Should You Put Your Compost Bin in The Sun? (Or Shade?)

We built our compost bins from two old plastic water butts we found in the garden, put little hatches at the bottom and drilled lots of holes in the sides. We then had to decide where to put them.

The best place to put your compost bin is in a shaded area that receives some sunshine during the day. This is because a combination of shade, moisture and sunlight are all important in the composting process – but not too much of each, so you must take into account the climate where you live.

Even though our compost barrels aren’t the nicest looking things in the world, we tucked them away behind the garage where they can get sun and shade – and retain some moisture. The results so far have been pretty good, and the quality of the compost is decent enough.

compost barrels

Sunshine or Shade: Things To Consider

Like most decisions in life, choosing whether to put your compost bins in the shade or sunlight is not a clear cut thing. There is actually a lot to take into account that could influence your decision – not least where you live and your local climate.

Here are some points you should consider:

Compost Temperature

Compost microbes need the heat of the sun to do their work effectively, so putting your tumblers in the permanent shade will slow the composting process to a complete standstill – especially in colder areas.

While shade in cold climates (and during winter in warmer ones) can protect your barrels from the worst of the rain, wind and snow – it’s best to position them in a location that gets a few hours of sun a day so the composting process can activate.

In terms of temperature regulation, this may mean moving your compost barrels based on the seasons:

Warmer Climates

Place your compost barrels in a predominantly shady area that gets at least a few hours of direct sunshine every day (this is what we’ve done). 

This means they are protected from any bad weather in winter, and any excessive heat in summer – but still get sun, warmth and moisture hugging shade all year round. This also means we don’t have to move the barrels from one place to another, apart from occasionally turning them on the spot.

Colder Climates

Living in a colder climate may present a bit more work with your compost bins, but in general you should protect them from the excesses of the cold weather, wind and snow in the depths of winter – then move them into an area of mainly sunshine during spring and summer.

When located in their summer position, you will probably need a modicum of shade so the sunshine doesn’t dry out the compost – but you’ll have to judge these based on your local circumstances.

It’s worth noting that the color and design of compost barrels means they are designed to retain the heat which helps the composting process, but if they sit in direct sunlight for too long then the heat can warp the plastic.

two compost barrels

Rate of Composting

The following is generally true; more shade equals slower composting and more sun equals faster composting. However, this is a fine balance as too much shade also means no composting as does too much sun – as at both extremes the microbes are either dormant or die.

So to speed up composting it’s important to add some old rough card like egg boxes, toilet roll middles and scraps of paper – ripped into small shreds and added into your compostable food and garden scraps.

This helps the microbes and worms do their job and will increase the quality of your compost when mixed in with the other organic waste. It can also help to speed up the process in warner months too.

If you’re not in the position to move the, erm, position of your compost tumbler – then just turning your barrels on the spot every few days so they get more heat and sunshine on alternate sides – could make all the difference in terms of speeding up the rate of composting.

Moisture Level

If your compost gets too dusty then the heat of the sun is drying it out too much in the the barrel. This means the microbes are dehydrating and gasping for a drink, or worse still could be about to die off completely.

This is why some shade for your compost bins is beneficial, and so is a nearby water butt or outdoor faucet – so you can introduce a sprinkling of water now and then to help keep the compost moist and those microbes happy.

There are no hard and fast rules for adding water, you’ll have to keep you eye on your compost (and run your hand through it periodically), and then make your best judgement as too how much water to sprinkle in from the watering can.

Need less to say – moist, slightly warm compost is ideal, but overly wet or dusty dry compost is not. Over time you’ll learn the look, feel and smell of healthy compost.

compost barrel

Where Should I Put My Compost Bin?

Here are some tips for helping you decide where to put your composting bin in your own backyard or garden:

  • Somewhere easy to get to across a path or concrete, so you don’t have to walk over wet grass to get there.
  • Somewhere that’s not too hot or cold, or too shady or sunny.
  • Somewhere that’s not too close to the house to avoid those smells. 
  • Somewhere that’s near a water source like a butt or outdoor faucet.
  • Somewhere that’s not too far away from your plants and flower beds.
  • Somewhere on level ground but with a slight run off so all those disgusting juices can drain away.
  • Somewhere that has space to add more compost tumblers in future – those things fill up fast.
  • Somewhere not too windy, so your new bin won’t blow over if it’s empty – or dry out when it’s full.
  • Somewhere that’s not too close to or under trees – as their roots will grow up into all your yummy compost.
  • Somewhere too close to next door’s property – don’t put your bin up against the neighbors fence unless you plan on falling out.
  • Somewhere you can see it – look at the pictures of mine, compost bins do not look great so don’t put them where they can been seen from the house.

Conclusion

All in all I think we’ve done a good job positioning our compost barrels round the side of the garage.

They get a perfect mix of sunshine and shade in that location, and the compost stays at just the right temperature and moisture level. Although we turn them on the spot sometimes, we haven’t had to move them at different times of the year yet.

The only thing about our choice of location is that we’re finding our compost barrels are filling up quickly as we’re a pretty green family and like to recycle a lot.

This means we didn’t account for the extra space needed if we have to buy or make more compost tumblers. However, the compost at the bottom of our most full bin looks good for planting, so we should be able to make some space.

If you’re looking for a perfect shady/sunny place to put your compost bins, then good luck with and I hope this article helps 🙂