13 Types of Composting Methods – The Ultimate Guide

As if giving fruit, vegetables, and exquisite flowers weren’t enough. A recent study has found that gardening helps us relieve stress, boost self-esteem, and strengthen our hearts. Well, this does motivate the green thumbs, right?

And one thing that makes your garden top-notch is compost. But what type of composting should you adopt for your garden? Which composting method will give the best results? We are here to help you explore different composting ways, their pros and cons, time, and other essential things. So let’s get started!

There are different types of composting based on oxygen presence, location, and scale. Composting can be done on an individual level and a commercial grade. The most common types are vermicomposting, hot composting, cold composting, bokashi composting, tumbler composting, etc.

Let’s look into the various composting methods, but before going through it blow-by-blow, let’s understand what composting means.

What is Composting?

Brown and Green Composting Material in a Bucket

Composting is a natural method of decomposition to turn organic matter into a valuable fertilizer for the garden. It is an excellent method of recycling organic waste, and the resulting product, called compost, is rich in nutrients that benefit plants and soil.

But certain things are required for carrying out the composting process efficiently.

Main Requirements for Composting

These are the main components that are a must in the process and play an important role.

1. Balance of Greens and Browns:

The first and foremost requirement for composting is maintaining the balance between green and brown materials. Green material is Nitrogen-heavy material like fresh grass clipping, eggshells, tea bags, vegetable feels, food scraps, pet hair, etc. The green composting material is responsible for heating the pile.

Brown organic materials include shredded paper, pine needles, cardboard, sawdust, newspaper, wood chips, garden waste, yard trimmings, etc. These are rich in Carbon and act as building blocks for the compost.

Note: It is recommended to maintain the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio as 30:1. However, you can add green and brown organic material as compost requirements.

2. Temperature:

Temperature determines the rate of decomposition in the composting process. It affects the activity of microorganisms. The ideal temperature of the compost pile should be 140℉. Extremely high or low temperatures can lead to inhibited activity of microorganisms.

3. Particle Size:

It is suggested to reduce the particle size of the materials added to the compost by grinding, chipping, or shredding. Reducing the size increases the surface area of the materials, which helps the microbiota feed on them. Additionally, size reduction helps increase compost insulation to maintain the temperature.

4. Air Flow:

There must be a proper flow of air in the pile lest the pile should get dry. Therefore, turning the pile is essential to maintain the oxygen flow. However, you can skip this step in cold composting.

5. Moisture Content:

Water is added to the pile to maintain the moisture content. It aids in transporting all the essential elements and gives microorganisms a suitable environment to thrive. The ideal moisture content of the pile should be around 40-60%.

Note: Ensure to maintain the moisture level of the pile as too much water will fill the space blocking the air, and too less water can slow down the decomposition.

So now we know everything vital for good compost, but what is the correct way to compost? There are many compost types depending on location, size, amount, etc. So let’s look at the various sorts that will help you decide which composting method you should use.

Types of Composting

The type of composting that suits you and fulfills your requirements will depend on many factors. Therefore, to make things easy, we have segregated the various types into three categories:

Based on Oxygen Requirement

Oxygen benefits the microorganisms in the compost pile and helps increase the decomposition rate. However, this doesn’t mean that the compost is only formed in the presence of oxygen. On the basis of oxygen, there are two types of composting: Hot Composting and Cold Composting.

1. Hot Composting

Thermometer on a Compost Pile

Estimated Time: 3-6 weeks.

Hot composting is an aerobic process involving the use of oxygen to form compost. It is fast and gives the compost within 3-6 weeks. All you need to ensure is that the pile isn’t too small. This method requires a large pile for heating the organic material.

The ideal width and height of the pile are four meters, but the bigger the pile, the more the heating. Since the primary focus of this process is heating, it is crucial to maintain the temperature using a composting thermometer. The ideal temperature is 135℉ to 160℉.

Quick Tip: If your pile doesn’t heat up, add green materials containing Nitrogen.

You can also add existing compost to the pile to accelerate the process. The method of composting is easy but should be done properly.

Simply reduce the size of the green and brown materials and add them alternately to the pile. Add water to increase the moisture content and cover the pile. Maintain the temperature of the pile and turn it every two weeks to facilitate aeration.

