Do you have a compost bin? Do you even compost? If not, you’re missing out on a wonderful way to add nutrients to your gardening this spring. If you have never had a compost bin, now is definitely the time to start thinking about building one and I have just the list of 35 cheap and easy DIY compost bins that can get you started. Composting is simply breaking down organic materials into a nutrient rich soil that you can then spread on your vegetable or flower gardens. It also lets you dispose of certain waste materials without throwing them in the trash so it’s a really environmentally friendly project.
You can use so many different things in your compost from coffee grounds and old veggies to fruits, teabags, grass clippings, cardboard egg boxes, leaves and so much more. Creating the compost is the easy part…but first you need a compost bin, which is why I have collected these great DIY compost bin plans for you. From plastic jugs to cardboard boxes, there is definitely something on this list that will get you on your way to composting. Many of these can be made with upcycled or repurposed items, and you know how much I love to repurpose. By the way, have you seen these 20 carpet repurposing projects?
If you have always wanted to begin a compost bin, now is your chance. These bins are all so easy to make and many of them don’t require any special tools or skills. Did you know that you can make a compost bin out of a five gallon bucket? How about creating a quick and easy bin from cinder blocks? You’ll know exactly which DIY compost bin is for you when you get through these and I can’t wait to hear how your compost pile is growing! Oh, and be sure to take a look at these 30 backyard succulent gardens that you can DIY this spring. You can use your compost to help them grow!
Table of Contents
- 1. Quick And Easy Two Bin Compost Bin
- 2. DIY Ultimate Three Bin Compost Bin
- 3. Three Tiered Worm Compost Bin
- 4. Simple DIY Five Gallon Bucket Compost Bin
- 5. Easy DIY Angled Compost Bin
- 6. Upcycled Cardboard Box Compost Bin
- 7. DIY Cedar Compost Bin
- 8. Easy DIY Cedar Lattice Compost Bin
- 9. Cinder Block Compost Bin Plans
- 10. Drum Style Compost Bin
- 11. DIY Concrete Block Compost Bin
- 12. DIY Hardware Cloth Compost Bin
- 13. Easy DIY Compost Tumbler Bin
- 14. Simple DIY Kitchen Compost Bin
- 15. Repurposed Plastic Tote Compost Bin
- 16. Double Decker Turnable Compost Bin
- 17. Upcycled Tire And Drum Bin
- 18. Super Easy DIY Compost Bin
- 19. DIY Square Compost Bins
- 20. Upcycled Garbage Can Compost Barrel
- 21. Easy Indoor Vermicomposting Bin
- 22. Easy Leftover Lumber Compost Bin
- 23. DIY Mini Worm Compost Bins
- 24. Odor Free Indoor Compost Bin
- 25. Upcycled Shower Door Compost Bin
- 26. Repurposed Pallet Compost Bin
- 27. Cheap And Easy Stackable Compost Bin
- 28. Cheap $5 Compost Bin
- 29. Simple DIY Porch Compost Bin
- 0. DIY Straw Bales Compost Bin
- 31. DIY Woven Compost Bin
- 32. Upcycled Wheelbarrow Compost Bin
- 33. DIY Wood Barrel Compost Bin
- 34. Upcycled Landscape Timber Compost Bin
- 35. DIY wine Barrel Compost Station
- Composting for beginners: What you need to know
- Using a compost drum (easy for beginners!)
- Compost turner success
- A cheaper alternative to a compost turner
- Eliminating pests in the compost
- Use your blender for small scale waste
- Trench composting
- Hot composting: an explantation for beginners
- Making an active pile
- Other methods of composting for beginners to consider
- EZ Turn Tumbler(Free Shipping)
- 3 Elements for Making Perfect Compost
- Avoid Common Mistakes
- How to make a compost heap: 10 top tips
- 1. Buy a decent compost bin
- 2. Pick the perfect spot for your compost heap or bin
- 3. Let the worms do the hard work
- 4. Put the right stuff in
- 5. Don’t put the wrong stuff in
- 6. Get the balance right
- 7. Give it a good airing
- 8. Boost to the system
- 9. Turn fallen leaves into compost too
- 10. Getting the best out of your compost
- How to Make Compost
- Composting With Animals
- Sizing Up Composters
- Quick Tips for Making Compost
- Compost Recipe Ingredients
1. Quick And Easy Two Bin Compost Bin
Some left over lumber from other projects – or a few old pallets – give you the makings for this great two bin compost bin. These bins measure three feet by three feet in diameter and are about two feet tall, although you can alter those dimensions if you need to. The plans are really easy to follow and give you a double compost bin that helps you to keep your compost organized – if you plan to organize your compost, that is.
2. DIY Ultimate Three Bin Compost Bin
Here is a three bin compost bin that has so much room to help you to create nutrient rich soil. Believe it or not, this one really is not that difficult to build and it is really huge so it will create loads of compost. You can put this anywhere in the yard where you have room for it and even paint and decorate it a bit if you wanted.
3. Three Tiered Worm Compost Bin
You can easily build a worm compost bin – worms help to create nutrient rich soil, by the way. This particular bin has three tiers so it holds loads of soil and worms and it is really simple to build. You will need a power drill and a saw as well as a few other minor tools and supplies. This one is so easy that you can have it built in less than a weekend.
4. Simple DIY Five Gallon Bucket Compost Bin
Just a five gallon bucket is all you need to get started with your composting. If you don’t have the time to build a larger bin, this one will work nicely. You just need the bucket as well as a trash can or stainless steel bin and a few tools. This one takes less than an hour to build. Just think, an hour from now you could be adding veggies and other leftovers into your own compost bin.
5. Easy DIY Angled Compost Bin
When you are building a compost bin, you want it to be easy to access. You definitely want to be able to easily toss in your old foods and other green materials and it would help if you could also access the soil easily, right? This angled compost bin makes access really easy and it is pretty easy to build, too.
6. Upcycled Cardboard Box Compost Bin
I love upcycled cardboard box projects. Honestly, I have so many boxes on hand at all times that it is great to find something worthwhile to use them for…like this cardboard box composter. You make this from a cardboard bulk box, like the ones that come into the grocery store with fruits and vegetables in them. Check with your local grocery about grabbing a couple the next time they have a shipment come in.
7. DIY Cedar Compost Bin
These compost bins are made from cedar posts, which you can repurpose or buy pretty cheap at a lumber yard. The front of the bins have removable boards so that you can easily reach in as needed to stir your compost or add to it as you need to. The compost comes out the bottom of the bins so there is no reaching in or leaning over to get to it.
8. Easy DIY Cedar Lattice Compost Bin
You really can build a compost bin out of just about anything, including old lattice. If you happen to have some cedar lattice on hand that you are not using, you can use that to make boxes to hold your compost. These go together really quickly so you could build two or three of them in an afternoon, and they are really decorative, too.
9. Cinder Block Compost Bin Plans
You can also build your compost bin from cinder blocks. If you don’t have any cinder blocks to use, they’re pretty inexpensive at home improvement stores or check with your local concrete company to see if maybe they’ll offer a discount since you’re using them for green projects. For this one, you use cinder blocks and boards to create a really large bin that will hold so much compost!
10. Drum Style Compost Bin
One of the things that you have to remember about composting is that it needs to be turned or stirred from time to time. This drum style compost bin makes that really easy to do and this is an easy one to build. It rotates so that your compost can breathe which helps with the odor and you can build this in just a couple of hours and for less than $20!
11. DIY Concrete Block Compost Bin
Here is another plan for a compost bin build out of concrete blocks. This one uses only the blocks and then you just lay a wooden board on the top to keep everything stewing nicely inside. This one doesn’t require any power tools and can be built in just a couple of hours. And, if you have the blocks on hand, this one is free to make.
12. DIY Hardware Cloth Compost Bin
Making your own compost bin does not have to be difficult or expensive…which is the case with this one that is made from hardware cloth. You need mesh hardware cloth for this, which is pretty inexpensive and you can buy it in rolls so you can make sure to get all that you need. You’ll also need a bit of wire fence and cable ties to hold everything together and something for the lid, like a plank of wood.
13. Easy DIY Compost Tumbler Bin
Here is another wonderful compost bin that takes the work out of rotating your compost. This one is made from a plastic barrel and a few 2X4s. There are so many home décor and furniture projects that you can make from 2X4s! The length of your boards will depend on the barrel that you use. You have to make sure that the boards are tall enough to get the barrel off the ground for rotating.
14. Simple DIY Kitchen Compost Bin
There is no rule that says your compost bin has to be outdoors. If you live in an apartment building or otherwise just don’t have yard space, this simple DIY kitchen compost bin is perfect. You can make your own with an old coffee can or any number of other materials and just keep it right there in the house where you can add to it freely.
15. Repurposed Plastic Tote Compost Bin
Turn an old plastic tote into a compost bin! You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this. If you don’t have a tote that you can use, hit up the Dollar Store or watch for those after Christmas sales. Walmart normally sells red totes for about half price after the holidays.
16. Double Decker Turnable Compost Bin
This DIY compost bin is made from plastic barrels and it has two tiers. It is also rotatable so you can keep your compost turned so that it produces better. You can use any two plastic barrels or drums that you have on hand and if you don’t have barrels to use, check with local manufacturing companies to see if they have any that they are willing to part with.
17. Upcycled Tire And Drum Bin
There are so many ways to upcycle old tires! For one, you can use them as the base for your compost bin that is made from an old metal drum. These drums are so easy to find and once you put this one together, the tires make it so easy to rotate your compost and keep everything mixed up. You just roll it around!
18. Super Easy DIY Compost Bin
This compost bin is made from repurposed milk crates and it is one of the easiest things to build…ever. The gist is to just cover the bottom so that your compost doesn’t fall out and then create a lid so that it stays covered. This one is also really easy to rotate so that you can easily break it down when needed.
19. DIY Square Compost Bins
If you don’t have anything that you can repurpose to make a compost bin, you can simply build one from scratch. This compost bin plan is really easy to follow and this one will only take you a couple of hours to complete. It’s going to be a bit heavy so build it where you want to keep it.
20. Upcycled Garbage Can Compost Barrel
When all else fails, turn your trash can into a compost barrel. Any old plastic trash can will work for this one and there is virtually no work required to make it. If you have an old plastic can that has holes in it, just plug up those holes and use it for a compost heap. The plastic cans are somewhat lightweight too so that will help with rotating.
21. Easy Indoor Vermicomposting Bin
Here is another indoor compost bin that is perfect for those without a lot of space outdoors. This one is pretty easy to build and has a pan at the bottom for catching your soil. Note that there is some sewing required for this one, for making the cover so this is a good opportunity to get out that sewing machine and get in some stitching practice.
22. Easy Leftover Lumber Compost Bin
You can buy a wooden compost bin for around $150 – or you can use any leftover lumber that you have on hand and build it for free. I love this one…it is really easy to build and it is so decorative. It really has a nice farmhouse look to it with its planks and boards and it is perfect for those of you who are new to composting.
23. DIY Mini Worm Compost Bins
If you want to start small, these little worm compost bins are perfect. They are super easy to put together…in fact, you’ll have them done in about five minutes. This is a great way to get the kids in on your composting excitement. You make these from plastic cups or empty laundry detergent cartons or something similar.
24. Odor Free Indoor Compost Bin
This DIY compost bin is for indoors and before you get leery of having a compost bin inside your home, this one makes it odor free so there are no worries of smells wafting throughout the house. You can make this from just about any plastic container and it is the perfect DIY compost bin if you are just getting started and need to learn the ropes of composting before you build a larger outdoor model.
25. Upcycled Shower Door Compost Bin
You can incorporate an old unused shower door into your composting. For this one, you will need to actually build the bin out of wooden materials – or cinder blocks – and then you use the shower door to keep everything neatly inside. This is great because the door is clear so you can keep an eye on your compost while it’s doing its thing.
26. Repurposed Pallet Compost Bin
I love finding new uses for old pallets. There really are tons of ideas for repurposing old pallets and this compost bin is one of them. This one is super easy to build, too because the pallets are already put together so you just have to join four of them to make a box for your compost. This is one of the easiest and probably least expensive DIY compost bins that you could build.
