Composting might be one of the best things that you could do for your plants and the environment.
Did you know that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were all renowned agriculturists who specifically touted the benefits of a compost pile?
Yes, starting your own pile is a presidential pursuit!
If you’re ready to start composting but have nowhere to keep your pile, then you’ll want to keep reading to learn DIY ideas for creating your own composting piles.
You’ll first learn the basics about composting. At the end of the article, you’ll find 11 different homemade bin ideas to use around your property. Some of the compost bin plans will be quick and easy, while others are a little more involved.
A Quick Review
Before you dive into making your own pile, you have to understand the basics of the decomposition process so you know what functionality you may want to add to your own bin.
Compost piles require 4 different elements to complete the decomposition process. They are:
- Organic Material
- Aerobic Bacteria
A compost pile consists of two different types of organic materials. Green material and brown material.
What’s the difference?
Green organic matter provides a source of nitrogen for your pile. Nitrogen provides the bacteria (more on that later) with protein and amino acids. These raw elements enable the bacteria to build-up their structure and reproduce.
Green waste consists of materials that are wet or that were recently growing. Oftentimes the green material is green in color, but not always.
Green organic materials can include (but are not limited to):
- Green Leaves
- Coffee Grounds
- Garden Waste
- Kitchen Scraps
- Fruit Peels
- Food Waste
- Freshly Cut Grass Clippings
- Manure (from herbivores only)
- Plants and Plant Cuttings
Not all of your kitchen waste can be used in your compost pile. You should avoid using kitchen scraps like fish, meat, and poultry. Adding these food scraps to your pile will introduce anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic microorganisms will cause the pile to smell. This will attract rodents, flies, and maggots.
As the bacteria grow and multiply, the pile will begin to heat up or “cook”. This is where the brown organic materials come into play.
Brown organic materials are generally coarse and fibrous in structure. They provide the pile with its carbon source. Carbon is essential for bacterial activity as it provides the bacteria with the energy it needs to grow and reproduce.
Brown organic material is slower to decompose than green material. As such, it holds its structure longer and creates pockets of air that are essential for aerobic bacteria. Brown material is the “yin” to the “yang” of the green material.
Brown organic materials can include (but are not limited to):
- Evergreen Needles
- Dry Leaves
- Paper Products
- Wood branches
- Dry Grass Clippings
- Other Dry Yard Waste
The aerobic bacteria in a compost pile break down both types of organic material. As the bacteria break down these materials, they produce carbon dioxide and add nutrients that can be taken up by plants. Carbon dioxide is what causes a pile to heat up.
Aerobic bacteria will keep your pile thriving.
Oxygen is foundational in a compost pile. Aerobic bacteria need air to survive.
The brown materials will provide the compost enough structure to introduce oxygen, but not enough for the pile to survive. You will need to turn the pile regularly to introduce enough oxygen to keep the bacteria thriving and the temperature of the pile regulated.
The fourth component for working compost piles is water. Water serves two purposes.
- Temperature Regulation -If your heap’s temperature is not regulated, it will become too hot and kill the bacteria. Water is temperature regulator.
- Decomposition – Water supports the decomposition process of the organic materials. It will soak into and soften the materials, making it easier for the bacteria to break them down.
Keep your pile as wet as a wrung-out sponge for optimal temperature and decomposition. Too much moisture will cause the temperature to drop too much, which decreases bacterial activity.
Building A Compost Pile
The organic materials need to be layered into a pile in a specific ratio. Begin with a layer of twigs, sticks, or fibrous plant stalks. This layer can include a combination of green and brown organic materials so long as they’re rigid and not too bulky. This layer is used to support drainage and aeration for the bottom of the pile.
The ratio for layering green material versus brown material is 2:1. Start with a layer of green material and finish with brown material on the top.
Having brown organic matter on the top of your pile is intentional. It will keep the smell of the decomposing material down and hide potential food scraps from pests looking for a meal.
Bulky materials take longer to break down and will slow down the decomposition process. As you’re adding material to your pile, make sure to shred or tear larger pieces of organic matter. Adding smaller pieces to your pile ensures that the process moves forward at a steady pace.
Your pile should be deep enough to contain several layers of material, but not so deep that you’re unable to turn it.
