Compost Series – Part II – Bins and Systems

There are many different methods to hot compost and there are different systems that can be purchased or built on your own. I will cover only a small fraction of the systems out there, but some of the more common ones that are mainly for the backyard / small farm composter. These are not the large scale operations.

Seattle Composter

One of my favorites that you can buy is called the Seattle Composter. It is  a round piece of green plastic with holes drilled in it and two hardplastic lids, used as top and bottom. To use this, you simply layer your greens and browns in the center and fill it to the top adding water to ensure the proper moisture is there. When you are ready to turn the composting material, take the top off, set it down on the ground next to the set up version. Loosen the wing nuts holding the center together and take the bolts out. Unwrap your compost and put the plastic in the lid you placed on the ground and put the bolts and wing nuts back in. Your compost should maintain its shape with the moisture content. Then you take the material and transfer it into the waiting bin. Once all has been transferred,  The only problem I had with this is that the compost pile can tip over if not taken down properly, making a huge mess. It can make a fully completed compost in three to six months if you turn it every couple of weeks or so. Just make sure to take any not quite complete compost materials out of you completed compost and put it back in for your next batch. I am having a bit of difficulty finding where to go to purchase one of these if you don’t live in the Seattle area, or the Vancouver Washington area.

Similar to the Seattle Composter, I made a free version out of wire mesh rolled into a circle. I place that on a tarp, that is staked to the ground. You could use bolts to hold it together just like the Seattle Composter, or like I did and used 6 inch bungee cords to hold it in position. For the top, I used an old garbage can lid whose can had gone missing. To keep it from blowing off in the wind, I used some handy dandy bungee cords over the top of it. You want to keep a lid on it to manage the moisture content, don’t want too much from the rain. Use it just like the Seattle Composter though, take the wire off and move the compost every week or so to aerate it. It makes a nice compost in a fairly compact area.

Earth Machine

Earth Machine

Another nice commercial product, though a bit small for most alpaca farm operations, would be the Earth Machine. I nice compact unit that allows you to put your layers of compost material in the bin and turn it inside the bin with out every having to move it around. There are some that say the black color will help it get hotter by absorbing more of the sunlight. This is not really true, as we learned in Part I, the heat comes from the bacteria. Yes, it may get slightly warmer due to the black color, but not enough to make a difference to the compost which is being generated in the center of the bin, not the outer edges that are warming up. You aerate this really by just using a pitchfork or shovel or something similar into the top and “stir it up”. There are some specialized tools being released on the market that make this job easier by twisting in like a cork screw and then pulling straight out to mix the contents, but I don’t have any information on where to get them at this time in most areas. Ask me about where to get them in the Vancouver, Washington area, and I will know exactly where to go. Another thing to note about this is how the marketing picture shows the compost just flowing from the front of the bin. This is not the case in the real world. You will have to dig it out, but that little door is there. It can make a decent compost in five to eight months. It takes a little longer in this size due to the fact that there is less quantity, you can’t get your compost up to the highest temperatures. This also means it probably won’t kill as many of the weed seeds and maybe not all of the bacteria in your alpaca poop. I do not highly recommend this for most alpaca breeders, but for a small yard that doesn’t generate much compost material, this is a nice solution. It really looks cute, which is an important factor for many people when considering what type of bin system to put in.

There are many variations on the two and three bin systems that you can build yourself out of spare materials, old wooden pallets make an ideal starting point for these too. They are already built almost the perfect size. They have air flow built-in with gaps they have. They are fairly easy to find almost anywhere, if you ask around. They are fairly easy to connect together. Basically, in a two or three bin system,  you are looking to build bins about 3′ x 3′ x 3′ cubes. It does not have to be exact, just close to that. You fill one bin with your compost materials, your browns and greens again, or just alpaca poo. Let it sit for a few days or weeks. Move it to the next bin to aerate it. Let it sit for a few days or weeks. If you are working in a two bin system, you will want to move it back to the first bin and then back to the second bin until the process is complete. If you are working in a three bin system, you can move it to the third bin. Now, that’s the theory. In my experience my compost isn’t done by the time it is in the third bin but there is so little of it left, that I tend to leave it and combine a second load from the second bin, then I get a completed compost from the third bin and some leftovers. It’s not quite a perfect system, but you make it work out. A two bin system, you just keep moving back and forth until you have a completed product, then start the process again. I know this is a bit confusing, but experiment…do what works for you and go with that.

There is one last bin that I would like to talk about but I can’t really give anything other than theory and second-hand stories about it. I don’t know where to get them, but I could probably find out if you are really interested. It is like a small barrel that is placed in bearings on each end so it can turn, like rolling down a hill. You place your compostables in the barrel and turn it every two or three days. I am told it is really easy to turn. It will make an awesome compost in two or three months with regular turning and moisture monitoring. The main reason I don’t have one of these, is that they cost somewhere in the $500 range and I can’t spend that for something I can build for free.

As always, please feel free to ask me any questions and I will do my best to answer them or direct you to the proper place that has the answers.

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