If you’re siting a compost pile or bin, location can be important. That’s especially the case if your bin is large, as once it is full of compost it can be difficult to move. So it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about the best location.
However, the perfect spot for a compost bin doesn’t often exist! If you do have one, you are luckier than me. Rather than let the list of factors below daunt you, it’s worth trying to take into account the ones you can, and not letting the search for perfection stop you from composting.
That said, let’s get stuck in!
I really think convenience is one of the key elements when it comes to siting a compost bin, and trumps a number of the others mentioned here. After all, if you get discouraged by the effort needed to compost, there’s not much point in getting started at all!
There are two key areas to think about, and it partly depends on what you are composting.
Transport around the garden
If you have a large garden, you ideally want your pile or bin to be situated in the middle of it. This will allow you to easily transport materials to the pile and compost to your beds.
It’s also worth thinking about where most of your effort goes into the garden. For example, in my own garden, my vegetable beds and polytunnel get a lot more attention than the flower beds! If you have multiple beds, it might be worth siting them in the middle to minimize transport time from any one part of the garden.
Mine bins are situated at the bottom of the garden, close to my vegetable beds. It’s also next to my polytunnel, which has raised beds that require a lot of compost.
Thinks about trips from the kitchen
If you’re composting kitchen waste, you ideally don’t want your bin to be buried in an awkward part of the garden (although as we will see, you won’t want it too close to the house either).
This might not be a prime consideration in the middle of summer, but it can be in the middle of a dark, cold winter! If you have a garden path, it would be a good idea to site it close to the path to avoid creating long trails of mud too.
Mine is a bit of a trek, but it is close to my chickens, so I can dump compost waste in the bin at the same time as feeding them.
Not too hot, not too cold
Ideally, you want an area that avoids the extremes of heat. I realize you might be reading this from Alaska or the Saharan desert, and obviously, there are limits to what you can achieve! However, if you have areas of your garden that get very hot or cold, it is worth avoiding them!
Why? The thermophilic bacteria that break down compost material do love heat. So, if they are in a cold place, the composting process will slow down.
On the other hand, if it is too hot, more evaporation will take place. This can dry your compost heap out, slowing the process down. You also don’t want to your compost to get too hot, as this can reduce the microbial diversity of your compost heap and leave an ashy residue in the center of your compost. (Under very rare conditions, compost heaps can also catch fire.)
Obviously, this depends on the climate you are in too. If you live in a very cold area, your priority may be to get in the hottest, sunniest part of the garden, whereas if you live in a tropical zone, it would be best to place it in shade.
Avoid windy sites
Again, this might not always be under your control! Despite my best efforts, the top has been blown off my bin and it has been battered by flying objects. My compost heaps have been less of a problem, but even here a cover can be blown off and the compost can dry out faster.
If you do have issues with wind, and you have a compost bin with a lid, place a stone or brick on the top to prevent it from being blown away.
Distance to house
Unfortunately, compost heaps can attract pests. What you don’t want to do is those pests transferring from your compost heap to your house, so its best to keep your bin some distance away from your house.
If you are concerned about compost pests, do check out our guides on how to prevent them and what to do if you do get them.
Place your compost bin near plants…
The growth around my bins is lush and green. Nutrients do leak out of the bin, and the plants love them. (Especially potatoes, whether you plant them or not!) If your bin is not sited next to plants, why not grow some nitrogen-loving plants next to it?
But away from trees (and raspberries)
If your compost bin has an open base, it’s might good idea to keep it away from trees. While, on the plus side, trees can provide shade in hot climates, they can also send hungry roots up into the compost.
The same goes for raspberries. In fact, when I first moved into my current house, I was delighted to see wild raspberries growing. But the raspberries are rubbish, impossible to get rid of and they send up suckers everywhere – including in my compost.
Look for a level site
When I made my pallet bins, the ground wasn’t quite level. Despite my best efforts to level it out with stones and soil, the back has still sunk down over time, leaving me with some rather wonky bins!
If you have the option (and sometimes we don’t) look for level ground to avoid the same mistake as me.
Place it on well-drained ground
If you have an open bin or compost heap, you’re best putting it on well-drained ground. While you’ll cover your compost in wet times, if it does get too wet, water can pool at the base of your compost. This can force oxygen out, leading to anaerobic (without air) composting. That slows the process down and can lead to bad odors.
Talking of odors…
Don’t put it too close to your neighbors
Even if, like me, you bribe your neighbors with vegetables and eggs, it’s probably a good idea not to put your compost too close to their house. If you get the conditions right, your compost shouldn’t smell too much, but let’s face it, things can go wrong sometimes! If your compost does go into anaerobic mode and starts smelling, it’s best to have some distance between it and your neighbor’s noses.
Leave room for growth
Composting can be addictive! I started off with one inherited Dalek bin – I now have that, three pallet bins, one hot bin and am considering another one! If you have a large garden, it’s definitely worth thinking about a space where you could fit another bin (or two or three!).
Place it close to a water source
This is definitely one of the most important factors. Compost heaps can dry out, and if they do you need to add water to correct the moisture level. Water can also be handy if your heap gets too hot.
The last thing you want to do is be lugging watering can after watering can to your heap, so do ensure you can reach it with a hosepipe.
Learn more about maintaining moisture levels in compost.
Avoid placing the compost bin near walkways or high-traffic areas
If you live in a town or city, it’s well worth keeping your compost bin or heap away from the road or paths. First, a lot of pollution can come off roads and while compost can help ameliorate the impact of this, you don’t want to add toxins if you can avoid it. Secondly, some areas can have some strict neighborhood regulations which you probably don’t want to foul of!
Space for wheelbarrows and elbows!
It’s always tempting to cram everything into a garden. (While I have a large garden now, my first one way tiny, so I speak from experience!) However, you do need to leave room to work with your compost heap.
If you have a small garden and compost bin, this might be less of a concern, as you can probably get away with using a bucket. You still need to ensure that you have enough elbow room! If you have a large garden and a compost heap, space becomes more important.
You also need to get a wheelbarrow to the heap, open the gate to the bin (if you have one) and allow yourself room to stand in front of the heap and give yourself room to turn/remove the compost.
Visuals (depending on your bin!)
If the look of your garden is important to you, and you don’t like the look of your compost bin, you might want to site it out of sight.
However, bear in mind that not every composting system has to look ugly. There are some lovely, authentic wooden bins, and I love my pallet bins after
my partner forced me I chose to paint them a lovely Mediterranean blue color.
Alternatively, you can place plants, a screen or an arch to hide the appearance of your bin. (My polytunnel required all three in the delicate negotiations leading up to its purchase.)
That’s a lot to consider, but again, don’t think you have to match every point. Think about what’s really important to you, as well as limiting factors, and you’ll get a great spot in no time.
Home Composting Guide: A Step By Step Guide To Getting Started
Moisture In Compost: Monitoring, Measuring, Controlling
What You Can Compost: From Everyday Items To The Bizarre