Different composting methods

There are a number of ways you can compost your kitchen and garden waste. Each works brilliantly in the right situation. The important thing is to find the right system for you.

To help get started with composting, or to increase the amount you compost, here's an overview of the different methods, and the pros and cons of each.

Cool bin/cool heap

An open compost bay, plastic ‘dalek’ bin from the local council or a simple heap are all cool composting methods. They are cheap and easy starter options.

You can easily make your own bin or bay out of recycled wood and place it wherever you have bare ground. It’s useful to have three bays: one to add to, one that’s composting and one ready to use.

This method rarely achieves a heat above 60°C. It can take three years for debris to fully decompose, and it may not destroy weed roots or seeds. This system can be difficult if you are unable to turn a large heap.

Hot heap

Hot heaps heat up more quickly (and destroy weed seeds) but they can be labour intensive. The difference between this and a cool heap is that you need to chop materials into small pieces and mix them together before adding to the container.

Within a few days, the heap is likely to get hot to the touch. When it begins to cool down, remove everything and try to get the outside to the inside. When the heap no longer heats up, leave it undisturbed to finish composting.

Hot bin

There are many different versions of hot composting boxes on the market. We’ve had success with ‘Green Johanna’, ‘Hotbin’ and ‘Aerobin’. These can be used to compost almost any waste, including cooked food and dairy items. They can produce useable compost in 12 weeks.

You will need to pay closer attention to getting the mix of greens and browns right to avoid a slimy mess. The bins can be a little more expensive, but some local authorities offer a subsidy.


Bokashi composting involves fermenting your green waste in a bokashi bucket. You'll need to purchase bran, which contains good bacteria, to add along with the waste. The bucket is airtight so cooked food, meat and dairy will all decompose anaerobically.

This is a good option if you want to compost everything but don’t have a hot box. It will act as a pre-treatment for the waste, which leaves it inedible for rats and other creatures. You can then put it into a standard compost bin or trench.


An easy way to turn your heap regularly and create heat. These often sit on legs and allow you to roll the whole compost bin. The action of bacteria and fungi – rather than worms – processes the material.

Tumblers are a good choice if you have back problems, or you need to have the bin off the ground due to rats. Our research has shown that they are best treated as a batch process. Stop adding to them once they’re about half full and empty into a conventional bin.

Compost trench

Recycling your kitchen waste in a trench or pit is often referred to as ‘lazy composting’ - no bad thing if you have a busy life! This method allows you to compost in situ, where the plants will grow, rather than moving material from a heap. It’s good for gardens where compost heaps tend to dry out quickly.

Dig a trench, one spade wide and one spade deep, in autumn and fill with alternating layers of kitchen waste and garden soil. When full, cover with the remaining soil and leave to settle for one to two months. You can then plant with hungry vegetables such as peas and pumpkins.

Sheet or lasagne composting

This is similar to trench composting, but instead of digging a hole, you layer browns and greens on the soil and plant on top. The benefit is this will fit into a No Dig system. However, you need some homemade compost to use as a top layer.

Start by spreading a bottom layer of cardboard or leaves onto the ground. Then add kitchen waste and garden clippings and top with homemade compost.

This method is often advocated for people with a lot of lawn clippings and can be a good way of preventing them from turning anaerobic.

Slow stack

Woody materials that are too bulky for a conventional heap, such as tree prunings, can be added to a slow stack.

Pile young wood, as thick as a finger, in whatever space you have and to rot down. This could take five or six years, but while it’s decomposing the stack provides great cover for wildlife.


If you have room, you could take the ‘slow stack’ method up a notch and try ‘Hügelkultur’. This is a centuries-old way of building a garden bed from rotten logs and plant debris. Create a raised bed and mound it up with woody materials, topped with compost and soil, and grow plants on top.


This is a great method of recycling for homes where kitchen waste is the main material to be composted. Wormeries are particularly popular with children!

Wormeries are compact and don’t smell, so can be kept indoors or out. They produce both compost and liquid feed with high nutrient value. This can be used to feed your plants, including houseplants.

You can buy them and the worms online or it’s quite easy to make your own. Just be careful not to let it get too hot or too cold. 19°C is just right.

Leaf pile

Fallen leaves are a fantastic resource if you make them into leafmould. Simply collect them and pack them into a damp container. A reusable bin bag or wire frame work well. Leave it for a year or two and you will have a lovely dark brown mix. You can add to your soil to improve structure or use to sow seeds into. Read more on using leafmould here.

Love composting?

We're passionate about the benefits home composting can bring to sustainably managing household waste. If you are too, check out our Current Master Composter volunteer programmes to see if you can get involved in your local area!

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