Filling up wooden compost bins.

Wooden Compost Bins: Choosing the best solution

I think wooden compost bins are my favourite bins of all. And that’s nothing to do with their insulating properties, and all to do with their looks.

Wooden compost bins look nice, and they keep make it easier to build a compost pile without it collapsing into a mess. I have three pallet bins in my garden, which I use to rotate compost, but I must admit my neighbour’s slatted bin looks better than mine. (They both look better than plastic bins.)

There’s plenty of options for wooden compost bins, which vary from easy, slot-together solutions that can be purchased cheaply to easy DIY solutions (and complex ones too!)

Contents

Pros and cons of wooden compost bins

Pros

  • Natural look and greater aesthetic appeal
  • Can be constructed cheaply
  • Lots of different solutions to meet different needs
  • Can be colour coordinated to blend in with your garden
  • Often very cost effective

Cons

  • Depending on the solution may take time to put together
  • Not usually rat proof
  • Not as warm or effective as insulated bins
  • Requires treating annually for maximum life span

Some alternatives to wooden compost bins

Hot Bin next to a pallet bin
Above: My Hot Bin is tied to my pallet bin for extra stability.

If you’re still considering whether you do want a wooden compost bin, it’s worth considering some of the alternatives. Here’s a few to think about:

  • HotBin: Better insulated, hotter, faster compost. See HotBin review.
  • Green Johanna: Rat proof, suitable for all types of food.
  • Green cone: More a solution for getting rid of unwanted food than making compost.
  • Dalek bin: Good economy option, but not very attractive. See Dalek Bin review.

A few things to ponder first…

Do you need a compost bin with a lid?

There’s different schools of thought on this.

Some composters believe that it’s best to leave your compost bin open to the elements so they get enough moisture. I am presuming those composters live in a much drier country than I do 😉

Where I live, there’s huge amounts of rain, which turns the compost into a sodden mess and interferes with the composting process. As a result I tend to cover my (open) bins when the weather is very wet. A wooden cover on hinges is a good option, but plastic sheeting will work too.

The other advantage of covering is that you keep some additional warmth in, helping to speed up the composting process.

If your compost does get dry, or too hot, you can simply remove the cover and allow rain in as needed.

Do you need to rat-proof your compost bin?

I live in the country, and I have chickens, which means I have a constant battle of rats. I’ve found both rats and snakes in my compost before.

If rats bother you, or you want to avoid attracting rodents to your lovely, warm comfortable compost heap (it’s not hard to see why they would like it!) then it would definitely be worth rat-proofing your bin.

Does your compost need air holes in the sides?

Theoretically, a bin with gaps for air in would allow extra air in, which in turn would help the composting process. The New Zealand Bin, for example, was designed to allow half inch slots to maximise airflow to the heap.

While it may speed the process up, you don’t need these to get good results.

No Dig guru Charles Dowding uses solid wooden sides for his compost and still gets superb compost. Constructing your compost heap with materials that trap air (e.g. scrunched up cardboard, wood chips e.t.c.) makes more of a difference, as does aerating the bottom of the compost.

What size do you need?

For fast compost, bigger is better. Ideally you’d want at least four foot by four foot.

Of course, not everyone can fill up a compost bin that size, but my own experiments have shown you get compost with almost every size – it’ll just take a little longer.

Will the wood last?

Untreated wood will not last long, so ideally you want to choose a wood that has been treated before you buy it – unless you are going for one of the very simple solutions below, when it doesn’t really matter. If you’re buying a pre-made compost bin, you definitely want to check it is treated, and that ideally it comes with a guarantee. It’s often still a good idea to treat it yourself every year (or two, at a push.)

Options

Slatted Bin/Lehigh Bins: Best for convenience

Slatted compost bins, aka Leigh Bins, come in many different forms. My neighbor’s bins, for example, are about a meter by a meter – which isn’t really big enough for sustained hot composting, although as she mostly adds grass it does get hot for a while.

In addition to looking great, slatted compost bins are incredibly easy to put together, as they just slot into place. This also makes them easy to take apart when you want to collect and use the compost.

