How to Make a Compost Bin – 3 Easy DIY Compost Bins for Making Your Own Garden Mulch and Compost

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Not every piece of garbage in your home belongs to the trash bins. Some items such as banana peels, coffee grinds, eggshells and food scraps can be recycled and used to make compost that will help your garden thrive.

It is impressive to know that you don’t have to buy compost when you have the ingredients right inside your kitchen to make a perfect “meal” for your plants in the garden.

Instead of throwing it away, turn your food trash into plant food. By the way, a considerable amount of the smell that comes from your kitchen trash can comes from food waste that has time to decompose until it gets hauled away . Reducing the amount of organic matter that you toss into the garbage can, will help to curb those orders as well as help keep away the fruit flies.

And those aren’t the only benefits of composting your food scraps — there’s a much bigger picture to consider.

Did you know that food waste makes up the majority of what goes into our landfills? Now, since we’re talking about composting, you might think that this is not a problem. It will all just decompose, right?

Wrong. The conditions in landfills are not conducive for composting. Instead, as these food products decompose, they release a greenhouse gas called methane, which is at least 28 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. There is research coming out that strongly suggest that the methane released in landfills may be a contributing factor to climate change.

This is one of the reasons many municipalities have put into effect rules for separating food and yard waste from other garbage. These locations have created municipal composting centers, recycling the same types of things that you can use for composting at home.

So, if you want to get free compost and help the environment, start making your own.

Wondering how to make a compost bin? Well, we have a few different ways you can make it happen! Then we will talk about what to put in your compost bin as well as some tips to ensure success.

Let’s get started!

Don’t want to make your own compost bin or need a countertop compost bin to collect your daily scraps? Check out our Top 5 Compost Bin Review!

How to Make a Compost Bin Using Pallets

Looking for an easy to make backyard compost bin? Pallets offer one of the best DIY solutions to your problem. Pallet compost bins don’en’t take much time to build, they’re cheap and it provides you room to create your fertilizer for your garden.

Follow these easy steps to create your compost bin from wood pallets.

What You Need to Make a DIY Pallet Compost Bin

For the most basic version, a single compartment compost bin, you only need two things — 3 wood pallets and some heavy-duty zip ties (at least 18 inches long). This creates a compost bin with an open front for easy access to turn and gather your compost. If you would like to have a front to the bin, you will need a total of 4 pallets. We’ll talk more about the ways this can be done shortly.

This simple, single chamber bin is good for people who don’t need a lot of compost. But you can take your composting to the next level by creating multiple chambers. The most common are 2 or 3 separate compartments which will hold compost at different stages of curing.

For example, with a 3-chamber compost bin, you can have one to hold the “in process” compost, one for compost that is finished and ready to use, and one to hold your excess browns (grass clippings, leaves, twigs, plain cardboard, etc.) until you need them.

Optionally, instead of zip ties, you can also use a drill and wood screws and/or metal corner brackets if you want a more finished look. In addition, you can add wire mesh or chicken wire to the inside or outside of your compost bin to keep out unwanted critters. This is also helpful if the pallets you are using have large spacing between the slats.

Where to Get Cheap or Free Wood Pallets

One of the best reasons for creating a compost bin from wood pallets is not just because they are perfect for the job, but also because they are cheap. Depending on where you are, you may even be able to get your hands on them for free!

Shipping pallets are used for delivering heavy items and are often left at businesses with the delivery. This means that the business owner is stuck with them afterwards and has to dispose of them. We’re sure you’ve seen them piled up next to or in dumpsters just waiting to be hauled away. Take a drive around the see what you can find, or you can make a few phone calls to some local businesses and ask them to save some for you.

Lawn and garden stores are also use these a lot and may be willing to hand over a few. You can also ask your friends and neighbors to let you know if they have any laying around. Another place to look is Craigs list where you will often find people giving them away.

If you are looking for unused pallets, you can also call a pallet making company directly. You can ask for a discount on their “rejects” or get pricing on their good quality ones. However, if this is your only project, looking for other cheap pallet sources is probably the better way to go. Going direct to the source is a great idea though if you plan on more DIY pallet projects.

NOTE: Wood shipping pallets will deteriorate over time, but you should get several years use out of them before they need to be replaced. If you are looking for a more permanent solution, you can purchase plastic pallets. There are even some pallets that are made from recycled plastic for an eco-friendly solution.

The added benefit of using plastic pallets is not only are they resistant to the weather and the contact with your compost, but they are also impervious to bugs! These will cost a bit more, but they will last a lifetime and look nicer if that’s important to you.

Where to Put Your Compost Bin

Before construction, you need to determine the exact location within your garden where you want to place your compost bin. While using pallets does not create a permanent structure, it’s still not something that is easy to move around — especially once filled. As with all compost bins, finding the perfect location is a fine balance between convenience and practicality, as well as a spot that has the best conditions for making compost.

The first priority is a location that is neither too hot nor too cold. When temperatures are too low (like a spot in the shade), the decomposition process takes longer. And when the temperatures are really high, the compost will dry out and you will need to add water more often. Since pallet compost bins sit on the ground, you also need to find a location that is level and where there is good drainage. If you don’t have such a spot, you can use an additional pallet, covered with garden fabric along the bottom of your compost bin to allow excess water to drain.

Once those things are taken into consideration, it’s time to look at personal preferences. Unless you purchase a self-tumbling compost bin, there is some work involved with turning your compost a few times a week. In addition, think about which is more important to you — having it closer to the garden for easy transportation of the compost once it is ready for use or having it closer to the house for shorter trips when adding your food waste and doing the routine turning.

Whichever you decide, do keep in mind that even a perfectly maintained compost bin will give off some odors during the decomposition process. Finally, you will want to consider aesthetics. As much as compost are a thing of eco-friendly beauty, an open pallet of compost may not be something you want in your front yard in full view.

NOTE: These tips for finding the perfect spot for your compost bin apply to all types, whether it’s a DIY compost bin or a store bought one.

Steps for Building a Backyard Compost Bin from Pallets

Once you have found the perfect spot for your compost bin, it’s time to join the pallets together. While this can be done solo, it’s easier with two sets of hands. There are many, many different ways to make a compost bin with wood pallets, and they can actually get quite fancy requiring the addition of tools. We are going to start you off with s super simple version, that can be done in less than 15 minutes — with no tools other than a staple gun if you are adding a mesh lining.

Building a pallet compost bin is easy – think of it like building the base for a house of cards. First, you need to stand 3 wood shipping pallets on their sides, forming a U and making sure the corners are square. This is where a partner comes in handy. While your helper is holding the pallets, use the zip ties to secure them together. To start, place one at the top and bottom of each corner but don’t pull them all the way tight yet. This will allow you to make any adjustments to ensure everything is still square. Once you are happy with that, go ahead and tighten them up then add another zip tie in the middle. For added security, you can add 2 more zip ties.

NOTE: If you are using an additional pallet on the bottom, how you go about it will depend on the size. The first option is to see whether your side pallets can fit along the outside edges of the base. If not, you will have to build the sides on top of it — but you still may need to put the back one along the ground (which means it will be slightly lower). Play around with it. Ultimately there is no wrong way as long as the sides are upright and secure.

If you are choosing to use wood screws to join your pallets together, the first 2 zip ties in each corner are only temporary. They will hold things in place while you drill in the screws and can be cut away once finished. Like with the zip ties, you will need to screw the pallets together in at least 3 spots in each corner, but 5 is stronger.

For multi-compartment compost bins, you will need 2 more pallets per bin. Simply add them to your base structure, creating the additional square compartments.

