am sorry that I missed your survey, so, I have used two now three, closed bins for a few years and have used only kitchen scraps. We can not use anything else due to our location, rural Sth Aust. The compost we produce is not at all smelly, if you consider earthy smell, smelly, which we consider AOK if it does not smell then its too dry, add water, not to often. I have started with very old horse manure then add what ever the kitchen produces. 2 – 3 months you have a very nice dark brown, useable compost.

  5. TonyC, Mount Waverley.
    I missed the survey. Simply, I have two tumble bins for kitchen waste and some garden which, when mature, is fed into a 5 bin system. Bins 1 & 2 fixed back and sides with slats to build front. Used for Autumn leaves storage. Bins 3 – 5 700mm square x 150 mm “boxes” which stack to form compost bins of required variable heights.
    Bin 3 Is the start with leaves, grass and chicken or cow manure layered and lightly mixed. Bin 5 is the matured compost for the garden. When it is ripe it is emptied and “bin” 4 is turned by forking it into “bin” 5 and “bin” 3 into 4. A new mix is then put into “bin”3. At 74 I find the forking still managble due to flexibility of the “box” system

  6. My favourite method is in ground .. there is no turning and there is no bin. A 300 mm X 200 mm piece of water pipe with holes in it buried. place a terracotta saucer on top so it covers the waste & does not blow away. I cut up finely my kitchen waste and tip it in to the pipe and the worms do the rest. How easy is that? Compost bins are smelly and difficult to manage for me..

    • I am planning on doing the same thing for the same reasons! does your saucer have ventilation holes? Does your pipe have side holes?

  7. what about direct/trench composting? I dig a hole on the drip line of my trees about 300mm deep and chuck in my food scraps (not meat or dairy) Add water and the excavated soil back over the top. I do this all year round even in winter.

    Its a good way to feed your soil/trees and reduce food waste.

  8. For those whose compost is slow to decompose in winter the addition of some effective microbes can assist. I successfully use Compost-It from Biomaster –

  9. I do a slow compost in plastic upright bins. I plan to leave it for longer as i don’t want to turn it and am happy with slower warm, not hot decomposition, so include some twigs or purnings for air, strips of newspaper here and there to keep an open structure as it decomposes and also to wick water through the heap so it helps stay moist. I also water it occasionally – and deliberately include clay slurry as part of this to hold onto nutrients and i have a friend who gives me some sandy seaweed which i add too. The brown layers i use usually coffee grounds and coffee husks mixed together. I also include grass clippings from a friend.. I just add to it gradually as i get a bucket full of kitchen waste. it works well. I do have to move it however, as i usually run out of bins, so i heap together the half-finished compost into a pile, cover it with a tarp and leave it to finish so i can start again with filling the plastic bins.

    You just need the space to have 3 or 4 bins going at once and a spot to finish the heaped contents. I think my compost takes about 6 months, sometimes longer. I have found pumpkins growing out of the compost, so this time i have left the pumpkins in place and am training them to grow up and apple tree so they don’t take over my whole vegie patch.

  10. I agree with the comment that turning compost is quite a physical feat – I am 62 and have recently hurt both shoulders trying to fork over compost from one closed plastic bin to another. I have composted for years and really like the results – I incorporate layers of sheep manure, lucerne hay or lupins and potting mix if I want perfect results in a short time frame. Maybe the trick for me as I get older is to be patient and accept that it will just take longer for my bins to create compost without turning it!

    Whilst it is not free because of the things I add to it, my homemade compost makes a huge difference to the soil (sand) in my garden in the south west of WA.

    • You don’t need to transfer the contents of one bin to another. There is a corkscrew-like device which allows you to wind it down to the lower layers and pull up a plug to the surface. If you do this regularly you will end up with excellent compost. It is available from hardware stores – even the dark green one with red letters on it.

      • I use one of these and it does make life easier. One with a longer handle would be great for my worm towers.

    • Yes Sue, Sharron’s “Compost Mate” corkscrew implement is the way to go to aerate and turn your compost. It is easy to do, blends the greens and browns and also speeds up the composting process. No hard work forking from one bin to the other and leaves your second bin free to start another batch while the first matures.

    • I have three of that rotating type of mulch maker. Work out what size you can move and only fill it that much. Alternativly contact organizations like the Scouts and if you offer to buy a few more biscuits, see what they can do.

      • Coastal conditions with humidity is the scourge of grape growing. What you describe is fungal related and will be an ongoing challenge, American varieties of grapes like ‘Concord’ and ‘Isabella’ are far more resistant to thes problems and may be a suitable alternative.

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