Pros & Cons of Hot Composting: 

ProsCons
Fast processRequires effort
Destroys weeds and pathogensCan’t add new organic material to existing pile
Pleasant and earthy smellMinimum height of 1-3 meters for heating

Points to Remember While Hot Composting:

  • Maintain the size of the pile.
  • Maintain the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio as 3:1.
  • Don’t overwater the pile as it will make the compost soggy.
  • Turn the pile regularly but not very frequently. 
  • Maintain the temperature of the pile with a compost thermometer.

However, since this method uses a high temperature, you can’t put anything and everything in your compost pile.

Materials that can be Composted via Hot Composting:

  • All Carbon-rich materials like shredded paper, cardboard, newspaper, dead branches, twigs, etc.
  • All Nitrogen-rich materials like coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, pet hair, kitchen scraps, etc.
  • Bones (but with a lot of work)

Materials that can’t be Composted via Hot Composting:

  • Dairy products
  • Meat and fish scraps
  • Other fat materials
  • Glass
  • Plastic and Metal materials

2. Cold Composting

Cold Composting Method

Estimated Time: 6-12 months or more.

Cold composting is an anaerobic process that doesn’t involve oxygen to carry out decomposition. It is the easiest way to compost and doesn’t require monitoring and regulation of temperature, unlike hot composting.

Cold compost is a popular method because of its ease and low maintenance. You can keep adding organic waste to the pile without turning it. Though it takes significantly less effort than hot compost, it takes a very long time to produce compost.

Cold composting can be done in a simple way. Just choose a shady location and start by adding a layer of dead branches, twigs, etc., followed by a layer of Nitrogen-rich material. Sprinkle water to maintain moisture and add more organic waste if you like. And just wait!

Pros & Cons of Cold Composting: 

ProsCons
Easy and convenientProlonged process
No minimum height of pile requiredDoesn’t kill weeds and pathogens
Can add new organic waste to existing pileAttracts pests
Produces foul odor

Materials that can be Composted via Cold Composting:

  • Green materials like fruit, vegetables, egg shells, tea bags, etc.
  • Brown materials like paper, dryer lint, leaf clippings, dead houseplants, etc. 

Materials that can’t be Composted via Cold Composting:

  • Plastic, metal, glass
  • Dairy products
  • Meat products
  • Bones (Not recommended since it will take years and years to produce compost.)

Another type of cold composting is Sheet Composting. It is also known as Lasagne Composting and involves the application of green and brown materials in layers on the garden bed in the form of a blanket.

Therefore, cold composting and hot composting are different from each other in many ways. Here’s a summary to get you going:

Difference between Hot Composting and Cold Composting:

Hot CompostingCold Composting
Aerobic processAnaerobic process
FastSlow
High-maintenanceLow-maintenance
Needs a large amount of organic wasteCan work with any amount of organic waste
Heat aids decompositionFermentation causes decomposition
Earthy smellFoul smell
Effort-takingDoesn’t require much effort

Hence, you can decide what type of composting you wish to carry out depending on the oxygen requirement.

If you can devote time and attention, go for hot composting and if you don’t want to spend a lot of time looking after your compost and are not in a hurry to have compost, then go for cold composting.

Based on Location

Not everyone has the same space or area to carry out the composting process. Depending on the location, composting is of two types: Indoor Composting and Outdoor Composting.

3. Indoor Composting

Indoor composting, as the name suggests, is done inside the house. You don’t need a backyard or outdoor space to carry out composting. There are various methods of indoor composting. Let’s go through them one by one, and you can choose whatever is handy to you!

Vermicomposting:

Vermicomposting in a Container

Estimated Time: 40-45 days.

Simply put, vermicomposting is the method of preparing compost with the help of worms which turn the soil into nutrient-rich compost through their digestive action. Earthworms consume a variety of organic materials like food scraps and leftovers, yard trimmings, paper, industrial organic by-products, etc.

Vermicomposting helps reduce the population of pathogenic bacteria and provides appropriate mineral balance to the soil. They can work at room temperature and don’t have special requirements. The species of worms used are Eisenia foetida, Eudrilus eugeniae, Perionyx excavatus.

To prepare compost via vermicomposting, all you have to do is prepare a medium for worms by adding light brown materials and water and let worms get used to it. Prepare the bin by making holes in the inner container and fill ⅓ with browns. Add food scraps and worms and cover. Turn the pile regularly.