Caring for a Pile
There are a few maintenance steps you’ll need to perform to keep your efforts moving along.
Turn or Mix It
Once or twice a week, you will need to turn the heap with a pitchfork or a rake to provide it with sufficient airflow. Don’t just spread the pile out and call it a day. You need to build it back up to continue to retain enough heat for optimal bacterial activity.
If it has not rained for some time, you’ll need to make sure to monitor the moisture level. The compost needs to be damp but not saturated.
If you experience heavy rainfall and your compost is soaked, one way to get the moisture level under control is to add brown materials. Brown materials readily absorb the water. It also helps if you turn the pile more frequently and introduce more oxygen.
If temperatures in your area begin to fall, so will the activity level of the bacteria. Insulate the compost with leaves or straw when the temperatures begin to drop. Using a tarp is also a great idea to retain the heat.
Another way to keep the heat inside your pile is not to mix it as frequently. It will still need to be turned because the bacteria are still working, just not as often.
Some of these bins you find in garden centers can be expensive. And, in my opinion, most of them don’t have the character and aesthetic value you’ll find in some homemade bins.
There are so many different ways to create DIY bins. All of these DIY bins will keep more money in your wallet too.
What you’ll find below are 11 different ideas for DIY bins. Choose the one that best fits your property, budget, and aesthetic style.
1. 5-Gallon Bucket
These bins are almost as easy as it gets. If you don’t have space or the time to build something larger or if you don’t have that much organic material, then this idea might be right for you.
It can be built in as little as one hour and only requires a few materials. All you’ll need is a 5-gallon bucket with a lid, some small sticks to line the bottom for drainage, and a drill (or hammer and nail) to perforate the bucket and its lid.
- Drill ten holes in the lid for aeration and drill ten holes in the bottom of the bucket for the drainage to flow out.
- Drill evenly spaced holes around the entire wall system of the bucket for aeration.
- Lay the sticks along the bottom of the bucket so your compost bin’s drainage holes won’t be clogged up with organic material.
- Attach the lid to the bucket after you have filled it up with your material.
- To aerate the bin, simply roll it on the ground.
2. Hardware Cloth
Using hardware cloth to build a compost bin is another inexpensive and straightforward method. Hardware cloth is sold in rolls, so you’ll be sure to have plenty of material. You’ll also need a small amount of chicken wire, some cable ties to hold it all together, and something you can use as a handle for the lid (1″ X 1″ lumber works well).
- Shape the hardware cloth into a circle and attach the two ends with cable ties.
- Cut the chicken wire into a circle the same circumference as the cloth.
- Cut a hatch into the middle of the wire into the shape of a square, but only cut 3 sides of the square so that it can be lifted without detaching from the wire.
- With cable ties, connect your 1” X 1” lumber to the wire opposite to the side of the square that is still attached.
- Begin throwing in your organic material inside.
3. Plastic Storage Container
This one of the cheapest homemade bins you can make. If you have a storage bin lying around the house, then you only need some sticks, a drill (or a hammer and nail), and your green and brown organic material. If you must buy one, they’re extremely inexpensive.
Follow the same steps that you found above with the 5-gallon bucket. The only difference is that you’ll have to mix this compost up by hand. A storage bin won’t roll like a bucket.
4. Miniature Worm Bin
These are extremely easy to make. You can use plastic cups or small plastic containers for plants or foods (cottage cheese or large yogurt containers).
This method requires an inner and outer container. The inner is used to hold the worms and their food source. The outer is used to collect drainage liquid and any worm castings that might fall through.
- Place a rock onto the bottom of the outer container to keep a space between the two containers.
- Poke small holes into the bottom and sides of the inner container for drainage.
- Nest a small paper towel into the bottom of the inner container to collect the castings and prevent the worms from escaping.
- Create a worm bed with dampened, shredded newspaper on top of the paper towel nest.
- Place small bits of food down into the newspaper bed and put the worms into the container.
- Cover the worms with slightly dampened soil or bedding and cover the top.
It should be noted that these smaller containers are primarily used as starter beds. The worms will quickly run out of food and have no food to access once the initial source is depleted.