A nice option here is the Lacewing Slotted Wooden Compost bin. The wood has been pressure treated and comes with a guarantee of 15 years, and the panels at the front of the compost bin can be easily removed so you can access the compost.

Beehive Compost Bins: Attractive, Space Saving

Beehive compost bins look great in the garden, and they generally don’t take up too much room either. They can come in natural wood, which of course you can paint any colour you like, or already painted. They make a particularly good option for people who don’t have a huge amount of waste to compost.

The Easipet wooden composter, for example, comes with a hinged roof so you can put the compost in at the top, overlapping side panels for good air circulation and a removable base for when you want to take the compost away.

Wooden pallet bins: Big and cheap!

One of my three Pallet Compost bins.

One of the easiest – and cheapest ways – to create a wooden compost bin is to use pallets – even my DIY skills can manage it!

When I made my own pallet bin, I used brackets to attach three sides, and then used hinges to attach a fourth one as a gate. (It’s worth painting the pallets first to help it last longer and look nicer – I regret not treating the inside of my bins in my initial rush of enthusiasm.) However, some people go for an even easier solution and simply tie the palletts together.

I did have some questions from my stepfather about whether it would be strong enough to take the weight of the compost, but several years in they are still going strong – I believe this is because the weight of the compost is pushing down, rather than to the sides.

An alternative to simply fastening the pallets together would be dismantle the pallets and take the wood apart. Then hammer four wooden posts into the ground nail the wood from the pallets between the stakes. However, while this solution should be sturdier, I can attest that taking pallets apart is a real pain in the backside!

That’s about the limit of my own DIY skills, but Good House Keeping have a more in-depth plan for a 3 bin compost system.

Wire and fence bin: Quick to build

Wire and fence bins are quick to build, and they use less wood as wire forms the main part of the bin. What’s more, the use of wire means the bins are light and easy to move. They’re a great option if you have some spare wood to use.

There are many options as your imagination allows, but one possibility is to build four sides and stretch wire across them. Then, instead of permanently attaching the sides to each other, simply use some screen door hooks. This allows you to easily take unhook the sides when you want to turn the compost.

The wire screening you use depends on whether you want to keep rodents out. If you want a mouse proof bin, you’ll need very fine mesh (those mice can squeeze through tiny places!) and you’ll also need wire on the bottom and top.

Stick Pens: Fiddly but flexible

Hazel nut sticks.
Hazelnut sticks ready for cutting down to size.

Another way to create a wooden compost bin is to drive stakes in the ground, either in a square or a circle. These can be fiddly to put together or take apart, but they are movable and offer great flexibility in terms of size and shape.

You can use tomato or garden stakes for this. Personally, I’ve started to use hazelnut branches cut to size instead of garden stakes in my garden, as I can cut them from a friends’ fields (free but more work) – I use an iron bar to drive holes into the ground and then push the stakes in.

Place half inch chicken wire around the interior of your pen and use more wire to attach the chicken wire to the stakes. Use additional wire between the top of the stakes to strengthen them and avoid them from being pushed out by the weight of compost. (Alternatively, if you are using hazelnut branches instead of stakes, and you are doing a square, you can tie this along the top of your sides.)

Stepped wooden compost bins: Great for steep slopes

Stepped wooden compost bins are a superb solution for gardens with a steep slope. They are hard work when you get started, but once you have them set up they use gravity to make turning the compost easier. What’s more, the insulating nature of the soil around them helps keep them warmer, making them ideal for colder climates.

Along your slope, you need to dig out three bases, one above the other, so suit the size of bin you need. You then construct your wooden bin on each base. It’s best to use a bin with a removable front.

When you start composting, simply remove the front of the bin and pull the compost into the bin below it, mixing it well in the process to further aerate the compost.

Finally

While they may not be quite as fast as insulated systems, wooden composts look great in your garden – and, if you like DIY options, can be constructed very cheaply. If you don’t mind waiting a bit longer for your compost, they could be the right option for you!