27. Cheap And Easy Stackable Compost Bin
This cheap and easy to build DIY compost bin has five layers of smaller bins that are all stacked on top of each other. This makes it really easy to rotate as you need to and this one is so inexpensive to build. You will spend much less than $100 to make this one, and even less than that if you happen to have a few boards on hand that you can use.
28. Cheap $5 Compost Bin
If you want something really cheap and super easy to build, this vermicomposting bin can be made for less than $5. You just need a couple of nesting buckets and these can be any plastic buckets that you have on hand, as well as lids, some newspaper and your worms. This is a great one for the kids – if you want to teach them about composting while they are young.
29. Simple DIY Porch Compost Bin
This easy and cheap compost bin can be made to go on your porch so it’s close enough to your scraps. You can make this one for less than $20 depending on the container that you choose. It is made from a clear plastic tote that has a hinged lid so it is really very easy to keep the odor out and since it is relatively small, turning the compost over to let it breathe is really simple.
0. DIY Straw Bales Compost Bin
If you have straw bales on hand – especially if you have them for use with your fall decorating and need to get rid of them afterwards – you can use them to create a quick and easy compost bin. This one really won’t take you longer than an hour to complete. It’s a simple matter of stacking your hay or straw bales to create the compost bin. This is such an easy project and it’s really cheap if you have straw or know where you can get it for free.
31. DIY Woven Compost Bin
Did you know that you can weave your own compost bin? You can and it’s pretty easy to do. You can make this with willow rods, which are super flexible so they are really easy to weave with. Just weave them into a basket shape and then find a lid for your bin. This is such a decorative bin and it’s a free one too if you have the willow rods on your property.
32. Upcycled Wheelbarrow Compost Bin
You know that rusty old wheelbarrow that is out in your yard? You can turn that into a compost bin and this one has a rotating barrel on it so it is really easy to keep it turned and fresh. You just attach a metal barrel to the turning gadget and your wheelbarrow catches all of the soil that is made. Once the wheelbarrow is full, you can just roll it out to the garden and empty it.
33. DIY Wood Barrel Compost Bin
You can build your own wood barrel compost bin with just a few 2X4s and some nails. This one also rotates so you can keep your compost turned so that it stays fresh. And, it’s a really easy build that you can do with leftover boards from other projects. It’s also a really attractive looking compost bin, isn’t it? It’s great for that farmhouse decorating that you have going on outside.
34. Upcycled Landscape Timber Compost Bin
You can use old landscaping timbers to create this easy to build compost bin. If you don’t have any landscaping timbers on hand, this one is still really cheap. It will only cost you around $50 if you have to buy all of the materials to make it – and it’s a pretty simple process to put it all together.
35. DIY wine Barrel Compost Station
Build an entire compost station with a few old wine barrels. I love wine barrels for decorating – there are just so many DIY wine barrel decorations that you can make. You can also use those barrels to make this adorable compost station and it turns so you can keep your compost rotated. Depending on the number of barrels that you have on hand, you could make several of these and attach them all together to create enough compost for yourself and your friends and family.
An awful lot of people have said an awful lot about composting. Mostly, they make it sound like an awful lot of work. Let me clear the air: composting is easy. And homemade compost is great for your garden. Here’s your “composting for beginners” guide!
Composting for beginners: What you need to know
You (yes, you) are nothing but a conduit. A middle person, if you will. The compost? It doesn’t need you. You do not have to do anything to turn your kitchen scraps and garden waste into homemade soil amendment. Mother Nature will do it for you. Most gardeners, though, want to generate compost for use in the garden. To benefit from the natural composting process, you’ll need to collect material and gather it in one spot.
Why composting matters
First, let’s talk for a minute about why we should all be composting.
- Kitchen food waste that is tossed in the garbage ends up in our landfills, taking up space and emitting methane as it decomposes.
- Food waste that’s tossed in the trash wrapped in plastic has a hard time decomposing at all.
- Composting creates terrific soil amendment for use in the garden. Silly to throw away food waste and then go buy compost that’s been trucked in complete with a plastic bag, right?
- Even if you don’t have a garden, there are plenty of people who would be happy to take finished compost off your hands. They might even take your raw kitchen waste.
Passive composting for beginners
Passive composting is an easy way to turn your waste into a useful product without much work on your part at all. You do not have to have a fancy composter. All you need is a place to put your compost pile. And that’s all it has to be: a pile. Dump your kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, and leaves in a pile and forget about it.
Ooh, I can see the die-hard hot compost people cringing now! But think about it. When left to its own devices, forest waste (leaves, needles, branches) eventually breaks down and turns into a lovely compost. That compost (or humus) feeds the forest. The same thing will happen in your pile, albeit on a much slower time frame than if you really worked at it.
You can help the pile to be more efficient by being mindful of what you add. The best pile has two kinds of waste: damp, wet, gloppy kind of stuff (think potato peels, lawn clippings, coffee grounds, and tomatoes) and dry, crunchy stuff (brown leaves, paper, or straw). In technical terms, those are considered nitrogen and carbon. (My definitions are so much more colorful, don’t you think?) Aim for more carbon materials than nitrogen materials; a roughly two-to-one ratio is a good bet.
Passive composting doesn’t require much from you. How’s that for music to your ears?
Related: How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies Naturally
Containing the compost pile
Now, a no-frills passive compost pile is easy, but it’s not necessarily attractive. If you’d like your pile to look a little neater, you can contain your passive compost pile in a variety of ways.
- Form wire into a three-to-four-foot diameter round to make a simple wire compost bin.
- Use logs to create an edge.
- Line up bricks or concrete blocks to contain the waste as it breaks down.
- Use a ready-made plastic bin.
- Build a two or three section wooden system. Pallets are an inexpensive way to form the sides for a system like this.
No matter how you choose to contain your waste pile, passive composting for beginners is a good introduction to the process without being overwhelming. Just keep adding compostable materials until the area is at capacity and then let it sit undisturbed until it’s completely broken down.
Another composting for beginners tip? Heap compost items on an unused garden bed throughout the winter months and you won’t even have to move it. Come springtime, plant your garden right in the well-amended space.