Pros & Cons of Vermicomposting Composting: 

ProsCons
Nutrient-richFoul odors if not appropriately covered
Produces worm tea (versatile fertilizer)Worms require maintenance
Fast process
Ideal for small spaces
I

Items that can be Composted via Vermicomposting:

  • Eggshells, shrimp shells, oyster shells, etc. 
  • Paper, dryer lint, cardboard, etc.
  • Feathers and hair
  • Dead plants and leaves (without pesticide)

Items that can’t be Composted via Vermicomposting:

  • Onion or garlic
  • Citrus
  • Meat, fats, and oily products
  • Dairy products
  • Treated plants or wood products
  • Spices
  • Bread or yeast products

And that smaller bin will contain the liquid that is released from the taller bin called the ‘Worm Tea’ and works as an excellent natural liquid fertilizer.

So, if you wish to have compost ready in a short time, take the help of these wigglers!

Bokashi Composting:

Bokashi Bran for Bokashi Composting of Cherry Pits

Estimated Time: 3-4 weeks. 

One of the most effective and least time-consuming methods is the Bokashi Method, a Japanese anaerobic fermentation method. The term Bokashi means ‘fading away.’ All you need for this method is a Bokashi bucket, Bokashi bran, kitchen waste, and molasses.

Simply cover the drain plate with Bokashi bran and add a layer of food scraps. You can include anything like meat, bones, dairy, etc. Again apply Bokashi bran and push down the waste to get the extra air out. Finally, cover with a lid and wait.

It is an excellent way of indoor composting. You can compost a variety of things through Bokashi Composting.

Pros & Cons of Bokashi Composting: 

ProsCons
Can compost meat, bones, dairy, and oily productsAdditional requirement of Bokashi bran and molasses
Improves microbial activity in soilDoesn’t have space for brown materials
Fast processProduce terrible odor if improperly maintained
Gives Bokashi tea that is a great fertilizer

Items that can be Composted via Bokashi Composting:

  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Citrus
  • Bones
  • Eggs
  • Bread
  • Packaged food
  • And all kind of food waste

Items that can’t be composted via Bokashi Composting:

  • Liquids (milk, fruit juice, alcohol, etc.)
  • Plastic
  • Metals
  • Glass

Points to Remember While Composting via Bokashi Method:

  • Avoid opening the Bokashi bucket frequently, as the process is anaerobic.
  • Add a generous amount of Bokashi bran if there is a lot of food waste.

Electric Composter/Food Recycler:

Indoor Electric Composter

Estimated Time: 3-5 hours.

Electric composter, also known as a food recycler, is a compost bin, particularly for indoor composting purposes. It works in three phases: Drying, Grinding, and Cooling.

  • Phase 1: Drying: It dries up the material at a temperature of 160℉ and sterilizes it. It reduces the volume of waste.
  • Phase 2: Grinding: It pulverizes and turns the dried material into powder. It reduces the volume by 90%.
  • Phase 3: Cooling: The final phase will cool down the powdered compost and bring it to room temperature. This is done for safe handling and addition to the soil as compost or quick-release fertilizer.

Pros & Cons of Electric Composter: 

There are numerous advantages of using electric composters for composting. But with advantages, certain disadvantages are also there.

ProsCons
Efficient indoor compostingExpensive
PortableCan’t work without electricity
Prepares compost in any seasonRequires maintenance
Fastest processNeeds ventilation
Odorless
Doesn’t release methane

What can be Added to Electric Composter?

You can add fish, dairy, meat, fats, and every kind of food waste that is otherwise not recommended to add. Just avoid adding plastics and metals.

4. Outdoor Composting

Outdoor composting involves the traditional and usual way of composting. It is done in open spaces. So if you have a spacious backyard, or not so spacious, but just a backyard, we’ve got you covered!

Compost Heaps:

Outdoor Compost Heap

Estimated Time: 3-6 weeks via Hot Composting and 6-12 months through cold composting.

Composting through heaps or piles is the traditional but excellent way to compost kitchen waste as well as yard waste. It is the cheapest way to make compost. You can make compost through hot composting or cold composting.

