You don’t need many tools to make compost.
As long as you’ve got something to collect your compost in (wheelbarrow, caddy or even a bag or sack), somewhere to put it and something to turn it with, you can make compost.
But additional compost tools can be useful for:
- The enthusiast: Some tools can be both fun, interesting and great for experimenting.
- The impatient: Tools can speed the composting process up.
- People with large gardens: Tools can help you handle volume.
- People with disability/mobility issues: Tools can make your life easier.
There are quite a few tools mentioned here – but you don’t have to buy them all! You can find many in your shed or kitchen, and you can make some yourself.
- Tools for heat
- Tools for air
- Tools for moisture
- Tools for collecting
- Tools for sifting
- Tools for cutting and shredding
- Tools for green manure
Tools for heat
A large well-constructed compost heap will create its own heat.
But the mesophilic microorganisms that kick off the composting process thrive in heat of 20 to 45 degrees centigrade, while thermophilic microorganisms prefer even hotter temperatures.
So while you don’t need to add heat, it can sometimes be helpful to:
- Kick start a compost bin
- Restart a compost bin
- Measure heat
- Preserve heat, especially in winter
For example, the temperature in my compost bin recently plunged after a bitter cold snap. A combination of a hot water bottle, some wood chips, some chicken manure and stirring had it back over 40 degrees in a couple of days.
Here are some of the tools that can help:
A compost thermometer is great for the enthusiast and the experimenter.
I find one of the best things about it is that you can test different materials and see how it impacts the heat of your compost. For example, I’ve found that when I add just a little bit of chicken manure, my insulated compost bin gets super hot.
It’s also useful to know when the compost has cooled down to air temperature, as that can be a good time to turn it.
Hot water bottle
A hot water bottle can be useful for speeding up the composting process. I find it useful for getting hot compost going. It’s also good for restarting compost that has cooled down after a cold snap in the winter.
I use the one supplied with my hot bin, but any container that conveys heat will do the job.
A compost duvet can be a specially designed jacket to fit over a compost bin, such as the one built for the Green Johanna. Or it can be as simple as bubble wrap to go over the top of your compost.
These are particularly useful for winter.
Tools for aerating compost
There’s a lot of debate over-turning compost.
People who like to produce compost super-fast turn their heaps every several days. That provides air to the mico-organisms which speeds up the composting process. The Berkeley method, for example, takes only 18 days.
But you can get away with only turning your compost only once or, if you’re patient, never!
I usually prefer to turn mine twice. I do it both to introduce oxygen and to get the outside of the compost heap into the middle. That usually heats up the heap again, and leads to more even compost.
Last year, though, I wasn’t able to turn it as I found grass snakes in my bin, and I didn’t want to damage their eggs.
Even if you don’t have snakes, you might not have the strength and mobility to turn compost. An alternative to turning your compost regularly is to aerate it.
When choosing an aerator, consider how large your compost heap or bin is. Some aerators are not long enough to reach deep into a sizable compost pile.
Handcrank compost aerator: A hand-crank compost aerator looks a bit like a corkscrew. You push the aerator into the compost and then turn it from the top. The bottom of the aerator turns just like a corkscrew, moving the compost and creating air spaces.
Compost stirrer/plunger: A compost stirrer is a stick with retractable claws or ‘wings’ at the end of it. You push the stirrer into the compost. As you pull it back out, the wings open up, pulling the material up.
Raking stick: My raking stick came with my HotBin. It’s a simple yet effective tool for mixing the top layers of a hot compost bin. It consists of a handle, a straight metal section and a hook at the end.
An alternative to using aerators is to create a compost heap with natural air pockets built in. There are a number of ways to do this. For example, you can add materials such as semi-decomposed wood chips, place sticks at the bottom or incorporate drilled polythene pipes into the compost heap.
Tools for moisture
There’s only one tool in this section, but if you are looking to really optimise your compost process it could prove really useful.
Soil moisture meter: These do what they say on the tin, rapidly detecting the moisture level of your compost heap.
They’re useful for optimising compost conditions because a small difference in moisture can lead to a big difference in the heat. That in turn, of course, helps speed the process up.
Tools for monitoring
Until recently, there’s been no way for the amateur compost to monitor elements such as moisture or the C:N ratio. However, the Monty compost monitoring tools ends to provide exactly that information via an app on your phone. We caught up with CEO Ashley Baxter to find out more.
Tools for collecting compost materials
Most of the time I simply use a wheelbarrow or a garden refuse sack for collecting material in the garden, and a compost caddy in the house.
I’m also quite lucky, as two of my neighbours to give me their garden waste instead of leaving it out for the waste collectors.
(I must look strange tramping along the road with a bag of garden waste slung over my shoulder.)