And there you have it, a simple open front compost bin made from wood pallets. With this set up, you can easily access the contents. At this point, you have the option to staple wire mesh and chicken wire to your compost bin. This can be added on either the inside or outside using a staple gun. It’s not necessary, but if you are concerned about critters like mice, raccoons, or squirrels, this will help to keep them out. It’s also something to consider if there are wide openings in your pallets.

But what if you don’t want the exposed front, or want to prevent any compost from spilling out from the bin?

This is where the 4th pallet comes in (or 5th if you have a base). The easiest way to do this is to simply stand this pallet up against the front and move it out of the way when you need to turn or remove your compost. Or if you want a permanent front, you can attach securely like you did with the other sides. There is a downside to this option though. You will have to reach over the top to turn and remove your compost, which can be a hassle.

Another option is to create a swinging door, by attaching the pallet to one of the side panels. This can be done with zip ties that are loose enough to allow the front panel to move and swing open. You can also go a step further and purchase hinges.

Finally, another option which requires a saw, is to cut the front pallet either in thirds or in half, and secure this to the front. This will provide a compromise — easier access with partial concealment.

How to Make a Compost Bin Using a Garbage Can or Barrel

Since making your compost is a perfect way to reuse your waste, why not reuse an old garbage can to create your compost? Don’t throw it away, recycle it as a compost bin. Sounds perfect! And of course, you can also go out and buy one if you don’t have a spare one laying around.

Now, when we say garbage can, for the best garbage can compost bin we are not talking about those tall kitchen cans, although they would work but they won’t hold much and will be difficult to turn. You want one of the large, outdoor style garbage cans and if it has wheels, even better. This will make moving it from its regular location to your garden even easier. Also, ensure the container has a tightly fitting lid.

There’s really only a few things you to do to make a compost bin from a garbage can.

Create Ventilation Holes – Compost Needs Air

Because compost needs circulation of air to decompose properly, you need to create some holes at the bottom and the sides of your plastic dustbin. Be generous with the holes you drill at the bottom to ensure drainage.

Finally add some holes in the top to allow some water and air in. The lid will prevent your compost from getting super soaked when it rains. This is different from the open top pallet compost bins because those have larger openings on the side, as well as an open bottom to allow more excess water to drain out.

If you plan on having your bin in a permanent location, you can cut the bottom out completely and let it sit on the ground. You will still need holes in the sides for air circulation.

How Do I Make Compost Bins From Barrels?

Learn How to Compost in Small Spaces| Courtesy of eHowGarden

Tips for Closed Bin Composting in Plastic Containers

We’ll talk more about how to create your own compost in a bit, but there are a few special pointers we need to mention when using a closed plastic container as a compost bin. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a rotten, stinky mess that is likely to attract bugs — just like if you left your regular garbage can unattended.

You will need to balance the waste in your bin with both green and brown matter, which speeds up the decomposing process, with the brown layer going down first. The browns are the “dead stuff” like leaves, grass clippings and twigs. You can also use paper and cardboard as well, which is great for urban gardeners who may not have access to organic browns.

Next add decomposable matter from your kitchen (no meat, dairy or foods cooked with oils or sauces), followed by another layer of browns. Now, add just enough water to get things moist, but not soaking. Finally, close the lid tightly. As mentioned previously, this will prevent your bin filling with rainwater, but it will also keep the heat in.

Composting in plastic garbage cans (or plastic totes which will discuss next) is easy, but it is not a “set it and forget it” process. Whenever you add more food scraps, you need to add additional brown materials.

A compost bin with nothing but food scraps (or an excess) will simply rot and is likely to get moldy as well. It is the combination of the nitrogen rich browns and carbon rich greens that creates heat during the decomposition process (along with water and air) that prevents things from simply rotting and going bad. More details on this below.

We talked earlier about how turning the contents can help ensure the health of your compost and speed up the decomposition process. However, with a tall barrel this can be a little more difficult the fuller it gets. For this reason, it’s a good idea to give it a turn with a pitch fork each time you add new food scraps. This way, as the top gets heavier, you’ll at least know that the stuff at the bottom is well mixed. You can also use either a compost aerator or a twist cultivator to get further down inside.