Pros & Cons of Compost Heaps: 

ProsCons
Most inexpensiveRequires maintenance
Doesn’t require skillsMight attract pests
EasyDoesn’t work in winters
Can’t compost meat, dairy, etc.

No matter what, traditional methods always make a way to win. Composting through heaps or piles is still one of the most adopted methods.

What Can and Can’t You Add to Compost Heap:

You can add all green and brown materials, however, avoid adding bones, dairy, meat, etc.

Tumbler Composting:

Outdoor Composting in Tumbler

Estimated Time: 3-5 weeks.

Tumbler composting involves using a barrel that can be sealed and rotated. The sealed container helps to trap the heat and fastens the composting process. It generates steam because of the heat produced.

It is similar to compost bins but with two main differences. Compost bins have open bottoms while the composting tumbler doesn’t. The advantage of a composting tumbler over a composting bin is that you can rotate it, making turning the pile easy.

All you need to do is load the compost tumbler with alternate layers of greens and browns, add water and give a nice spin. Allow some time for the materials inside the tumbler to heat up. Rotating does the same thing as using a garden rake to aerate the pile.

Pros & Cons of Tumbler Composting: 

Let’s shed some light on the advantages and disadvantages of composting via this rotating drum!

ProsCons
Accelerates compostingExpensive
Keeps pests awayUnsuitable for worms
Eliminates foul odor
Attractive

Materials That Can be Composted Through Tumbler Composting: 

  • You can add all the materials to the composting tumbler which can be added to a compost pile.

Compost Bin:

Adding Food Scraps in an Outdoor Compost Bin

Estimated Time: 5-6 weeks.

As simple as it sounds, this is nothing but composting in a bin. It is also known as a ‘Compost Digester.’ Open from the bottom and enclosed from the sides, it is placed directly on the ground.

Composting in bins is a good way to keep the spillage, odors, and pests away. It doesn’t require much maintenance and gives the best results if the oxygen, light, moisture and temperature requirements are rightly met.

To compost in a compost bin, you need to add materials containing Carbon and Nitrogen to the bin, but avoid dairy, fats, plastics, etc. Sprinkle water to add moisture, and use a garden fork to mix. Cover the lid and wait for some time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Composting through Bins: 

ProsCons
Low maintenanceDifficult to turn the pile
Ideal for small spaceMight generate foul odor
Can compost a limited volume

Therefore, it gives us a better idea if we should use compost bins or go for something else.

Trench Composting:

Trench Composting

Estimated Time: Enriches soil in 4-5 Weeks.

Also called ‘Pit Composting,’ trench composting requires direct digging of a pit or trench in the yard. It is an excellent way of adding nutrients to your yard during the off-season.

This is a hassle-free method of enriching the soil with nutrients by directly adding green and brown materials to the soil.

You just need to dig a 12-inch deep hole and add organic materials up to a height of 5-6 inches. Cover the trench with soil. And you’re good to go!

Fun Fact: Trench composting is also called the ‘lazy man’s method of composting.’ Relatable, right? 

Pros and Cons of Trench Composting:

ProsCons
AffordableRequires digging
No turning is requiredTake a long time to break down
EasyCan’t compost during winters

Items that can be Composted through Pit Composting: 

  • Prunings and thinnings
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Yard waste

Items that shouldn’t be Composted through Pit Composting:

  • Diseased plants
  • Treated wood
  • Leaves or plants with chemicals
  • Plastic, metals, glass, and other non-biodegradable materials

Hence, depending on indoor and outdoor preferences, you have several options for composting. But that’s not it! What if you wish to compost on a mass and extensive scale? Let’s take a look at composting methods depending on the scale.

Based on Scale

On the basis of scale, composting can be of three types: Large Scale Composting, Small Scale Composting, and Both Small & Large Scale Composting.

5. Large-Scale Composting

Large Scale Composting

While composting at an individual level is great, if you wish to do it in a big way, large-scale composting or community composting is the answer! There are two popular types of large scale composting.

Aerated Static Pile Composting:

Estimated Time:  3-6 months.

It is an excellent way of composting adopted by landscape companies and community farms. It involves making and layering large piles and placing those piles on a network of pipes that aerate the piles.

This process involves the use of huge equipment like biofilters, blowers, etc. to maintain the right balance of oxygen, moisture, and temperature in the aerated pipes.

