Compost sounds like something you find on a farm or near a big, in-ground garden. But that’s not always the case! Small compost bins can make it possible for just about anyone to make their own “black gold.”
Composting is a great way to save some money, reduce your carbon footprint and do something good for the environment.
You don’t need a huge yard to compost — even relatively small compost bins can produce enough for a container garden.
There are many types of smaller composting containers you can use on a patio, deck or balcony.
These won’t produce huge quantities of compost. But since you’re growing a container garden, you most likely don’t need a huge amount anyway.
And you don’t have to go out and buy a fancy compost bin to get results (although you certainly can if you want to!). I give some recommendations below.
If you’re looking at the materials you have on hand and wondering about composting in small containers, you’re in luck.
Can you compost in a plastic bin? Yes! Can you compost in a 5-gallon bucket? Also yes! What about a cardboard box? Actually yes … you probably didn’t see that one coming, but you can.
Composting is also a great project for kids to help out with! They can help gather kitchen scraps, throw them in the bin and stir it around. And just wait until they hear about worm bins … It’s all a great lesson in recycling and sustainability.
Read on for recommendations for some awesome small compost bins to get you started.
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What is composting?
The act of composting is to recycle plant material in a way that speeds up the natural decay process. It creates an ideal environment for organisms and fungi to process the material.
Once it’s finished decaying, aged compost is used to enrich new soil. It’s a potent fertilizer that adds lots of beneficial nutrients, microbes and other organisms.
Compost improves soil structure and provides organic fertilizer (be sure to use plant material that hasn’t been treated with herbicides or other chemicals).
Small space composting and small compost bins
Don’t think you need a huge backyard for composting! This can easily be done in any size yard with a little creativity. Making do with what you have is also easy on the wallet.
Worm compost bins
Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, is a great way to compost in a limited amount of space. And imagine telling your kids you’re getting a worm farm! Suddenly composting is a family affair.
Worm bins are easy to set up and maintain and are best stored indoors or protected outdoor spaces, as worms are sensitive to extreme temperatures.
But if your only input is kitchen waste (no yard trimmings), they won’t produce very much usable compost without some help from “brown” materials such as shredded dry leaves.
Pros: Easy to set up and harvest finished compost. No odor when set up correctly. You can use existing kitchen waste to start and add food scraps as you have them.
Cons: Not great for composting larger quantities of material. Semi-wet conditions need regular addition of dry materials (e.g., shredded newspaper).
Best worm bins
VermiHut Plus 5-tray worm bin – highly rated and includes a starter kit
Redmon Worm Farm – small, affordable option perfect for kids and beginners learning to compost
Worm Factory 360 compost bin – highly rated
The Environmental Protection Agency has a great DIY worm bin tutorial, if you’re interested in making your own.
And don’t forget, you’ll need ….. worms! Yes, you need to buy worms for your bin.
Did you know you can buy them on Amazon?? I didn’t either, until I researched worm bins for my own container garden.
Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm 100 count – red wigglers, efficient little composting experts
Tumblers are perfect for small spaces and make it easy to keep compost turned and aerated. You can put them anywhere, including small patios, decks and balconies.
They’re one of the pricier options here, but the convenience and high-quality compost you get from them (vs. buying bags in a garden store) will make up the difference quickly.
Best compost tumblers
VIVOSUN Tumbling Composter – 43 gallons
Miracle-GRO Small Composter – 27.7 gallons
IM4000 Dual Chamber Tumbling Composter – 37 gallons
Kitchen compost container
These containers are for collecting food scraps, not fully composting them.
I’m including them here because they’re so convenient, helpful and affordable. Anything you can do to make composting easier is a good investment!
Best kitchen compost bins
ELEVER Kitchen Compost Bin –This is the one I have in my kitchen. I keep it under the sink and it’s perfect for tossing food scraps throughout the week. Just pull out the middle pail and dump in your composting container when it’s full.
Bellemark Kitchen Compost Bin – 1.6 gallons, gorgeous (which I don’t say lightly about a compost bin … but seriously just look at it!)