How to Make a Compost Bin Using a Plastic Storage Container

How to make a compost bin out of a rubbermaid container. | Meagen Mackenzie

For smaller spaces, or people who don’t require a lot of compost, you can also use plastic storage totes to make a compost bin. These can be the long and flat ones, or the tall and wide ones. While you can use clear storage tubs, solid colors, especially black storage containers, will speed up the decomposition because they will both draw in heat and retain it better.

For urban gardeners, storage tote compost bins may be the perfect DIY compost solution. You could even use a 5-gallon bucket with a lid. Just make sure it is clean and hasn’t been used with paint or chemicals before. If you don’t care about looks, you could even recycle kitty litter buckets!

To make a plastic tub storage bin, the process is similar to using a garbage can. You need to add holes for ventilation. Ideally, you will want holes in the bottom as well. However, if your compost bin will be in a location like a balcony or porch, you could skip them. Just make sure to turn the compost regularly and if it seems to be retaining too much moisture, leave the lid off for a day or 2 to let some evaporate.

Bonus Idea – Use Milk Crates for Composting

So, ya don’t have a drill? Need something even smaller? Or perhaps you want to have some mini compost bins? Use milk crates!

Milk crates are perfect for composting since they already have the open sides to allow adequate air flow. For urban gardeners they can also be stacked for saving even more space. If you are concerned about the openings allowing things to fall out the side, you can line the inside with garden fabric.

Milk crates are also great to keep near your garden for collecting weeds and for when you are pruning. Because of the holes, you don’t have to worry about the container filling up with rain water between trips to your main compost bin or pile. They are also light enough to carry from place to place if you are working in different areas.

How to Make Your Own Compost

Mother Nature is a master at creating nutrient rich organic matter on her own. Everything she needs to create the black gold that gardeners hold so dear is there in the environment — nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. If you’ve ever taken a walk through the woods and looked at the forest floor, you’ve seen what we’re talking about.

If you are not in any hurry, you can create compost pile or bin with nothing but leaves and grass clippings. Left to its own devices, in 6 to 12 months they will decompose — sooner if you tend to it by turning it once in a while. This process of creating a compost heap without adding live organic matter is called “cold composting.” It can also be done in a compost bin and the DIY pallet ones are perfect for it.

However, we can speed up the process, increase the nutrients in our compost, reuse our food scraps and reduce the greenhouse gases in public landfills by giving nature a hand. With the right balance of “browns and greens” and a little bit of manual labor, you can create your own nutrient rich compost.

In addition to the organic matter and water, decomposition also requires oxygen. As things start to decompose, they also compact making it harder for air to circulate. You can help mother nature along by turning your compost pile every few days with a pitchfork or shovel. Some people prefer to add a little soil into the bin to give things a head start, but that’s optional.

If your pile is dry, either add more “wet” greens or spray it lightly with water. You are going for damp here, not soaking wet. Turning your compost pile also helps to ensure it decomposes evenly. A compost pile that is actively decomposing will generate heat and you may even see steam coming from the pile. Don’t worry, this is a good thing. It’s not a sign of a fire; it means Mother Nature is doing what she’s supposed to be doing!

Fill Up Your Compost Bin with Waste Material

Once your compost bin is set up, you will need to start with a layer of brown materials at the bottom. Next you will layer your bin with organic material, also known as green matter and then top it off with more browns. This combination speeds up decomposition to create a perfect balance. We’ll talk more about the “perfect ratio of greens to browns” in a minute.

Finally, spray down your pile with enough water to keep it moist, but don’t let it get soggy. For open pallet compost bins, if you are expecting a lot of rain, or you notice things getting too wet, cover the pile with a piece of cardboard.