Surprising items you can compost
You can compost paper items, even takeout coffee cups, but you’ll find that these leave behind a flimsy layer of plastic. Simply lift the plastic from the compost and dispose of it when the compost is done. Other odd items you can add to the pile:
- Dryer lint (from 100% natural fabrics only)
- Cotton swabs
- Toilet paper and paper towel tubes
- Cloth made from natural materials like cotton and wool
- Paperboard containers and cardboard egg cartons
- Hair — both human and animal
What not to compost
There are some things that just shouldn’t be tossed into your waste pile. Here’s your composting for beginners primer in what not to compost.
Meat and dairy products. These can begin to smell and will attract animals. That’s not to say they won’t break down — they will. If you’re not concerned about odor or attracting animals, you can certainly add small amounts of these to your pile. Another way to dispose of meat and dairy that will benefit your garden? Bury it.
Pet waste. While the manure from farm animals is a great boost to compost piles and soil productivity, the waste from dogs and cats should be disposed of in the trash or in a special pet waste disposal system.
Coal ash. Wood ash from your fireplace or wood stove is fine. Coal ash or barbecue waste is not. They’re high in sulfur and iron and can damage plants.
Diseased plants. While a hot compost pile might kill pathogens, it’s just not worth it. You’d hate to spread disease to your garden when you are trying to improve it with compost.
Synthetic and inorganic items. Plastic and tin foil won’t break down in a compost pile. Dryer lint from loads of polyester and synthetic fabrics should be avoided. And synthetic chemicals or plants that may have been sprayed with pesticides are a definite no-no. Some of those pesticides are persistent and will not break down in a compost pile.
Using a compost drum (easy for beginners!)
While I’ve got a number of compost piles, a worm bin, and chickens to work through much of my waste, I have a problem with invasive weeds. Living in the tropics means lots of vines, and tossing those vines in a compost pile? Is just like planting them. They root easily and quickly. We decided to experiment with a compost drum to dispose of invasive weeds without having to haul them off-site.
Over the course of a month or so, I stuffed a compost tumbler with the invasive yard waste that I won’t add to my regular compost bin. Because the materials are contained and up off the ground, they can’t send out roots. The materials kind of collapsed after a few days in the tumbler and as there was room, I added more.
Five months later I “harvested” the homemade compost. There were still a few pieces that were a bit big, but I just tossed them back into the tumbler for another round.
Compost turner success
So, did it work? It did. The weeds I put in the tumbler broke down into a nice, earthy compost that I can use in my yard without fear of introducing invasive weeds. The size of the tumbler and the length of time it took to break down is a big drawback, though.
In my year-round growing climate, I generate way more waste than I can feasibly process through this tumbler. In a smaller yard, though? And one that has fewer invasives to deal with? It could solve the problem of disposing of green items that might threaten to root in a compost pile.
A cheaper alternative to a compost turner
A compost drum that spins allows for the easy turning of the contents, but you don’t necessarily need one. If you’re a little bit patient, you can use the method outlined above in a simple trash can. Fill it with yard waste until you can’t add any more material, then set it aside. Check it in six months or so, and that yard waste will have transformed into a lovely, rich homemade compost. This is the primary method I use these days for dealing with weeds that I’d like to compost.
Eliminating pests in the compost
Beginners often ask about the creepy crawlies that appear in their piles. They’re to be expected!
Food waste in a compost pile may attract a variety of pests. If you’ve got raccoons or neighborhood dogs that might be tempted to dig in, you’ll want to protect the pile somehow. Fruit flies, too, can be a problem. To reduce their population, try to keep dry, crunchy stuff on the top of the pile. Use a garden trowel to lift the top layer and tuck any kitchen waste underneath.
If you are really concerned about keeping animals — say bears — out of your compost, the easiest solution is to use only yard waste in your compost pile. Kitchen scraps can be composted in a worm bin.
Use your blender for small scale waste
What if you don’t have a lot of space? Your leftover salad greens, apple cores, egg shells, and gnarly vegetarian leftovers can go straight to the root of your garden when you use this method, which is ideal for urban gardeners. Toss compostable items into your blender so that it’s about a third full.
Fill the container with water and blend until very finely chopped. Walk out to the garden and with a trowel, dig a small hole alongside a garden plant and pour the contents of the blender in. Cover with dirt and let the worms and microbes go to work. One blender full will fill three small holes (or, of course, one larger one). It’s so easy, I even did it single-handedly (LEFT-handedly) so I could take a video:
Note: Only you know what your blender can handle. If you’re not sure if yours will tackle a whole, wilted sweet potato, you should probably skip it.
If you cannot have a pile above ground (see: bears), trench composting is another option. It’s just what it sounds like: Dig a trench or hole in the garden, right where you’d like to improve the soil, add kitchen waste, and bury it.
Hot composting: an explantation for beginners
Active composting is often called hot composting because the internal temperature of the materials when it’s being actively worked can reach temperatures of 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat kills weed seeds and any disease that might be present and assures a fast breakdown of materials.
Hot composting requires more effort, but results in a usable product in about four to six weeks.
Making an active pile
Combine carbon and nitrogen materials in a pile at a 2:1 ratio. For every two pitchforks of carbon materials, add one of nitrogen. For the fastest results, start with materials that are chopped into small pieces. Leaves and grass will break down more quickly than whole apples and branches. Sprinkle the pile with water as you build it, aiming for a pile that is moist but not wet, much like a wrung-out kitchen sponge.
In order for a hot compost pile to remain hot, you’ll need to make sure that the pile is a minimum of one cubic yard in size. Once a week, use a pitchfork to turn the pile. The easiest way to do this is to shift the pile over. Pitchfork the material from the top of the pile so that it’s adjacent to the first pile, and continue dismantling the old pile and building a new one right next to it. Sprinkle with water to maintain moisture if necessary.
Other methods of composting for beginners to consider
If you keep chickens, be sure to let them help! Here’s how to put your hens to work in the garden. Vermicomposting utilized worms to break down food waste. It’s easy to make a worm bin and it’s a great way for apartment dwellers to deal with kitchen waste. You compost right in place when you create a lasagna-style garden bed.
