Friday, June 15, 2012

Composting Tools- What You Really Need (And What Not To Waste Your Money On)

Some tools prove essential for maintaining an active happy compost pile. Some tools, not so much. Here’s a breakdown of what you need, what you can make yourself (for those DIYers), and what you and your compost pile can live without.

1. Turner/ Aerator

Compost turners add essential oxygen that your pile needs to stay active. You can buy specially made tools, like the Wing Digger shown here, which is what I use weekly to aerate my pile. The pointed end stabs into the pile and then the wings flip out as you pull, making larger air pockets deep in the compost.

You can also use a shovel or pitchfork to aerate but this is more work if you have a single bin system.

A stick or piece of rebar would also work, you just have to poke more holes to get the same effect.

DIY tip- you can make your own inexpensive auger-aerator by purchasing an anchor used for mobile homes at a recreational vehicles supply store. The auger base has an “eye” hole at the top. Put a piece of wood in the eye as a handle and you have a turning tool for less than $5. (Here are pictures of something similar).

2. Hand Cultivator or Fork handy tool helps add food scraps to the compost bin without actually touching the compost. Not to turn all prissy valley girl on ya, but accidently grabbing a handful of half-rotted melon or moldy bready is like sooo totally gross (exaggerated eye-rolling).

I keep my hand trowel right next to my bin to lift the material on top so I can bury food scraps easily underneath. No flies, no yuck, just clean, happy composting.

3. Screener

I touted my new-found love of screening in a post a few months ago. Screeners give you a BEAUTIFUL end product and are relatively easy to make.

However, if you just dig finished compost into your garden, you can save yourself time and money by skipping the screener.

4. Pitchfork don’t own a pitchfork but I wish I did. Somehow, I feel silly buying one with such a tiny urban backyard. But pitchforks are really the most efficient tool for moving and harvesting compost. You move more material faster and with less work.

That said, a trusty shovel will do the job.

So, if anyone was looking to buy me, say, a birthday present, a pitchfork would be perfect. (Just kidding…unless you’re my husband and, in that case, just know that my b-day comes right before the next compost harvest).

5. Kitchen Collector

Is a bucket a tool?

Regardless, its making this girl’s tool list. A bucket for collecting kitchen scraps is so helpful and acts as a great reminder to compost.

Of course, an old margarine tub, kitty litter bucket, or any lidded container also works.

6. Compost Thermometer

I can see how it might be fun to measure the temperature of your pile, but really it’s not essential. You know your pile is hot when it starts to reduce in size.

7. Wheelbarrow
I can think of no easier way of moving finished compost around. Unless you want to hang a yoke over your shoulders and trudge around your yard as if in the middle ages.

Buy yourself a good wheelbarrow, you won’t regret it.

Are there any tools you use when composting that I missed?


  1. Bottle opener. Guy gets thirsty turning all that compost! Yes definitely spend a little extra and buy a good metal wheelbarrow, the plastic ones are a drag. Gardeners Supply has a double winged wing dinger which is vastly better than the one you have pictured.

  2. A compost bin with a lid to keep my dogs out - but not everyone needs a bin, a pile on the ground works too.

    1. You're right! I forgot the most important tool of all- the compost bin!

  3. Oooh, double the winged digging action, I love it!

  4. Park + Vine is stocked with most of these things now. Check them out at

  5. Don't be afraid to experiment with worm bin, either.. :)

  6. Awesome list!

    Instead of a wheelbarrow, I just use an old shower curtain (a tarp would tear less and last longer). It's easy to just drag it around the yard.

    My process: When my pile is finished, I lay the shower curtain down in front of the bin. I lift the bin off the ground, and use a shovel or my hands to simply push the whole pile onto the shower curtain (you're basically letting gravity do the work -- much easier than shoveling bit by bit into a wheelbarrow). From there it's easy to spread out the pile across the curtain to pull out unfinished items.

    This also works well to do a thorough pile turnover if I feel like I need to mix things up well.

    1. That's such a good idea, Christy! Thanks for the tip!

  7. Hi Michelle, I see this is an older post but I have to post my 2 cents. Have you heard of a contraption called the compost crank? I've had one for about 10 years and just love it! The winged tool I have works fine in finished compost, but has a hard time with leaves, twigs, paper, cardboard, any bigger pieces of plant matter. Plus it's completely rusted after 15 or so years. I think the auger type design is absolutely the way to go. Works very well and looks pretty nice to boot.

  8. It's fun to found this blog. I'm going to buy a compost aerator and found it is at #1 necessary tool for composting here. :)

  9. About the wheelbarrow; I always found ours unwieldy, heavy and hurt my back. We just moved dirt, debris or almost any yard stuff around on a piece of plastic sheeting. It's light and for compost I think you could just wrap it up and dump it right where you want it. Hopes this helps:)

  10. Oops, somehow overlooked shower curtain idea instead of wheelbarrow, another great idea:)

  11. You can purchase Compost Bin HQ storage or bins from the market that help you store your compost without having to worry about the bacteria and the smell it produces. These bins can help in the decomposition of the compost you are making and prevent rats from getting to your compost.