There are many different theories about the how much greens and browns you should mix to get the best composting results. But in reality, to get things “perfect” it’s actually the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) that really matters but this is not something that is easy to assess for the home gardener. This is because individual organic matter has different C:N ratios in their “green state” and this will change over time.

5 Easy Steps to Making Great Compost

Composting 101: Don’t Worry About the Numbers!| Courtesy of California Garden TV

Instead of trying to figure out how much nitrogen and carbon is in all the things you add to your compost pile, there are some general rules — but even here there are different schools of thoughts. Some people say the ratio of browns to greens should be 2:1, while others say the perfect composting ratio is 4:1. Our recommended guideline for composting is in the middle with a 3:1 ratio of browns to greens coupled with keeping an eye on your compost.

If thing get slimy and stinky, you’ve been adding too much greens. If the pile is drying up quickly and slowly decomposing, your using too many browns. In terms of severity, the latter is just a speed issue, but the former is a problem that needs to be corrected. Turn more browns into your compost pile right away.

What are Greens in Composting?

In composting, the term “greens” is not related to color, but rather the word is used broadly to describe materials that we can consider to be “fresh” as compared to dried up.

More specifically, greens are things that are high in nitrogen. As they start to decompose, the release nitrogen and change color in the process. For example, fresh grass clippings are greens, but if you allow them to dry up, they become brown material. The same is true for leaves, fresh twigs or branches, plants and weeds that you pull from your garden.

Here’s another example where color is not an indicator of whether organic matter is green or brown: manure. Manure, despite its color, is high in nitrogen making it green matter. The longer it sits, the more nitrogen it loses – especially if it is mixed with hay or straw. It is because of this high nitrogen level that horse and cow manure should not be added directly to garden and flower beds, nor should chicken manure. These can, however, be added to your beds at the end of the season, as part of your overwintering process.

Now that we have a general idea of what makes an organic material green for composting, let’s take a look at some examples of what kinds of food scraps are great for composting.

Some kitchen waste items are obvious — almost any fresh fruit and vegetable scraps are good for composting. You do want to watch out for adding too much citrus because of the acidity. For onions and banana peels, you want to cut them up to help them decompose faster. In addition, be aware that if you add seeds from vegetables like squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, or tomatoes, you may end up with some self-propagators in your garden bed.

You can add vegetables that have been cooked without the addition of any oils or sauces. Egg shells are also a great addition to your compost pile, but it’s best to break them up rather than add them whole. Coffee grounds and tea leaves, in moderation are also great but if you are a heavy-duty coffee drinker, too much will increase the acidity of your compost. By the way, you can also throw the tea bags (remove any staples) and coffee filters right in too.

You can use your surplus coffee grounds to apply directly to plants and flowers that require acidic soil. Many gardeners swear by them for ensuring their hydrangeas are a lovely shade of blue!

Finally, if you are lucky enough to live near a source of seaweed, bring a bucket along. Make sure you soak it in fresh water and rinse off all the salt before adding it to your compost pile though.

What are Good Browns for Composting?

As we mentioned previously, in the composting world, brown refers to organic matter that’s low in nitrogen and high in carbon. For a simpler reminder, think of them as “not fresh” or dying/dead organic matter. We’ve already covered things such as dried leaves, grass, and branches. But there are other things around your house that you may want to move from your recycle bin to your compost bin.

Newspaper, plain paper, non-Styrofoam egg cartons, paper bags and brown cardboard are a great addition to your compost pile, especially for people who don’t have access to a lot of drying organic matter. Paper towels, napkins and plates can be composted, as long as they are not covered with foods you would not want to compost or cleaning chemicals. For example, you wouldn’t use the paper towels from cleaning your mirrors. You can also add human and pet hair to your compost pile!

Wood ashes from your fire pit, wood burning stove or fireplace are high in potassium, and can be added to your compost bin. Just don’t go overboard with adding too much all at once. A good guideline is no more than 2 gallons per every 27 cubic feet (that’s a 3’ x 3’ x 3’ compost bin).