Compost caddy: An essential tool for collecting your compost. Often very cost-effective, they come in a huge range of sizes and designs. If smells are a concern, choose a design with a carbon filter to absorb smells.
Compostable kitchen bin liners: Compostable kitchen liners are designed to keep your compost caddy clean inside. It’s true that you do get annoying food waste sticking to your compost caddy, food waste that sometimes resists a casual outside swill.
I’ve personally found, though, that claims they will easily decompose are sometimes exaggerated. They may compost in council composting systems, but they have failed in both my Bokashi bin and in my hot compost bin at temperatures of 60 Celsius and above. They have left, in their wake, a sticky mess.
You can make your own kitchen bin liner from a newspaper. In fact, it’s so simple a 6 year old can do it!
Leaf vacuum and mulcher: If you have a lot of leaves around, one tool you might want to consider is a leaf blower, vacuum and mulcher. The function we want, of course, is the vacuum, not the blower!
These devices can suck up leaves in large quantities, and shred them so they take up a tenth of the original space. The advantage of the shredding is not the space saved, but that they will compost a lot faster.
You can now choose to make fantastic leaf mould or use the shredded leaves as a brown in your compost heap.
Disposal Diverter: The Kich’n Komposter attached to your garbage disposal system, allowing you to divert food waste from your garbage disposal unit, before spinning it dry. According to Building Green, some users reported getting usable compost from the results after just two weeks.
Unfortunately, the Kich’n Komposter no longer appears to be available for sale. However, a device called the Sepura appears to do a similar job.
Tools for sifting
The amount you need to sift your compost depends very much on how fine it is, whether there is any rotted wood it and how you are going to use it.
Wood, sawdust and chippings can leach nitrogen out of the ground. A few bits and pieces are not going to matter if you are using it on the veg patch. If you have a lot of wood in the compost, I would recommend sifting the compost to get it out.
If you are using the compost for seed manure, it needs to be finer and you are more likely to need to sift it. It also helps if the compost is dry when you do this operation.
Compost Screener: You can buy compost screeners, or you can make a screen by stretching wire over a wooden square. For a large scale compost screener, you could knock the centre out of a pallet and stretch the wire over it.
Garden riddle: A simple metal sieve that is ideal for smaller-scale composting.
Rotary soil sieve: Pushing and scraping the compost through wire or a sieve can become a pain. The rotary soil sieve does some of the work for you. You add dry compost into the top of the sieve and turn the handle, which separates out the wood and stones and pushes the compost through the sieve.
Electric rotary sifter/sieve: An electric rotary sifter or sieve is very much for composting on a larger scale. It’s often able to handle several cubic metres an hour. Once turned on, you simply shovel your compost into the open end of the rotary sifter and let it do the work for you.
They usually come with different gauge mesh, so you can choose how fine you want your compost.
Do note that some electric sifters don’t always arrive fully constructed. It can take some time to put them together!
Related: Best Compost Sifters
Tools for cutting and shredding
You can make more compost, in a much shorter time, when you cut or shred compost material first. Very often you can do this with tools you have lying around your garden or in your shed.
Shears: Shears are not the easiest thing to use for compost material, but they can handle small amounts. I often leave material in a wheelbarrow and go through the material with my shears.
Lawn mower/rotary mower: A lawnmower is great for collecting grass. You can also use it for other materials such as leaves. I like to lay down leaves in a line on my lawn and then go over it with my lawnmower. It creates a lovely balance of well-shredded greens and browns. On the negative side, it’s not very efficient and it does create a bit of a mess!
Compost Shredder: For large gardens, market gardens and small holdings, you can’t beat a compost shredder. They can handle larger quantities of material fast. They also produce a more uniform size of material, which lead to more consistent compost.
Shredders are also mobile, so you can move the shredder to where the work is, and create several compost piles around your land.
Some shredders can also be used to grind and pulverise compost, producing a finer compost ideal for potting and for seedlings.
Shredders currently available range from small electric units for leaves and kitchen waste to heavy-duty devices capable of turning a hefty branch into wood chippings. You can read more in compost shredder for the US and best compost shredders for the UK guides.
Tools for green manure
Rotary tillers and garden tractors with tiller attachments:
If you work your ground, rotary tillers and garden tractors can be a highly efficient way to till green manure and sheet compost into the ground in larger gardens.
The key is that they both break up the material and dig it into the ground. The combination of the smaller surface area and the mico-organisms in the ground means that the material is rapidly broken down.
No dig gardeners may prefer to remove the material and add it to their compost. (Material left on top of the soil can rapidly become a harbouring ground for slugs in wet climates.)
There’s a lot of compost tools here. Many of them are designed for people who want to make serious amounts of compost. If you’re new to composting, it’s important to remember you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started.