EZ Turn Tumbler
Time or money invested in your garden’s soil always brings the best returns: healthy, vigorous plants and great harvests. And when you keep yard waste and kitchen scraps from the landfill you’re doubly rewarded. You can buy ready-made, organic compost to get a jump start. But it’s easy and inexpensive to make your own with the right materials and good equipment.
Here you’ll find all you need to know about getting started as well as maintaining the process no matter which composting method you’ve chosen. There’s basic techniques and time-tested wisdom as well as guides to compost tumblers and the various compost aides — the best starters, the most functional and efficient containers, and practical, useful tools like compost thermometers — that will make your composting efforts efficient and rewarding. You can also learn a lot by going through Planet Natural’s complete line of composting bins, tumblers and equipment.
3 Elements for Making Perfect Compost
It’s time to let you in on a little secret: soil building done like this is the perfect lazy person’s gardening project. Unlike weeding or double-digging, which take lots of time and physical effort, a compost pile pretty much takes care of itself. Build it right, and it will transform your growing expectations.
1. Start with a container. We’re dealing with decomposing organic material, folks, so the structure doesn’t need to be fancy. You just need some sort of way to hold all of the ingredients together so the beneficial bacteria that break down the plant matter can heat up and work effectively.
Compost bins are of two types, stationary and rotating. Both types must have their contents turned periodically to provide oxygen and combine the decaying materials. Stationary bins can be as simple as well-ventilated cage made from wire fence sections or wooden crates assembled from a kit. A well-designed bin will retain heat and moisture, allowing for quicker results. Then there’s compost tumblers, easy to turn bins that speed up the process — compost in weeks, not months or years — by frequent oxygen infusions and heat retention. Select one based on how much plant matter (grass, leaves, weeds, stalks and stems from last year’s garden) you have at your disposal, how large your yard is, and how quickly you need to use the finished product.
When using the stationary bin method, locate the pile in a sunny location so that it has as much heat as possible. If it’s in the shade all day, decomposition will still happen, but it will be much slower, especially when freezing temps arrive in the fall. Compost tumblers can also take heat advantage of being placed in direct sunlight.
2. Get the ingredient mix right. A low-maintenance pile has a combination of brown and green plant matter, plus some moisture to keep the good bacteria humming. Shredded newspaper, wood chips and dry leaves are ideal for the brown elements; kitchen waste and grass clippings are perfect for the green add-ins.
Efficient and affordable, SoilSaver features an award-winning design.
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Easy to assemble and maintain, the SoilSaver Composter is a good-looking addition to any backyard. Its award-winning design is constructed of black plastic (50% recycled) to absorb and retain heat, enhancing the composting process. Simple and efficient, yet affordable… what’s not to like?
Skip meat, fish and dairy for outdoor bins because they tend to attract pests like mice, raccoons and dogs. If you can’t bear the thought of sending your leftovers to the landfill, there are clever systems that turn them into superfood for your plants.
If you’re using a simple container, it’s best to start heaping the ingredients right on the ground, starting with chunky material like small branches or woody stems on the bottom for good airflow. Every time you add green material, add some brown as well to keep a good moisture balance and create air pockets.
It’s a good idea to give your new pile a jump-start to get the process started. There are several great activators that are ready to go right out of the box. No need to mix it in well. Fold in a couple shovelfuls of garden soil rich in organic matter and let the natural process begin. (See moisture below.)
3. Remember a few simple chores. Taking care of a compost pile is extremely basic, but a wee bit of care makes a huge difference. Add material regularly to give the happy bacteria some fresh food to consume and enough insulation to keep the process warm.
Turn the pile with a pitchfork or compost aerator every week or two to make sure that all of the materials are blended in and working together. After you’ve mixed things up, grab a handful to see if it’s slightly damp. Too little moisture will slow the decomposition process and too much will leave you with a slimy mess.
In a few months, your finished product should be a dark, crumbly soil that smells like fresh earth.
Avoid Common Mistakes
It’s hard to mess up compost, but we’re happy to offer a little direction so you get off to the best start.
- Don’t start too small. The breakdown process needs a critical mass in order to do its job. However, certain bins work well for small amounts of material, so choose a product for your specific needs.
- Keep things moist. It’s easy to walk away and forget that there’s an active process going on, so check the pile regularly, especially during hot, dry weather (see Managing Moisture).
- Don’t depend on one material. A combination of different textures and nutrients created by the disintegration of many different plants will give your plants a gourmet diet that helps create disease and pest resistance. Think about it — a huge clump of grass clippings just sticks together in a huge mat that hangs around for years. Add some leaves, stir, and natural forces like water, air and heat go to work quickly!
- Don’t get overwhelmed. This isn’t rocket science, so jump in and try, even if you don’t have a clue. You’ll soon see what works and what doesn’t.
In Montana, where I live, the Holy Grail of gardeners is a homegrown tomato. The optimistic folks who try to outsmart the over-in-a-flash growing season, chilly summer nights, skimpy rainfall and marauding gophers or deer are courageous, indeed. I know a woman who tried every trick in the book to grow tomatoes she could brag about. She started them early, protected them from wind and cold, and staked them up oh-so carefully.
If you’re looking for a fast, convenient way to compost your kitchen throw-outs, grass clippings and organic yard waste, our compact unit is just right for you! The Compact ComposTumbler quickly recycles it into nutrient-rich compost.
No luck. They always turned out puny, mealy and tasteless.
Last year, she decided to focus on the soil instead. After reading up on the nutrients that plants need to thrive, she decided to mix compost into her garden and see what happened.
The experiment was a complete success! The heirloom tomatoes were so luscious and tempting that someone actually stole the crop out of the woman’s backyard. She was so miffed she actually filed a police report about it!
Compost is no guarantee that your vegetables (and flowers!) will inspire theft, or at least jealousy, in your neighborhood But compost rich in organic materials is the fastest ticket to healthy, productive plants that reward your hard work with beautiful blooms and bountiful harvests. And you take control of the compost you spread when you make it yourself: no sprayed grass clippings, no sewage waste (see What’s In Commercial Compost). You can guarantee the quality of your home-made product. We hope we’ve encouraged you get started, if you haven’t already. Compost is your best garden investment.
