3 Bin Composting System

Using a 3 bin composting system makes it easy to manage, turn, aerate and use. Learn more as we talk about how to get started with this system.

Everyone loves to say they compost but do they really know what they are doing? This 3 bin system works great for us and provides a bit of fresh, wonderful compost for our gardens each season.

3 bin system post

How to use a 3 bin compost system

As the title suggests, we use three bins to complete our full cycle of composting.

The first bin holds all of our “new” stuff. We collect kitchen scraps and toss them in fresh. We clean the chicken coops and throw all the waste in. We take down old and dead plants from the garden and add them to bin number one as well.

We are sure to turn the waste inside the bin frequently and keep it moist, but it is by far the yuckiest bin – filled with rotting food and all manner of bugs, who just love the stuff. One thing it is NOT, however, is smelly. An overly fragrant compost pile is a bad sign. If everything is in balance and properly covered, your compost pile should not smell.

Switching from bin one to bin two

This is when the fun begins. As the waste in bin number one reaches the top, we prepare to move it to bin number two. In moving all of the contents of bin number one to bin number two, we are able to really mix up and aerate the decomposing matter. This is important for a proper and expedient composting system.

After the contents are moved, we are left with an empty bin number one. We will begin to fill bin one again with the “new stuff,” but we will never add new material to bin number two. The only job bin number two has is to continue to compost and break down.

When three composting bins are full

As bin number one fills again, we move the contents of bin two to bin number three and so on and so forth. By the time bin number one is full for the third time, bin number three should be fully composted and ready to use in the garden. *Remember* New material is ONLY ever added to the first compost bin.

All of this will depend on how quickly you create the material that needs to be composted.

Some people will find that they need much larger bins or need to simply resort to large piles that are turned and shifted. These bins have always worked great for us, but we live on .15 acres in a large urban city, which may be very different from your situation.

You may also wonder how to know if bin number three is truly ready to be used. The easiest way to tell if your compost is done is by sight and feel. Does it look like compost and is it cool to the touch? If you can still discern large chunks of food or specific plants, it needs more time.

If it is hot or warm to the touch, then it is still decomposing. Don’t use it if it isn’t finished. It can burn your plants, and they will die, which would be terribly tragic.

More composting articles from Homesteading Hippy

Reuse Eggshells instead of composting
Moving the Compost Bin to the Chicken Area
5 Easy Steps to Composting
Comparing Vermicomposting Methods

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13 thoughts on “3 Bin Composting System”

  1. This is completely brilliant!! We have one fresh and new compost bin that we continually add to, and one long and slow compost bin for our straw from the chicken run and yard clippings. I’m going to try adding another in between and see what happens. We have to keep all of our fresh stuff in a steel garbage can with holes cut into it, because we have a lot of issues with rats here in the city. Do you guys have problems with that as well? By the way- I just stumbled upon your site over on Passionfruit, you may be getting a request for advertising from me soon if I can come up with the extra cash! Very nice site! 🙂

  2. Great post! I wish I had this type of system. I have a long compost pile and I start at one end with fresh stuff and I slowly move it up as I turn it….but separate bins would be so much easier!

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. I hope you’ll stop back again this week!


  3. Hi,
    How would you incorporate shredded newspaper into the system? We use it between the rows in our garden which has mostly gumbo muck/mud . It lets you walk in the rows after a rain but is not good for mulch really.

    But we are getting to much lately.
    Nice post too.
    Mike and Sheila

    1. into the bins, we would shred it up. We also lay some down between the garden beds and then cover with mulch to help create a walk way, control some weeds and such.


    One extra bit of info for people who live in a dry climate like ours. A semi-arid bin should have little or no airflow, such as gaps between the slates, screens, etc. Our low-humidity environment — ranging from 3% to 44% RH — sucks all the moisture out of the pile in just a few hours. A composter won’t work properly if the materials dry out too much or too quickly. On the other hand, a semi-arid composter is designed to retain moisture, so you will need to turn over the material frequently so the bottom of the bin does not become soggy. It’s more work to compost here, but the outcome is as satisfying as in higher-humidity climates.

  5. I like the 2-3 bin system and it seems that it would be the easiest to manage for newbies. I’m trying to start a compost in a highly humid environment. What do you suggest?

    Also, to keep animals out – including mice/rats – but other wild animals, what materials do you suggest work the best?

  6. Just built three 4x4x4-foot bins and our property is on the Island of Hawaii. Do we need to drill holes on the side of the bins for more airflow?

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