What Not to Put in Your Compost Bin

In general, just about any type of organic waste, as well as papers and cardboard that come from organic materials, can go into your compost pile. But there are some things that should never be used for composting.

Here’s a general guideline for things that you do not want to compost:

  • NO dairy, oils, meat products or bones (most composters also avoid breads because they attract animals)
  • NO fruits, vegetables or foods cooked with oils or sauces
  • NO human, dog, or cat feces (general guideline is to avoid any feces from carnivores)
  • NO diseased plants or food that is already starting to mold
  • NO pressure treated, stained, or painted woods or sawdust
  • NO weeds from plants that are going to seed
  • NO cardboard or paper that is glossy or that has come in contact with chemicals
  • NO charcoal ashes (contain too much iron and sulfur)

Finally, regardless of whether it’s a green or a brown, you want to avoid anything that has been exposed to non-food grade chemicals. For example, if your lawn was recently treated with weed killers or pesticides, keep that out of your compost bin. In addition, if you have farm animals that are sick, don’t use their manure for composting.

Tips and Tricks for Perfect Compost

Gardening is fun, especially when you venture into DIY projects for most of the items you will need, and that includes making black gold!

The best way to determine if your compost is ready is to check for a rich and dark texture that resembles soil. You should not be able to identify the materials you used in decomposing. When you can still see contents, and recognize what they are, give it more time to decompose before using it as compost. Or, if it is mostly decomposed, you can spread it in your garden as mulch and let the rest of the process finish there.

Here are some additional tips for creating perfect backyard compost for your garden.

  • The smaller your kitchen scraps are, the faster they will decompose and turn to compost. Take a few moments and chop them up into pieces. Or, if you really want to speed things up and your food processor is handy, give them a whirl.
  • The leftovers from your healthy juicing recipes are excellent for composting and will decompose quickly. You can also add the water from rinsing your rice (contains nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), as well as any water from cooking vegetables or pasta (as long as it’s not salted) in your compost pile. These can also be used to directly water your plants, once cooled of course.
  • Just like the size of the greens, the same is true with the browns – the smaller the better. If you are adding paper or cardboard, tear them into smaller pieces. And, if you have access to a mulcher or woodchipper, putting branches through it first will make composting go even faster.
  • When it comes to adding “weeds” to your compost pile, here is a general guideline. If it’s something that you are struggling to remove from your yard or garden beds, it’s better to be safe than sorry and keep it out of your compost pile. This includes things like honeysuckle vines and sumac roots, as well as any stubborn weeds that are in the process of going to seed.
  • Don’t forget to balance both brown and green matter. Brown material adds carbon while the green material adds nitrogen — a perfect recipe for fast decomposition. If you want an easier to maintain compost pile, increase the ratio of brown to greens. While this will slow down the process, you won’t need to turn it as frequently.
  • Make sure to check on your compost pile, especially if you are actively adding green kitchen scraps. If it’s drying out, sprinkling a little water makes the bin damp enough to decompose flawlessly. In contrast, if it’s really wet or slimy, add more dry brown materials.
  • If you want to speed up the decomposition process, you can add a layer of already formed compost or use a compost starter. You can also add a bit of soil.

When it comes to DIY composting, don’t be afraid to try new techniques and experiment.

Composting at home does not have rules cast in stone other than the definite “no no’s” mentioned earlier. Be creative with ideas and learn along the way. If one approach does not work, you can try another.

You can also play with the materials you place in your bin and see what can decompose and what can’t. You’ll be surprised at how many things are actually compostable.

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Green, leafy, and healthy vegetables await you in your garden a few weeks into spreading some home-made fertilizer in your garden. Your flowers will also thank you for the plant feed you just nourished them with, and they will provide you fresh and beautiful blooms that will make you smile.

It doesn’t take up too much space to make a compost bin at home, and you also get to save on the money you would have used buying plant feed from the store.