I tried 6 compost ‘solutions’ in 18 months and this is where I’ve landed

By Sam Whistler 11 March 2021

Planet Ark Partnerships Manager Sam Whistler shares her Goldilocks journey to find just the right composting solution for her home.

Believe it or not, we’re not all composting experts at Planet Ark, even with decades of experience under our belt. There are some gurus amongst us, but many of us are just starting our ultimate food waste journeys and learning as we go. 

I, for one, am not one of these composting experts, although hopefully my new-found passion gets me there soon. You could say I’m still a rookie, having only started down this road 18 months ago. However, I want to share my real journey thus far with you in the hope it provides just enough inspiration to give composting a crack.

Before starting, I searched the internet for ‘the best composting system for me’ and was a bit underwhelmed with the results. What I found was that it's very dependent on the person and their individual needs. What works for one person and their living situation may not work as well for others.

So, remembering that your needs might be different to mine, let us hope I can still bring you an unbiased, simplistic comparison of how I deal with my pesky food scraps and provide some options for you to try yourself. And before you think I’m a Bunnings shopaholic or a wasteful, crazy compost lady, please note many of these composting systems were gifts, hand-me-downs or tip shop finds.

1. Cheeky community garden drop-offs

Sam's composting journey - Community garden

My experience with community garden composting began after I did a stint volunteering at a community garden and stretches back past the last 18 months. At the time I was living in an apartment and was very excited by the prospect of bringing my food scraps to their big open-air piles at the garden. I would collect my scraps during the week in a big Tupperware container that I kept in the fridge or freezer (preferable) so they didn’t stink out the kitchen. Come the weekend, I would take the container to the garden to drop off some nutritional goodness. 

I stopped volunteering at the garden because my silly life got in the way, but I did continue to stealthily drop my scraps off once a week. It was next to where I did my weekly grocery shop so it wasn’t out of the way and I found this whole process quite simple. In saying that, I was no longer one of the fantastic volunteers having to actually turn the compost each week and make sure it was evenly balanced with carbon rich materials (e.g. dried leaves). So yes, it was a very non-committal approach to composting (thanks volunteers 😐).

Community gardens don’t have the capacity or resources to take everyone’s food scraps but its worth talking to them to find out if they can take yours, especially if you don’t have room at home to make your own compost.

2. The Bokashi rollercoaster

Sam's composting journey - Bokashi

Oh, the Bokashi... I had heard so many great things about it. Touted as the compact composting solution, especially for people living in apartments, we were understandably pumped when we were gifted one when we moved into our new house. I was ready for the Bokashi experience.

Unfortunately, the little ol’ Bokashi fell short of my expectations and came with a set of challenges I wasn’t ready for. 

  1. Maggots. This may have been a user error as I have read that if you get the balance right with the fermentation spray and the dry Bokashi mix you sprinkle over each layer, maggots shouldn’t be an issue. However, I couldn’t quite figure this out so the maggots stayed. 

  2. Once you fill it, you need to let it sit and ferment for two weeks, so whilst this is happening you don’t have anywhere else to put your food scraps. This is fine if you have a secondary system you can feed into. Not fine if you have limited space.

  3. Once properly fermented, they say to pour the contents of the Bokashi into a deep hole in the garden and bury it. Now I’m no expert, but I’m unsure where people living in apartments are meant to dig these holes once every few weeks. This part of the process also reeked (again, this may have been my user error).  

The highlight was the liquid you drain from the Bokashi bin, which (while also reeking) is a fantastic fertiliser concentrate for your garden. I am sure there are Bokashi experts out there who have worked out how to use it properly so by all means don’t write this option off altogether. It just wasn’t the winner for me. 

3. The broken single tumbler – my home gym

Sam's composting journey - single tumbler

We received a hand-me-down single compartment compost tumbler from my parents and promptly pivoted away from the Bokashi. It was slightly broken at the hinges but still able to turn 360 degrees. 

This system served us well. After some time spent finding the right wet and dry balance with the contents, we were on a roll. One downside with this system was the difficulty turning the tumbler by hand as it filled up and got heavier, which also contributed to the faulty hinge worsening as time went on. 

Just before it broke for good, we were able to produce a fantastic batch of aged compost which went straight to the garden. If you’re up for building muscles whilst composting, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this system. 

4. The big bad barrel

Sam's composting journey -  The open bottom barrel

My parents-in-law were the next ones to gift us a composting system. They found an open-ground composting system at a tip shop and, probably due to hearing about our previous composting adventures, thought my husband and I would be the perfect recipients. We received this at the perfect time. The poor single tumbler (above) was on its way out and almost full, so we were about ready to start collecting food scraps in another system while letting the tumbler do its thing and cook away. 

This open-ground composting system was greatnice and airy to encourage good oxygen circulation. The only downside was my fault. I told myself I couldn’t justify buying another gardening tool – the essential compost turning metal stick thingy – and would just use a shovel. When factoring in my non-existent arm strength (even after turning the tumbler!), I wasn’t able to get right down to the bottom with the shovel to turn it enough, which reduced the system’s efficacy.

Apart from that, I was still pleasantly surprised the compost was doing its thing at the bottom of the barrel, but I wouldn’t say it was our best batch of compost.  

5. Our worm farm – the gold mine

Sam's composting journey - Worm farm

Our little wormies ❤️ Givers of pure liquid gold when it comes to organic garden fertiliser. These guys are great but their main purpose (for us) is to produce fertiliser. Dealing with our food scraps is an added bonus since we have the other composting system up and running. Our worms were slow at first to eat the scraps, but became faster as they multiplied. 

The only downside is they don’t eat a few things like garlic, onion, tomatoes and citrus, so you need to have another compost system to deal with those scraps. 

6. Winner, winner, tumbler twinner

Sam's composting journey - Twin tumbler

We have a winner people (in my eyes)! The almighty twin tumbling system. This was the only brand-new system we bought, and wow do I feel boujee. Most things in our house are op-shop finds so you know it must be important if something brand new is brought into the mix. 

The twin tumbling system has two compartments to collect your scraps in. Once the first is full, you can begin collecting in the second compartment while leaving the first to do its composty-thing and cook away over time. 

The other excellent feature is the turning handle. It is a lot easier to turn this well-engineered handle as opposed to trying to flip the heavy bottom of the big single tumblers.

In conclusion, it's been a wild ride but we’ve found one that’s just right for us. Hopefully my experiences provide some ideas for you to investigate because if my own journey has taught me anything, it’s that any kind of composting is better than sending food scraps to landfill.

I would love to hear your experiences with finding the right compost solution for your situation. Feel free to let us know your favourite methods via social media so we can share with our community!

Sam Whistler
After five years in the media and digital marketing industry, Sam joined Planet Ark in 2017. As her interest in caring for the environment grew, she became a member of her previous organisation's environmental committee which only further ignited her passion. It opened her eyes to the amazing work that organisations like Planet Ark were doing to create a sustainable future which made her want to get involved.