Here’s a guest post from our friend Everett Sizemore at Gaiam:
Getting started with composting can be as easy as starting a kitchen scrap and yard waste pile in your backyard, or as sophisticated as using a multi-tiered system that moves compostable materials from a kitchen scrap crock to a spinning composter, then to a vermiculture system (worm composting), and finally into your garden. When choosing which system is right for you, it helps to first get familiar with the different types of composters…
Kitchen composting crocks are designed for daily storage of kitchen scraps until you are able to transport them to a larger composter, such as those described below. Composting crocks can be as simple as an old cookie jar, or as advanced as the new activated carbon-filtered compost crock models. If you choose to go with the cookie jar method, be sure to empty the container daily and take steps to reduce odor, such as using biodegradable composting bags, and cleaning it regularly with warm and soapy water.
These also go in the kitchen, but unlike composting crocks, they are usually designed for long-term composting. Indoor composters are relatively new to the market because composting odors have always been an issue during a full composting cycle. However, recent advancements like compost activators, carbon filters, biodegradable composting bags, and electric units that heat compost to speed the cycle up help indoor composters turn food scraps into compost in a matter of weeks quietly and odor-free.
These can be as simple as a pile of yard waste and kitchen scraps in the backyard, or as advanced as continuous-use spinning composter. Open piles tend to get messy and are difficult to aerate, while commercial outdoor composters don't hold enough for some yards, and can get pricey. One of the best ways around both of these problems is to make three three-sided boxes from used wooden pallets. The first three-sided pallet box is for fresh material, and when it gets full, its contents are moved to the second box. Semi-composted material from the second box is moved to the third, where it becomes nutrient-rich compost you can use in your garden. Following these steps ensures that the composting material gets aerated as it's moved from one box to the next and that you have a continuous supply of fresh, organic fertilizer — with little to no cost.
These are usually stackable systems that allow worms to work through layers of food, but many people make their own worm composting systems using a common plastic storage bin. They work very well when kept at the right temperature, but shouldn't be left out in direct sun or over winter in cold environments, as this could kill the worm population. The best type of worms to use are Eisenia fetida - also called red wigglers, manure worms and trout worms.The best thing about prefabricated plastic worm composting towers is that they usually come with a tap on the bottom level, which is a convenient way to collect vermiculture composting tea. In my experience, this stuff is like organic plant steroids, and is one of the best things you can do for your garden.
Combining Composters into a "System"
My favorite system begins with a home-made worm compost bin made from a cheap plastic bin I got from Kmart. I keep this under the kitchen sink and use it for kitchen scraps and newspapers (rip them into strips first). Once a month I turn it upside down so all the worms go to the bottom (on the lid) and scrape off the top layer (which is actually the bottom layer) into a bucket. I use this extremely rich "worm poo" for sick plants, transplants and the bottom of holes awaiting a new plant. Meanwhile, I throw yard waste into the first section of the three-tiered system behind my garage made from old wooden crates that I found for free beside a warehouse dumpster. By the time these twigs, leaves and other yard waste materials get to the third crate, they are fully composted and ready to be spread on top of my lawn and garden beds.
Now that you know about the different types of composters out there you can start experimenting to find out what system - or in most cases, combination of systems - works best for you! For more information to help you along the way, check out this Complete Guide to Composting.