How to make a compost heap: 10 top tips
For anyone new to composting, or those who simply want to improve their existing compost heaps, we’ve prepared a round-up of top tips and great stuff that will help you get on top of your compost.
1. Buy a decent compost bin
If you don’t fancy building a compost heap like the large ones we have at Eden, try a compost bin. They’re compact, so they’re perfect for smaller gardens and yards. We’ve lots in our online shop.
2. Pick the perfect spot for your compost heap or bin
It’s best to site it on a level, well-drained spot, which will ensure that any excess water drains away easily. This also helps worms to get in and get on with the job of breaking down the content.
3. Let the worms do the hard work
Nature has provided us with the perfect waste disposal unit in the humble worm. They can live their whole lives in the dark and love the moist atmosphere of a wormery or compost heap, eating the waste material you put in and converting it into liquid feed and compost. The brilliant tiger worm (Eisenia fetida) is the most efficient little worm we know, and loves nothing more than eating its way through organic waste. We post them out from our shop in worm-friendly pouches so they get to your compost heap ready for action.
4. Put the right stuff in
Good things to compost include vegetable peelings, fruit waste, teabags, plant prunings and grass cuttings. These are fast to break down and provide important nitrogen as well as moisture. It’s also good to include things such as cardboard egg boxes, scrunched up paper and fallen leaves. These are slower to rot but provide vital fibre and carbon and also allow important air pockets to form in the mixture. Crushed eggshells can be included to add useful minerals.
5. Don’t put the wrong stuff in
Certain things should never be placed in your bin. No meat or dairy products unless you’ve opted for a digester. No diseased plants, and definitely no dog poo or cat litter, or babies’ nappies. Putting any of these in your compost will lead to unwanted pests and smells. Also avoid composting perennial weeds (such as dandelions and thistle) or weeds with seed heads. Remember that plastics, glass and metals are not suitable for composting and should be recycled separately.
6. Get the balance right
The key to good compost lies in getting the mix right. You need to keep your ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ properly balanced. If your compost is too wet, add more ‘browns’. If it’s too dry, add some ‘greens’. Making sure there is enough air in the mixture is also important. Adding scrunched up bits of cardboard is a simple way to create air pockets that will help keep your compost healthy. Air can also be added by mixing the contents.
7. Give it a good airing
A well-cared-for compost heap requires regular turning, which can be a tricky job without the right tools. Turning your compost helps to aerate and mix up the waste and cuttings, which leads to faster composting.
8. Boost to the system
You can encourage the correct enzymes in your compost by using a compost activator. It helps to turn your grass, leaves and garden waste into dark, rich, crumbly compost in less than half the time. You mix a small amount into water, pour it onto your compost and after 10 weeks of rotting your compost is ready to use. It can also be used to revive partially composted or dead heaps.
9. Turn fallen leaves into compost too
As autumn seems to have come early to many of us you can use fallen leaves as a good source of compost. It’s fine to add these to your compost bin but if you have large amounts of leaves, you might prefer to place them in a large biodegradable leaf bag. Once you’ve gathered up your fallen leaves they can be left to turn into a brilliant source of moisture-rich soil improver that’s great to use for potting mixes as an alternative to peat. The leaves will be kept neatly in one place and the sack will biodegrade, leaving you with a rich pile of wonderful compost.
10. Getting the best out of your compost
When your compost is ready you’ll have a dark brown, almost black soil-like layer at the bottom of your bin. It should have a spongy texture and will be rich in nutrients. Spreading the finished compost into your flowerbeds greatly improves soil quality by helping it retain moisture and suppressing weeds. It also reduces the need to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
How to Make Compost
Mangled coffee filters and their kin can be unsightly, however, and aged leftovers sometimes attract unwanted animals and insects in search of food. For these reasons, many composters divert their kitchen waste into an enclosed composter or the chicken yard before they combine it with bulkier pulled weeds, spent crops, and other yard and garden waste in a slow compost pile.
“To keep from feeding critters, our kitchen waste first goes into three black compost containers until unrecognizable. Then we add it to our big fenced-in bin for yard waste. We make pounds and pounds of compost this way,” says reader Mary Conley of Omaha, Neb.
I use the same system at my house, capturing the yucky stuff in a composter and then mixing the transitional-stage kitchen waste into my garden compost piles two or three times a year. I like the “out of sight, out of mind” benefit of an enclosed composter so much that I have two — a black plastic model that sits in the garden and a garbage can peppered with air holes that’s stationed at the corner of my deck in winter, which saves me many steps through ice, snow and mud (see illustration of a free garbage can compost bin).
Other options: On the Gulf Coast, John Burris has a special barrel for composting kitchen waste, but he uses a big outdoor heap to make compost from his yard, garden and pasture waste. In California, Nell Wade puts her kitchen scraps and shredded mail into a worm bin, and she makes slow compost from her garden waste in twin bins constructed from shipping pallets (see the wooden shipping pallets compost bin).
Setting up a two-phase system need not be expensive. I have kept happy composting worms in a modified plastic storage bin, and a garbage can with rusted-out holes in the bottom would quickly become a composter at my house. On the other hand, the expense of building or buying a compost tumbler — the ultimate in enclosed composters — is warranted in some situations, which include heavy pressure from fire ants, or the recurrent presence of unwanted animals such as raccoons, rats or snakes. If nuisance animals have established habitat near your property, the best way to avoid problems is to raise your compost off the ground in a secure container.
“I have a drum composter that is insulated, which results in much higher heat so I can even compost scrap meat and fish. It has a double bin, so I’m always composting. We’re in the far suburbs, and it keeps the rodents away because it’s on a stand,” says Jan Tucker of California. Whether purchased or homemade, off-the-ground drum composters (also called compost tumblers) take a few months to pick up biological speed. After the walls and crevices become well-colonized with microbes, a compost tumbler is quite efficient.
At the other end of the spectrum are gardeners who keep compost super-simple: They let their soil do it. “I keep a coffee can in my freezer and fill it up with whatever is to be composted. When it’s full, I take it out, dig a hole in the garden, throw the whole mess in there and cover it back up with dirt. I call it ‘direct composting,’ and it works for me. I have worms as big as my fingers,” says Roberta Lott of St. Louis.
