How To Start and Use an Outdoor Stackable Compost Bin

Composters come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, and one of the most popular models is the stackable bin. Such bins tend to be sturdy, convenient, weather- and pest-proof, and the separate tiers allow for easy turning. Here are step-by-step instructions for starting and maintaining your compost pile in a stackable bin.

What You Need

Materials
Outdoor area
Compostable waste
Air
Water

Equipment and Tools
Stackable compost bin
Latch (optional)
Shovel and/or garden fork

Instructions

1. Procure a stackable compost bin. One of the most popular models is the Scotts 100164 Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Compost Bin (formerly known as the Smith & Hawken Biostack), made from 60% recycled polyethylene and available for $96.47 at Amazon. Also check with your city or county, as many subsidize compost bins. (In Los Angeles, we purchased a Biostack for $45.) Sunset also has good instructions for building your own wood bin.

2. Add a latch to the lid (optional). Biostack-type bins are pretty sturdy, but we wanted some extra protection from neighborhood dogs and raccoons, so we added a metal latch to the lid (about $1.50 at the hardware store).

3. Place the bin in an outdoor area. The bin should be placed directly on the ground (not concrete) in an easily accessible location. To take full advantage of the stacking feature, choose an area with enough room to unstack and lay the tiers next to the bin.

4. Decide how many tiers to start with. You can use the bin at full height or start low and add more tiers as the compost pile grows.

5. Add compostable waste. Place a mixture of nitrogen-rich "greens" (kitchen scraps, grass clippings, weeds, manure, etc.) and carbon-rich "browns" (dead leaves, twigs, sawdust, shredded paper, etc.) in the bin. Don't worry about specific ratios, but do try to include a bit more brown than green. For more information on what should and should not be composted, see the EPA's Composting page.

6. Turn the compost. Nature will do most of the work, but it's a good idea to turn the compost from time to time, as it introduces oxygen into the pile and eliminates odors that might attract pests. We give our compost a light fluff every time we add new waste and do a fuller turn once every week or two.

To lightly turn the compost, use a garden shovel or fork to lift and spread the material around. This is really all that is necessary, especially when you're just starting the compost pile.

Once the pile grows larger, and if you have the inclination and space, you can take advantage of the stacking feature to turn the compost by rotating it back and forth. Remove the top tier and lay it on the ground next to the bin – it will become the bottom tier of your "new" bin. Shovel some compost into the tier. Transfer the next tier over and shovel more compost. Repeat until all tiers and contents have been transferred.

7. Add water as necessary. Compost should feel slightly damp, like a wrung-out sponge. If it gets dry, add some water and turn the pile to mix.

Do you use a stackable compost bin? Share your tips in the comments.

(Images: Jess S., Gregory Han, Joel Ignacio, Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, Jess S.; all used by permission)

(Originally published during Home Hacks 2010 on 2010-02-02 - CB)