This is an excellent project to get your kids interested in gardening. Just be prepared to transfer the worms to a larger bin fairly quickly.
If you’d like, you can use mop buckets in the same manner and stack them to create an ideal spot for vermicomposting. Using these buckets as a vermicompost bin system is a viable way to continuously compost and keep the kids involved too.
5. Cardboard Box
A cardboard box is another painless and inexpensive way to make a homemade bin. Who doesn’t have one of these lying around somewhere?
All you need is the cardboard box, food scraps and yard trimmings, leaves, and a little bit of soil.
Choose a location that is flat and gets plenty of sunlight. Your cardboard box should have lips that can be folded down to protect it from the elements. All you have to do is add the organic materials and wait.
The cool thing about this project is that the box itself will slowly be turned into compost as well. As long as the elements cooperate, a solid cardboard box with good rigidity can last up to a year. Add your materials, fold the lips closed, and place something heavy enough to keep them in place on top. You can also use pieces of coat hanger to pin the lips into place. Check the decomposition process about once a week and stir it.
6. Milk Crates
A DIY bin made of milk crates is another solution that works well. They’re sturdy, they already come with handles for lifting, and they allow plenty of oxygen to flow through.
All you need are 3 crates, plastic or metal mesh screen or weed barrier fabric, a hot glue gun, newspaper, and your organic material.
- Clean the crates.
- Cut your screen or fabric into sections the same size as the sides of the crate.
- Using the glue gun, attach the mesh or fabric to each side and bottom of every crate.
- Line the bottom of each crate with a few layers of newspaper to catch the compost.
- Fill the crates with organic materials.
- Stack the crates.
- Cover the top crate with a lid to protect it from the elements.
7. Garbage Can
If you happen to have a garbage can with a lid that locks laying around collecting dust, you can turn it into a compost bin.
All you’ll need are the garbage can and the lid, a drill to poke holes in the can for drainage and aeration, and a few bricks to keep it off the ground so the liquid drains out.
Drill holes into the bottom and around the can. Set it on the bricks so the drainage doesn’t collect at the bottom. If you don’t have bricks, you can use sticks in the same way as you found in some of the aforementioned methods.
Layer your organic materials into the container and lock the lid. Every week or so you need to turn the can on its side and roll it on the ground to aerate and mix the organic materials.
These bins are a simple project that will save you money.
8. Cedar Lattices
Cedar lattice pieces can be pieced together fairly quickly to create an enclosure for your pile.
The lattice’s interior mustn’t be painted as the paint could leach into your compost. It doesn’t have to be cedar and can be pressure-treated. However, cedar contains natural oils that make it resistant to decay without requiring sealants and other weather preventing treatments.
Note: If you chose to construct three-bin composter for your lawn or garden, a perfect lid to simultaneously cover all three bins is an old shower door. It fits perfectly and is heavy enough to keep critters from opening it. They are translucent and allow the sunlight to penetrate inside your bin.
9. Refurbished Pallets
Pallets are easy to find and take apart. Plus they’re very inexpensive. If you decide to take on this task, you can build uniform and durable bins.
Again, the instructions for building a DIY enclosure out of refurbished pallets are easy to follow but are fairly involved.
Don’t get me wrong; they are worth the effort. You can paint or stain the outside (only) of the bin to create a more refined look. The lumber in pallets is already uniform and won’t have to be cut to length in every spot.
10. Cinder Blocks
A cinder block compost enclosure requires a little heavy lifting, but once you have it set up, you can use it forever.
Each cinder block is held together with mortar. So you’ll need to have a bit of masonry skill already. If you don’t, I assure you that it’s not that complicated and can be found in an easy to follow YouTube tutorial.
Most of these cinder block designs have three sides built of blocks. The bin’s front side has two pieces of wood anchored into it and spaced out with washers. The space between the boards makes room for a wooden slat that covers the front side of the structure. It can be removed quickly to access the material in your compost bin.
11. Compost Tumbler
You can use wine barrels, large plastic drums, wire mesh formed into a barrel connected with cable ties, or build your tumbler out of lumber.
If you can find one, wine barrels are a wonderful choice because of their sturdy construction and their ability to retain heat.
Until we meet again, get out there and start building your own DIY compost bin.