Updated January 2022
Whether you’re looking forward to creating your own nutrient-rich soil amendment or just looking to send less trash to the landfill, composting is an easy practice any household can adopt. And it doesn’t even have to cost anything to get started!
We made this simple homemade compost bin in one house with supplies we mostly already had on hand. There are definitely far more complex and expensive options for composting (including this container we later made from pallets). But to get our compositing feet wet, we followed this easy tutorial to making our own backyard bin. The steps are super simple
Steps For Making Your DIY Compost Bin
- Find a plastic storage bin
- Drill holes in the bin
- Create a dry base
- Add dirt
- Toss in food scraps
- Mix & moisten!
Step 1: Select Your Bin
Find or buy a plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid about 24 inches tall or taller (it needs a lid to keep the soil moist and to keep critters out). We picked up a 30-gallon plastic storage bin. We chose a neutral color in hopes that would help it blend in with our backyard, but a dark option may work better for you.
Step 2: Drill Holes In Your Bin
Use a handheld drill to make 8 – 10 small holes in the bottom of the container for airflow, since your organic waste will need oxygen for the composting process to take place. A 3/16″ drill bit or similar works great.
Use that same drill bit to make another 8 – 10 small holes in the lid. Remove the lid for now, but once you’ve finished your bin you’ll want to affix it tightly to the top.
Step 3: Create Your Brown Base
Place some dry leaves on the bottom of your compost bin, filling it about 1/8 – 1/4 full. You can think of composting as layers of “browns” (dead leaves, twigs, etc) and “greens” (food waste, grass clippings, etc.), so this step is the beginning of your brown base.
Step 4: Add Dirt
Place dirt on top of the leaves or newspaper until the container is 1/2 full. Again, we have PLENTY of that around, but you could also buy a bag of basic topsoil if needed. It’s not necessary to have worms in your dirt.
Step 5: Toss In Your Food Scraps!
Now to add your “greens!” Place any food scraps or paper products that you’d like to compost! Some great compostable materials are
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds, coffee filters, or tea bags
- Eggshells and nutshells
- Paper or cardboard
- Yard or grass clippings
The EPA has a great guide with more items you can compost (as well as things you should definitely avoid – like dairy products or pet waste). Surprisingly, things like lint are compostable so we tossed some in with a couple of banana peels and a small ball of lint. That’s all we had at the moment, but maybe this will encourage us to eat more fruits and veggies? Or do more laundry?
Step 6: Stir Your Compost
Give your compost a little stir (very little, in our case) with a shovel or stick, making sure to cover your food scraps with dirt. Canine supervision is optional.
Step 7: Moisten!
Spray with lukewarm water until moist, but not soaking wet. (Note: too much water can be the culprit if your compost starts to smell).
Step 8: Find A Convenient Spot For Your Compost Bin
Place the bin in a shady area away from the house (if you live in an apartment or have no backyard you can place your bin on the patio). Be sure that it’s not in full sun or your compost will dry out. We found the perfect spot near our garage where our bin can hide behind some shrubs – inconspicuous and convenient (since we take the garbage and recycling out this way already). Can you spot it? HINT: check the bottom right.
Step 9: Collect Your Compostable Materials Inside
You’ll also want to think through how you’ll collect or separate your compostable waste inside as well (that way you’re not constantly digging through the trash for eggshells or coffee grounds). We wrote about this airtight container we bought to wrangle our food scraps under the sink. It’s tight seal keeps it from smelling between trips to dump it into our bin.
When Is Your Compost Ready To Use?
The amount of time depends on the size of your bin and how recently you’ve added new organic material. It may be ready in a couple of months or take up to a year. Some key signs that it’s ready for use in your lawn or garden are:
- All of your compostable materials have broken down (no food visible in its original form)
- It has a “earthy” or dirt-like smell (not acidic or sour smelling)
- It’s no longer producing heat (it should feel about the same temperature as the air)
- It’s dark and crumbly, not wet or clumpy
Once it’s ready, your finished compost can be used as mulch or potting soil and can also be sprinkled over grass as a lawn conditioner. Remember to save at least 1/3 of it to keep the composting process going. You may also want to create a second bin that you can add your food scraps to while your first bin is going through the decomposition stages to finished compost.
Seems pretty easy, right? And so far the whole thing has cost us less than $10.
Update: We installed a larger compost pile in our new house using old shipping palettes. Click here to check out this alternate composting project.
**This post was originally published on August 21, 2008**
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PS: Wanna know where we got something in our house or what paint colors we used? Just click on this button: