Compost Learning Center

Methods and Compost Devices

We use a wide variety of composting devices and methods to demonstrate how you can process organic waste in your own yard or garden or in a mid-scale, DEC-registered composting facility like ours. Below is a list of the commercially available and homemade compost devices that we experiment with on Governors Island.

Mesophilic Devices

Mesophilic composting occurs at middle-range temperatures, below 113°F. Temperatures stay in this range when greens and browns are added gradually, and the volume of material is less than 1 cubic yard. Mesophilic compost is home to a wide array of decomposers, including bacteria, fungi, insects, and worms.

Here is a list of our current mesophilic devices, including how to purchase some of the commercial devices from our NYC Compost Project partners at a reduced price

Commercially Available Devices

ComposTumbler
Compost-Tumbler

Holds about 22 cubic feet of material in a large plastic and metal drum, divided into two chambers. The drum sits 27” off of the ground on a frame of metal tubing, and it turns with a hand crank. The ComposTumbler can handle organic waste for one or several households.

Urban Compost Tumbler
Urban-Compost-Tumblr

Holds 9½ cubic feet of material in a medium-sized drum made from recycled plastic. The drum sits low to the ground and turns end-over-end with the support of two plastic A-frames. It has a central tube perforated with holes to allow aeration of the material inside. The Urban Compost Tumbler can handle organic waste for one household.

Envirocycle
Envirocycle

A compost tumbler that holds about 7 cubic feet of material in a small drum made from recycled plastic. The drum sits on top of a hollow plastic base that has a concave surface with eight wheels, which allow the drum to turn. The Envirocycle can handle organic waste for one household.

Garden Gourmet
Garden-Gourmet

A rectangular plastic structure that holds about 11 cubic feet of material, measures 24” x 24” at the base, and stands 36” high. It features an access door on top for adding material and a sliding door at the bottom for removing finished compost. The bottom of the enclosure is open to the surface below it.

To purchase locally, contact the NYC Compost Project hosted by:
  • The New York Botanical Garden(718) 817-8543 | Contact NYBG
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden(718) 623-7290 | Contact BBG
  • Lower East Side Ecology Center(212) 477-3155 | Contact LESEC
  • Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden(718) 425-3558 | Contact SHCCBG
Metal Can Compost Bin
Metal-Can

A small metal trash can with ½” holes in the side and lid for aeration. It can hold about 3 cubic feet of material.

To purchase locally, contact the NYC Compost Project hosted by:
Earth Machine

Earth-Machine

 

A cylindrical black plastic structure that holds 10½ cubic feet of material. The Earth Machine is like a rounded version of the Garden Gourmet, with a door on the top for adding material and a sliding door on the front for removing finished compost.

To purchase locally, contact the NYC Compost Project hosted by:
  • Queens Botanical Garden (718) 539-5296 | Contact QBG

“Homemade” Devices

Three Bin System
3-Bin-System

This device is made up of three 1-yard bins, each 3’ on a side with a system of wooden slats in the front. New material is added to the leftmost open bin. When this bin fills up, it is turned into the bin to its right, and new material is added to the first bin again. Repeat, rolling the material to the next bin as each one fills.

Pickle Barrel Tumbler
Pickle-Barrel

A compost tumbler, similar to the Urban Compost Tumbler, that is made from a food-grade barrel that sits on a wooden frame made from 2” by 6” treated lumber. The barrel we used once held 50 gallons of pickles!

3:2:1 Browns Bin

Combine a recipe of 3 parts coarse wood chips, 2 parts dry leaves, and 1 part fines (finely ground wood chips or wood shavings). This recipe provides a nice balance of bulk browns, which create pore space for aeration, and bioavailable browns, which provide ample surface area for microbial consumption.

Stop, Chop, Drop! Bin
Stop-Drop-Chop

This bin is constructed from three pieces of 2” x 3” lumber and three lengths of rebar. Holes big enough to accommodate the rebar are drilled in each end of the three pieces of lumber. The wooden pieces are then stacked on vertical rebar corner posts to create a 1 cubic yard bin (see image). We use this bin to collect garden and yard waste. We call this the “Stop, Chop, Drop!” Bin because before you place a stick or stem in the bin, you should stop, chop the material to lengths the size of your hand, and then drop them into the bin.

Passive Leaf Bin
Passive-Leaf-Bin

Dry leaves, when kept separately from other materials, are primarily broken down by fungi. This process is accelerated by aeration and hydration. We make simple cylindrical bins out of hardware fabric that hold dry leaves and allow expose them to wind and rain.

Snow Fence Bin
Snow-Fence-Bin

Snow fence a lightweight fence made of thin wooden slats wired together. A length of snowfence shaped into a cylinder can serve as a Passive Leaf Bin or a holding bin for leaves used to make compost.

Worm Bank Bin
To maintain a healthy worm population for our Compost Learning Center, we created an in-ground worm bank. The bank is 6′ x 12′ and sunk 3′ into the ground. It is held together by 6″ x 6″ pieces of lumber. We seeded the bed with a healthy batch of worms and fed them to help them propagate and grow in the bank. These worms can be used to start small, apartment-sized worm bins.

Thermophilic Devices

and Methods

Thermophilic composting occurs at high temperatures, above 113°F and up to 170°F (though ideally no more than 150°F). Temperatures often reach this range when greens and browns are added all at once (as a “batch”), and the volume of material is greater than 1 cubic yard.

Thermophilic compost is not hospitable to macroorganisms like insects and worms, but it is home to billions of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. One key group of thermophilic decomposers is the actinobacteria, which are responsible for the earthy smell of soil after the rain. Here is a list of our thermophilic devices and methods:

Windrow or Turned Pile

Windrow

When the volume of compostable materials exceeds 1 or 2 cubic yards, as it does for a mid-sized compost facility like Earth Matter, a windrow is often a constructed. Food scraps, wood chips, leaves, and other materials are blended using pitchforks or a small front-end loader. The blended compost is then piled in a long row with a triangular cross section. It is turned on a weekly basis to aerate and blend the material further.

Aerated Static Pile (ASP)

ASP

The ASP system is a means of aerating a large amount of compost without having to turn it. A blower is hooked up to 4” PVC pipes with holes drilled into them. One foot of woodchip plenum is put over the pipe. New compostable material is blended thoroughly and piled onto the plenum into a long row with a roughly triangular cross section. Finished compost is piled on top to act as a biofilter, absorbing gases and trapping in moisture. A timer turns the blower on for set intervals, providing the microorganisms in the pile with oxygen. This system is considered an in-vessel system by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

2-yard Bin
2yd_bin
This device is the larger cousin of the Three Bin System. Three wooden frames, roughly 4’ on a side and covered with hardware fabric, make up a box with a capacity of 2 cubic yards. The front of the box is made of three smaller frames. Additional frames are tied on the front as material is added.
Deep Litter
Under our chickens’ roosting bars, we layer wood shavings on top of their poop daily to keep the area odor-free and hygienic. The chickens scratch and pick through this deep litter, building their immune systems. The group of microorganisms that break down the manure are anaerobic. Deep litter also generates heat that keeps the birds warm during the winter months. After 1 or 2 years, the compost is ready to be applied to the garden.
Hot Box
Hotbox
This device features a 3 cubic feet capacity and is made out of recycled plastic lumber. Perforated PVC pipes extend through the pile to release leach-ate and aerate the compost. This system is considered an in-vessel system by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
45-yard ASP Leaf Bin System

Leaves break down more quickly with additional aeration. This device is a large wooden corral that serves as a holding bin for up to 45 cubic yards of leafy browns. It also forces air through the leaves using an aeration system from the ASP to accelerate their decomposition.

Earth Tub
Earth-Tub

This device is a large, circular plastic vessel with a capacity of 3 cubic yards. It features a motor-powered auger that extends downward from the lid. The auger and lid can be turned by several people holding onto handles and walking around the Earth Tub. The New York Harbor School has two of these devices, which we assist them in maintaining and use in our training programs. This system is considered an in-vessel system by the Department of Environmental Conservation.