Tools for Composting

The following are some of the composting tools and supplies available from garden centers and catalog companies.


All garden forks aren’t alike: Some are made for light-weight materials like straw, and other are made for heavy, wet material like manure. Each type has an appropriate role in the composting process. For information, see Forks.

Compost Aerating Tools

Many mail-order companies sell an aerating tool that you insert into a pile and then pull out, causing flanges at the bottom to open and fluff the compost. Although the tool works adequately, you probably won’t need it if you build your pile properly. If the pile has collapsed into an anaerobic mess, it can be turned with a garden fork as easily as stirred with an aerating tool. Also, turning the pile allows you to investigate what went wrong and to add extra moisture if required.

Compost Thermometers

A thermometer isn’t really necessary to tell whether a pile is heating up, when to turn a pile, or to identify finished compost. Sticking your fist into a pile tells you if the pile is hot. A little experience will soon reveal the proper timing for turning a pile. And you’ll soon be able to tell when compost is ready simply by looking at, smelling, and feeling the pile.

However, a thermometer is useful in indicating when the pile is hot enough to kill most weed seeds and disease organisms. Monitoring the thermometer can tell you whether the pile is becoming too hot, threatening the beneficial microorganisms. If too much heating occurs, the thermometer lets you know precisely when to turn the pile to cool it down.

Almost all compost thermometers are long-pronged devices with a temperature dial. Look for a stainless steel model with a metal probe at least 12 inches long. A compost thermometer should be able to register temperatures to at least 180 degrees

Also available is a thermometer with a sensor that you place in the middle of the pile and a remote digital readout that you put indoors.

A crowbar or iron pipe can also be used as a compost thermometer. Poke it into the center of the pile and let it warm up for five minutes, then remove it and hold the end that was in the pile. If you can hold onto it, it’s under about 140 degrees. If it’s too hot to hold onto, the temperature is over 140 degrees, and warm enough to kill most weed seeds and pathogens.

Compost Pile Covers

Almost any compost system should be covered from time to time—for example, to keep out the rain or to prevent the pile from drying out too quickly during windy weather. Look for an impermeable cover that’s flexible enough to conform to the shape of the pile. Most home composters opt for a tarp, choosing plastic since it’s less expensive than canvas. Get one made of an ultraviolet-protected PVC material that has been woven and stitched with reinforced seams. The cost depends on the size and quality of the tarp.

Compost Sifters

Sometimes, you’ll need to sieve finished compost to collect fine-textured material for potting mixes. You can either make a sifter or buy one. A particularly useful sifter consists of a screen attached to a frame that you can set across the top of a wheelbarrow or garden cart. To make the sifter, nail 2x4s together to form a frame. Allow two boards to protrude several inches on each side, so that you can use the ends as handles. Cover one side of the frame with 1/4- or 1/2-inch galvanized hardware cloth or wire fencing with holes the size you want. Nail or screw strips of wood on top of the hardware cloth to hold it in place.

Buy a sifter if you don’t want to make your own. The least expensive are metal sifters, which are usually round, and plastic sifters. Riddles, or round sifters with wood sides, and rectangular sifters large enough to straddle a wheelbarrow or garden cart are more expensive.

Kitchen Compost Containers

Saving kitchen scraps in an old bucket or yogurt container often leads to an unsightly, smelly, fly-infested kitchen. The more pleasant and sanitary way to collect kitchen scraps is to acquire a wide-mouthed ceramic crock or a stainless-steel bucket with a well-seated lid.

Some retail nurseries and mail-order sources sell special compost buckets, although you may find a suitable bucket in a hardware store.

Another simple, effective solution is to retrofit a drawer just below the countertop to receive scraps. A stainless-steel food pan with lid used for steam tables or chafing dishes makes a good receptacle for scraps. The pans are usually 12 by 20 inches or 12 by 10 inches with a depth of 2 1/2, 4, 6, or 8 inches.

To install the pan, remove the drawer and insert full-extension drawer slides near the top of the drawer space. Cut a piece of plywood to match the drawer width, then cut a hole to fit the lip of the pan. When it’s time to take the kitchen scraps to the compost pile, simply pop the pan out of its slot.