I, too, participate in direct composting (sometimes called “trench composting”) in fall when I have buckets of fruit waste that would otherwise attract yellow jackets. Buried in my permanent beds in September, the fruit trimmings are gone by the time the soil warms in spring.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editor-in-Chief Cheryl Long prefers “sheet composting.” “I have a local farmer who brings me free bales of old hay, plus my office mates bring me their bagged grass clippings,” she says. “I use them to mulch the paths throughout the garden. The next spring, the hay and grass have decomposed. I scoop the top layer of enriched soil from the paths into the growing beds and put down another layer of hay mulch.”
As for outdoor bins, your compost won’t care whether the bins are handmade wonder bins, enclosures made from used shipping pallets, or a simple circle of wire fencing. With enough time and moisture, whatever you put in the bin will rot. Giving a compost pile at least one wall, however, goes a long way toward conserving moisture. The wall(s) can be made of wood, concrete blocks or packed earth. One reason pallet bins are so popular is that they retain moisture better than open piles while keeping the composting area free of debris.
Many gardeners make use of the passive soil improvement that occurs beneath compost heaps to prepare future garden space. “I compost my yard waste in an area where I want a new raised bed. I just keep piling it on and it just keeps composting itself,” says Roberta Lott. In the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia, Julie Patrick Clark says she finally got smart after 27 years of making compost. “I started building a compost pile beside each of my nine raised beds. No more hauling compost all over the place.”
Most gardeners would like to make more compost without bringing in risky materials (Keep Your Garden Safe From Killer Compost is about pesticides that persist in compost). One way to add bulk to your compost pile is to grow more cover crops right in your garden. In a hand-tended garden, most cover crops are pulled rather than turned under, and armloads of vetch, cereal grains or buckwheat will transform a sleeper heap into a slow smoker. Also check whether overripe produce is available from local markets or organic restaurants. Extra compostable material is a resource that may become even more valuable when animals enter the picture.
Composting With Animals
Most farmyard animals play key roles in a household’s waste management stream. Chickens find joy in sloppy buckets of kitchen waste, which they peck and shred until little is left. Many growers have figured out how to make compost by letting the chicken run double as the composting area, like the folks at Salt of the Earth Urban Farm in Portland, Ore.: “Our main compost bin is in the chicken run, where the hens snack, scratch and turn the pile — and add their manure to the mix.” Others, like Helen Cano of Ferndale, N.Y., give their girls kitchen waste right in the coop. “What they don’t eat, they mix with the straw on the floor of the coop. By the time this comes out of the coop, it is well-mixed, almost-complete compost. From there it either goes on the garden or into the compost pile for future use,” she says.
Another idea that requires less cleanup is to maintain the compost area as a fenced-in daytime activity area for your chickens. “I just pile stuff on, add some water, and let the chickens into the compost yard every couple of weeks to turn the piles. In no time I have beautiful black gold,” says Kevin Kidd of Valley Springs, Calif.
Mike Warren has found that having his chickens visit his well-managed compost pile works out better than feeding them kitchen scraps in their run, which attracted unwanted varmints. “They still get in there, turning it over while looking for slugs and bugs,” he says.
My research on making compost with companion chickens led me to fear-filled message board threads on chickens picking up parasites from eating earthworms and other moving things, so I called my brother. “In 34 years of veterinary practice, I have never been called to a parasite situation in a home flock,” says Andrew Duke, DVM, of Mobile, Ala. “It’s probably because home flocks are so much cleaner than commercially raised chickens.”
Chickens are great for making compost, and so are other manure-producing animals such as rabbits, goats and even horses. In Virginia, organic farmer Dennis Dove keeps a pastured horse that makes good compost even better. Throwing layers of horse manure on the farm’s veggie-based compost makes the manure go much further than it would if used as a single-ingredient soil amendment.
In the same region, reader Liz Wallace has worked out a plan that makes the most of the manure from her chickens and goats. “I have multiple piles and one big container. The container gets the table scraps the chickens don’t eat and fallen leaves, one pile gets the goat and chicken poop and bedding, and the other pile gets everything else (yard waste other than leaves, small woody stuff, etc.). I do it this way because the goat and chicken poop breaks down and can be used pretty fast, so I don’t want to mix it with things that take longer,” she says. “The table scraps are wet enough that they need dry stuff mixed in with them to decompose aerobically, and I leave the third pile alone to decompose slowly, in about a year.”
At your house, an ideal composting system might include an enclosed composter, semi-permanent bins that can be moved to wherever you’re planning new beds, temporary pens for leaves or other seasonal materials, or perhaps all of the above plus a worm bin, too. Each refinement you make in your composting system should better accommodate your home’s waste disposal needs and give a good return for your soil. Eventually, you will learn how to make compost in ways perfectly tailored to you, your home and your garden.
Sizing Up Composters
Using an enclosed composter is one of the easiest ways to make compost from kitchen waste, and you can choose a model that fits your needs and your budget. If you need something small that can be kept indoors, by all means consider a worm bin. Available in three colors, a multi-tray Worm Factory costs about $100 and is easier to maintain compared with a homemade worm bin. For outdoors, I was able to buy a basic Earth Machine through my local compost education program for $35 — about the cost of a good rolling garbage can. Because the main purpose of an enclosed composter is to capture kitchen waste, it need not be large. In five years, I have never completely filled my 80-gallon composter, and the garbage can I use to collect kitchen waste in winter works wonderfully despite holding a mere 30 gallons.
Many composters lack in the good looks department, but you can easily change that. A friend wrapped her garbage-can composter with a bamboo roll-up shade, and it looked so good she moved the can to her patio. Tired of looking at a plastic tarp, another friend used brocade draperies from a thrift store to artfully disguise her outdoor bin. On a visit to Pennsylvania, I once saw a beautiful bin made from hand-woven willow. If you don’t like the way your composter looks, change it!
Quick Tips for Making Compost
• Any plant material that’s now dead (or needs to be) can be composted. Adding meat and oily food products is not recommended, as they take longer to decompose.
