Acquiring a compost bin as soon as possible was high on the agenda when we bought our farmhouse. But to buy or build? The argument for buying one is that there is minimal assembly and you have fun options like ones that tumble, different sizes, fancy vents, etc. However, I couldn’t justify the price. The cheaper ones were around $50 and others went for more than $400! Yikes!
Composting isn’t rocket science and I'd rather spend my money on other things, especially when a little research showed me that compost bins are really easy to make and just as effective. I can attest to that. What also helps is the previous owners of our home left us plenty of materials that could easily be repurposed and I ended up building two. Here’s how I did it:
The first one I made is used for household waste. It’s constructed from an old blue, plastic 55-gallon or so barrel that was laying around the barn. It seemed like a perfect choice and after nearly three months of use, the bin is already producing some very rich, earthy-smelling compost.
To make it, all I did was drill several slightly-smaller-than-dime-sized holes along the sides and the lid for ventilation. I didn’t bother drilling holes underneath as there was already a 6” crack along the bottom-middle seam. The lid isn’t an exact fit, so I weigh it down with a rock. This has held up very well with wind and critters so far. No complaints.
My favorite feature is the large bottom panel, roughly 18”X12” big, to allow for easy access where the best compost may lie. I’m pretty proud of that. After sawing out the opening, I screwed in hinges and two sliding bolt locks to keep it closed. For insurance, there’s also a thin bungee cord, which was my sole, original method of keeping it closed, but it quickly became obvious that more was needed. The two bolt locks, one horizontal and one vertical, are more than adequate and have thwarted critter raids nicely. I could see that a small mammal (likely a skunk, fox, or raccoon) had been scratching around and trying to get in a few times, but my design passed the test with flying colors. No compost for you!
So, whenever we have cooking scraps, coffee grounds, need to dump the sink’s drain, etc., it goes into an old, large plastic coffee can that we keep on our kitchen counter. With the lid on, odors are never a problem and it’s very convenient being able to keep it so handy. When it’s full, we simply dump it into the compost bin. I’ll then rinse out the coffee container from an outside spigot and wipe it down before bringing it back inside. Once a week, I’ll stir the compost with a pitchfork that I keep next to the bin and it’s obvious that system is working nicely. It’s pretty fun to see scraps deteriorate more and more each week. All that I have to do is open the bottom panel and take out what is needed, something I’ve already done when I planted the garlic a few weeks ago.
Last month, I finally got around to building a second compost bin out of some old pallets that were laying around. We primarily use this one for lawn debris consisting of mostly leaves, cut grass and fallen apples. We also dump our fireplace and cookstove ashes, as well as our spent cat litter (100% pine and sans turds) into this bin as well.
I roughly followed this tutorial, taking into account the asymmetry of different sized pallets that we had on hand and I opted to skip the garden netting part as I didn’t feel it was necessary. I also didn’t use a pallet for a floor, favoring earthworm access over additional aeration, so we’ll see how that goes. Pretty basic and simple, the way it should be.
However, I did opt to create a very convenient hinged door on the front which is kept in place with a hook and eye latch. When open, the bin’s ledge accommodates the height of our wheelbarrow’s nose so we can just hang it over, lift, and dump. I didn’t design and measure it for that purpose, but I’ll take the happy coincidence.
The pallet composter is set on the edge of our property along the woods line, near the garden beds. However, the kitchen waste composter sits on the backside of our attached shed, which is far enough away to avoid possible odors but close enough to be easily accessible.
Waste Reduction and Free Compost
As a result of composting along with adamant recycling, we produce one small plastic food shopping bag of trash per week on average. Good for the environment obviously, but the benefits of composting will no doubt also yield some healthy soil for our gardens this spring. Bring on the food!