Are you looking at starting to compost at home? There are lots of great reasons to do this.
Firstly, it’s better for the planet: organic waste in landfills is extremely harmful, and even collection composting schemes require fuel and transport.
Secondly, you will get lots of lovely soft compost for your garden.
This is free, and has the added advantage of cutting down on the fuel and packaging required to get commercial compost from the commercial compost pile to your home.
You may not have a compost bin, however, and you’ll probably be pleased to learn that you don’t actually need one.
It’s perfectly possible to compost without a bin. So, here’s how to compost without a bin (the ultimate guide).
Table of Contents
Think About Positioning
If you’re composting without a bin, it may be a little harder to move your compost heap, so try and get it in the right place first time.
This isn’t crucial, but it will help.You don’t want your compost heap too close to a building or to your general sitting space.
Healthy compost shouldn’t smell bad, but it may have a slight odor at times, and it’s not something you’ll want to smell when you’re relaxing in the garden.
You should also think about keeping it away from pets, particularly dogs.
Compost containing food scraps can be toxic to dogs (due to a certain kind of fungi) and it’s important that wherever you put it, you can fence it off.
Having an open compost allows dogs easy access to things they shouldn’t eat – so preempt that by thinking about where you place your compost heap, and make sure you can fence it off.
If you can also ensure a bit of sunlight falls on your heap, that will help.
It will stop the compost from becoming too soggy, and will give it a little heat boost (though most heat is generated inside the heap). If that’s not feasible, don’t worry; you can’t have everything!
Think About Space
You should think about how much space you’re likely to need; this will depend on how big your household is, how much food waste you have, and how much garden waste you have.
Many people build compost heaps around three feet by three feet, but this is just a guide.
A very large heap will be difficult to manage, as it becomes hard to turn. It is better to build a couple of heaps if you want to process a lot of organic waste.
You can have one active heap which you are adding compost to regularly, and one inactive heap that is just processing.
This will mean you have access to compost more quickly (rather than trying to fish it out from between freshly-added ingredients) and can make it easier to maintain the compost heap.
Don’t worry if you don’t have space for two heaps though – this isn’t a necessity.
Once you have selected a spot for your compost, clear the ground of any weeds or other plants, so these don’t grow up through the compost. Bare earth is best for composting on.
You can theoretically compost on hardstanding, but it is often not as successful and you may have to add the worms yourself.
Cut back branches that will hang over the heap so that you can easily get in and turn it when you need to.
Build A Container
You aren’t using a bin, but you may still want a container of sorts, just to keep the compost from spilling out all over the place.
You don’t have to this – you can literally just pile up compost if you want to – but it can make composting easier.
You can make a base out of a sheet of wood, or old pavings. It’s good to have some gaps so that worms can get in easily and the compost can drain, but as you aren’t enclosing the heap, you don’t need to worry too much.
The sides can be made out of any scrap wood, and may also benefit from some holes to increase airflow (this is not necessary, however). Pallets can be a great option.
Leaving the front open if you don’t need to cut off pet access may be a good idea, as this will make it easier for you to access and turn the heap whenever you want to.
If your compost is up against a wall or fence, you may or may not need a back – just make sure it’s not going to be spilling into a neighbor’s garden.
Consider Adding A Lid
You may choose not to add a lid if you are composting without a bin, and that’s completely fine too. It’s just worth considering.
Rain can wash your pile around and make it less tidy, so if you are composting in a small space, a lid may help.
However, rain is beneficial to the compost heap and will help to keep it damp.
You don’t want your compost to dry out as all the helpful critters will leave, so you may decide that a lid is more trouble than it’s worth.
Add Mixed Materials
Bin or no bin, you need to make sure you are adding a mixture of materials to your compost heap. You want some dry ingredients, and some wet ingredients.
You also want some ingredients that are nitrogen-rich, and some that are carbon-rich.
If you aren’t sure, things like food waste, grass clippings, and green plant off-cuts are usually nitrogen-rich. These are also known as “greens.”
Carbon is found in drier components. You can add carbon by putting torn-up pieces of cardboard or newspaper in your bin. Egg boxes are another good source of carbon.
Twigs and sticks are a good addition too; they will boost the carbon in the heap, but they also provide structure.
This structure helps to trap air pockets inside, keeping the heap aerated and healthy.
If you don’t have many twigs, either ask a neighbor, or look into other “stiff” materials that will help to support the soil a bit. Card can be good if you tear it up. Straw is another option.
These materials are known as “browns,” and they usually break down more slowly.
A heap that has insufficient browns will usually end up wet and sludgy, and may start to smell bad. It may also get too hot, and kill off the good bacteria and drive away the worms.
A 50/50 mix of greens and browns is a good ratio to shoot for, but don’t be put off composting and think it’s too complicated for you.
You do not need to stick to this ratio or even spend a lot of time thinking about what you put into the bin (just avoid cooked food and meat scraps).
You do not need to be weighing your compost additions and doing complicated sums.
‘Simply add more browns if you notice the heap getting too wet or starting to smell, and add more greens if it is looking too dry.
Aerate The Heap
Whether you compost in a bin or just in one big pile, your compost heap needs air to function well.
You may actually find that this is much easier to achieve with an exposed compost heap – so this can be an advantage to composting without a bin.
Use a garden fork or shovel to stir the heap up regularly. The more often you turn compost, the faster it will process into something usable, but there’s no penalty if you don’t have time to do it often.
Occasionally, if your compost heap is lacking in browns and gets very compacted, you may find that it starts to smell bad.
If this happens, it’s because the oxygen-hungry (aerobic) bacteria have gone and been replaced by anaerobic bacteria (ones that do not need oxygen).
To solve this, you just need to stir it around a little and reintroduce oxygen.
This is the worst thing you’ll encounter if you don’t mix your compost regularly enough, and some people never have this issue even if they don’t aerate the compost heap.
Pros ; Cons Of No-Bin Composting
All in all, it probably makes little difference, but here are a few advantages to not using a bin:
- Easier aeration
- No need to remove a lid before you add the compost
- No setup costs associated with composting
- Worms can get in and out with ease
- You might notice a bad smell faster, allowing you to correct anything that has gone wrong more quickly
And here are a few potential cons you might notice:
- It doesn’t look as tidy
- There’s nothing to stop animals from eating the compost
- You may occasionally have to “re-pile” the heap if it starts to spill out of the container
- It may be harder to reposition the heap
All in all, composting without a compost bin is very easy to do, and you certainly do not need a bin to start composting.
If you’re feeling unsure about the whole thing, why not try starting a compost pile and see how it goes?
You can purchase a bin and transfer it at a later date if you prefer, but at least you’ll know that you’re putting money into something that works for you!