• Leaves, old plants, fruit and veggie trimmings, weathered mulches and pulled weeds provide volume in a compost pile, which needs to be big — at least 3 square feet — to maintain moisture well.
• Veggie scraps are naturally moist, so compost piles that contain a lot of kitchen waste need to be layered or mixed with bulkier stuff to keep them from becoming slimy.
• Turning a compost pile mixes and breaks up materials, which speeds decomposition. When it comes to turning, you can do as much or as little as you like, depending on your desired turnaround time.
• Covering new kitchen waste with 4 inches of plant material works well with little or no turning.
• Keep compost piles moist but not soggy.
• Add a few shovelfuls of soil to your pile from time to time.
Barbara Pleasant is a leading organic gardening expert and the author of The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, which is available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store for 25 percent off until Nov. 30.
Compost Recipe Ingredients
Composting is an environmentally helpful way to improve your garden soil and reduce waste. Yard waste and table scraps can make up a large part of household garbage which could be turned into nutrient-rich amendments for your garden with the right compost recipe. Even if you only have a small garden, composting is one of the most important activities you can do to save money and prevent waste from unnecessarily ending up in a landfill.
Some people mistakenly assume that compostable materials thrown in the garbage will break down and feed the soil in the landfill. But throwing vegetable and garden scraps in the trash means it will be surrounded by garbage and not have the proper compost recipe. Instead, it releases harmful methane gas into the environment.
Composting isn’t difficult, but it isn’t as simple as just throwing your kitchen scraps and garden cuttings into a heap and checking on it a year later. Eventually, those items will break down and create compost, but it is much faster, cleaner, and more effective knowing the proper compost recipe.
Let’s make some compost, shall we?
Healthy compost results from a combination of four ingredients: greens, browns, air, and moisture.
1. Greens (Energy Materials) – 1 Part
Green compost ingredients are those with higher nitrogen content such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and garden trimmings. These materials rot quickly and are full of the compounds needed for fast microbial growth. They are usually quite wet and heavy and can get stinky fast unless you balance them out with enough brown material.
2. Browns (Bulking Agents) 2-3 Parts
Brown compost ingredients are those with higher carbon content such as paper, shredded woody material, and straw. Browns are dry and bulky, creating space for air to reach the greens. They do not decay rapidly without greens because they do not hold enough moisture.
Are Fallen Leaves a “Brown”?
Color alone is not a good indication of what is considered brown materials. Deciduous leaves that have fallen and turned brown, as well as chopped up tree and shrub clippings, have higher nitrogen balance than true “browns.” Leaves and chopped-up clippings are excellent for compost and can decompose readily on their own, without a need for additional greens or browns. You can choose to compost these materials from the garden on their own, or mixed in with the 1 part green / 2-3 part brown mixture. Just be sure not to replace the browns with fallen leaves or your compost will be too wet and stinky.
Packing layers of green and brown materials into a compost bin is not going to make compost alone. Air needs to be introduced through turning the compost with a fork, an aeration tool, or a rolling composter. As the microbes work to break down the materials, the compost heap will become warm. The heat in the middle of the pile can reach up to 150 degrees F. Turning the compost once a week should be plenty, but to speed up the process, mix the compost every few days to introduce more air and move materials from the edges to the middle.
Moisture is also necessary to give the microbes the best possible conditions to break down the material. After adding the materials, water the compost pile and mix it well. It should be damp but not soggy. In dry months you may have to add water, and in wet months you may have to protect the compost from rain.
Add These Materials to Speed up Composting
Some materials are full of microbes, bacteria, fungi, soil insects, mites, and worms that will speed up the decomposition process. Add just a small portion of one of these compost amendments to really get the party started.
- Mushroom manure
- Well-rotted manure (not pet waste)
- Healthy garden soil
- Compost accelerator
Keep These Materials Out of the Compost
Not everything can go in your home compost bin, although some of these can go in city or county large scale industrial compost bins where the temperatures are consistently hot enough to kill pathogens and seeds. Before you compost these items, be sure to check your local composting regulations.
- Pesticides and herbicides – Keep your garden healthy without introducing pesticides and herbicides into the compost bin.
- Compostable grocery bags – Despite the name, these should not go in your home compost bin. Use brown paper bags instead.
- Evergreen clippings – Some evergreens take a long time to compost at home and some resins can slow down and/or inhibit the composting process.
- Meat, bones, dairy, or animal product food scraps – The home compost doesn’t get hot enough to break these down effectively, and it will attract pests, like rats, to the compost pile.
- Pet waste – Dog and cat poop can carry pathogens that could be transferred to the soil.
- Diseased plant material – Diseased or infested plants may perpetuate the incidence of disease and pests in future years.
- Weeds that have gone to seed – Compost may not get hot enough to sterilize weed seeds.
- Large logs, thorny branches – Big, woody items will be too large to break down. Chip or grind all large, woody materials instead.
- Poison ivy, invasive weeds, and other noxious plants – Don’t risk spreading these plants by composting them.
Composting Shouldn’t Be Gross
If you think composting is yucky or dirty, you aren’t doing it right! Compost should smell fresh, sweet, and earthy. Overly stinky compost is not properly in balance, but it is an easy fix.
Too many greens in your compost will become soggy and smell bad. Compost can also start to stink when it is too wet. In both cases, adding more brown materials and turning your compost to introduce air will help to remedy the problem.
Fruit Flies, Maggots, and Rats, Goodbye!
While the goal of composting is to attract insects and fungus to your compost bin, you shouldn’t need to fight off an army of critters to get into the compost. The best defense against an overly active compost bin is, again, balance. If you follow this compost recipe and keep a layer of brown on the top of the compost, you will only attract those critters that are going to work for you to make healthy, nutritious compost.
Check Out These Other Articles on Smart Composting
- 5 Reasons to Use a Compost Tumbler (AKA Make Compost Quickly and Look Good Doing it)
- Worm Plunger: a Brilliant Solution for Small Garden Composting
- Make Compost Tea With This DIY Home Brewer
- Soil Food for Greener Gardens: Find the Best Amendments in Your Own Backyard