Pros & Cons of Aerated Static Pile Composting: 

ProsCons
Can compost large quantities of wasteRequires monitoring
Withstand wintersCostly
No manual turningRequires skills
Fast way Can’t compost animal waste, dairy, meat, etc.

Materials That Can be Composted through Aerated Pile Composting:

  • All kind of food scraps
  • Agricultural waste and materials
  • Municipal Solid Waste
  • Industrial waste materials

Windrow Composting:

Estimated Time: Around 5-6 months.

Organic waste is piled in long rows, called windrows, having a width of 14-16 feet and a height of 4-8 feet. This helps maintain the temperature of the pile, allowing natural flow. These huge heaps are regularly mixed and turned with the right equipment for better breakdown of materials.

Window composting is usually done away from metropolitan locations because there are enormous mounds of waste and thus more odor and gas emissions.

Pros & Cons of Windrow Composting: 

ProsCons
Can compost everythingRequires labor
Can work in wintersReleases a by-product that can contaminate groundwater
Affordable
Easy to operate

Therefore, these are how you can adopt composting at a large level.

6. Small-Scale Composting

It is the type of composting you do or plan to do at home. It is an excellent way to recycle food waste, and instead of throwing it in the garbage bin, throw it in the compost bin, and you can have your own compost.

Onsite Composting:

It is also called Open Air Composting or Direct Composting. It is the traditional pile method of composting.

Worm Farm or Vermicomposting:

As we have already discussed, vermicomposting involves the use of earthworms which break down the kitchen waste and make compost out of it.

All the methods mentioned above in the article, which can be done individually, can be categorized into small-scale composting like composting through tumblers, compost bins, trench composting, Bokashi composting, etc.

Both Small & Large Scale Composting:

In-Vessel Small Scale Composting

This method can be used depending upon the need of composting.

7. In-Vessel Composting

In-vessel composting involves the use of equipment like silo, drum, trench, etc., which can be filled with organic waste and can be mechanically turned. It can be done in the backyard or in large outdoor units, depending on the need.

ProsCons
Provides control over factors like aeration, temperature, odor, etc.Expensive
Can compost any type of organic matterRequires skills
Fast processHigh-maintenance

And that’s all! You can decide what composting method you should adopt depending on your needs. And since you have a variety of methods to choose from, you can make the best compost for your plants.

But once you have your composting method, how would you know that the compost is ready? The methods we discussed above don’t have a button that can tell when it is done. So what is the way to know when precisely the compost is ready?

Well, for that, there are specific criteria or characteristics of good compost. If your resulting product fulfills all of these, then congratulations! You have your compost ready.

Characteristics of Good Compost

  • The color of the compost should be dark brown.
  • The moisture content of the compost should be around 60-70%.
  • It shouldn’t have a foul odor.
  • It should be crumbly.
  • It should be non-sticky.
  • It should be free from pests.
  • The pH of the compost should be from 7.2-7.8.
  • It should have an earthy and rich smell.
  • The volume of the compost is reduced.
  • The organic items are not visible anymore (except wood chips)
  • There are no big chunks present in the compost.

So, going through the complete composting guide boosts your confidence about composting, right? If you wanted to make compost but wondered how, then you have the answer to your question. So don’t wait! Start saving those kitchen scraps!

Which is the fastest method of composting we can do at home?

The fastest way of composting is through electric composters. These food digesters will give the compost in just 3-4 hours.

How can we compost meat, dairy products, and bones at home?

You can compost meat, fish, dairy, and oily products through Bokashi composting.

Is hot composting anaerobic composting?

No, hot composting is aerobic composting, while cold composting is anaerobic composting.

Can we add plastics and glass to the compost pile?

No, you should not add plastic, metal, or glass to the compost pile. Avoid adding solid waste that cannot be broken down. Instead, add organic material.

What to do if we can’t compost at home?

If you cannot compost at home, you can give the collected organic waste to a commercial composting facility nearby.

Therefore, you have numerous ways to convert organic waste into gold for plants. Your plants will thank you for all the efforts and will make you happy by thriving and looking lush. But have you wondered if you can plant directly into this black gold? If not, then we can give you the answer to your question. And if yes, check out this guide on planting directly into compost! Happy plants make a happy you!