EPICA Stainless Steel Compost Bin – 1.3 gallons, super highly rated, sleek look and easy to clean
You can compost just about anything in a 5-gallon bucket, but the amount of output will be limited.
Once you have drainage holes in place, get the compost started with alternating layers of brown materials, green materials (including food scraps), and garden soil.
Keep the contents moist but not soggy and place in a warm, sunny area to help it heat up. Occasionally stir or roll the bucket to mix.
Pros: Can be moved anywhere, can have a lid that locks or clips in place to exclude pests. Easy access for harvesting finished compost. Convenient size. No odor unless too wet or damp material sits long enough for bad smells to develop (e.g., onions).
Cons: May not make enough for a container garden that has more than a few medium-sized pots. Must be hand-turned to mix up material and keep oxygen levels high enough for good decomposition.
Five-gallon buckets are available at any garden store.
DIY: Garden Guides has a good DIY tutorial for a 5-gallon bucket compost bin.
Plastic storage bins
You can drill holes all around (sides, bottom, lid) a plastic storage container, and then use wire mesh inside to keep rodents out.
Layer organic materials as described above for 5-gallon buckets. This is a very easy one to add material to, as well as to be able to turn the compost.
Look for plastic storage bins with at least 15-20 gallon capacity and a locking lid. (These tend to be cheaper in garden stores than online, so I won’t list recommendations on this one.)
Same pros/cons as 5-gallon buckets, although the larger size means you’ll have more output.
If you have a larger patio or a small section of yard available, cardboard boxes are an option for composting small quantities. You don’t want it to sit on a wood deck, as it could encourage rot.
A cardboard box will eventually decompose and become part of the compost, which adds valuable carbon to your mixture.
Make sure you have drainage holes in the bottom of the box. If your yard has good drainage, some people also partially bury the box, so it is more like a compost pit.
Bokashi means “fermented organic matter” in Japanese, and it’s a super-interesting corner of the composting world.
The Bokashi system is about fermentation, not complete decomposition. It involves layering kitchen scraps (including animal products like meat and dairy, which are normally banned from compost bins because they don’t break down as quickly and attract pests) and then adding a special inoculant.
The inoculant includes wheat germ or bran, sawdust and molasses, plus what’s known in the Bokashi world as effective microorganisms (EM).
Bokashi composting does require a special bucket, which allows the liquid byproduct to drain from the bottom. This liquid is full of nutrients and can be used for watering plants.
Meanwhile, the Bokashi is cooking and cooking fast! But it’s not quite ready yet.
The mixture will finish fermenting in only 10 days, at which point you can add it to another compost bin or bury it in an in-ground garden.
To finish decomposing all the way, you do need to take that second step to add it to another compost bin/container.
According to Bokashi experts SCD Probiotics, you can easily do this second step in containers. Just mix potting soil and fermented compost, then cover in another layer of potting soil. Wait two weeks before planting directly in the container.
Why use a process that adds another step beyond just tossing materials in a composting container? Because:
A. It’s able to ferment kitchen scraps you otherwise would have to toss in the trash, and
B. It’s full of nutrients and kickstarts your compost, making it even more potent and amazing in the end.
Best Bokashi bucket
SCD Probiotics Countertop Kitchen Compost Bin with Bokashi – SCD is the best Bokashi brand, and this small 5-gallon kit is a great way to try it out.
With the ideas above for small compost bins, you can easily start your own compost and produce your own organic, potent fertilizer. Whether you choose a worm bin, a compost tumbler, or a DIY compost bin of some kind, you’ll be glad you did!
More ideas for container garden inspiration
- Fertilizer 101 for container gardens
- Potting soil 101 for container gardens
- Fall and winter vegetables for container gardens
- How to attract dragonflies to your container garden
- How to dry herbs
- How to hand pollinate vegetables
- Must-have tools for container gardens
- How to grow garlic in pots
- Best edible flowers for container gardens