Garden fork turning black composted soil in wooden compost bin

If you are like me, you are getting your Spring garden seeds started and spending more time outside. It’s the perfect time to start thinking about building and installing a compost bin in your yard. If you want to save money, building your own isn’t as hard as you may think. It just requires a little research and some sweat equity.

Compost Bin Power

Compost knowledge is power.  The first step in DIY composting is to first educate yourself, your household or your family members about the importance of composting. You’ve got to get them on board to make sure the time you are about to invest in building your compost bin is actually worthwhile and that it will be used often and properly. Study up and tell them about the many benefits of composting. Not only does it divert food and other organic waste from the landfill, but it can help grow herbs, fruits and vegetables by restoring nutrients in the soil. It’s also a great alternative to chemical fertilizers and creates an easy way to get rid of yard waste and kitchen food waste, which most cities don’t have the infrastructure to take on.

Assess Your Materials and Start Building

  • Plastic Bin: Do you have an old plastic bin lying around half full of junk? Empty it out, drill in some holes, and within just a few minutes you have a small, simple and cost-free compost bin like this one by Blissfully Domestic.
  • Plastic Trash Can: Maybe that extra trash bin in the garage can have a second life. This video by Bonnie Plants shows you how to drill holes in the sides and bottom, and quickly transform it into a rolling compost bin. The bin can be rolled around to “flip” and aerate the compost a few times a week. To ensure that the lid doesn’t fall off during this rolling process, you can secure it by stringing a bungee cord between the two side handles. This same concept can apply to a metal trash can as well.
  • Wood Pallets: A cheap compost bin design can be made out of wood pallets. Wood pallets are fairly easy to get your hands on if you’re willing to ask around at your local hardware store, supermarket or gardening center. First, make sure the wood hasn’t been treated with any chemicals. Fabulously Frugal demonstrates how to build a compost bin out of five wood pallets, using a cordless or electric drill, and hand saw, a hook eye door latch, wood screws, brackets and hinges.  A smaller, simpler design using just one wood pallet can be made with some chicken wire and nails. The pallet must be deconstructed, a basic framework created and then chicken wire nailed or stapled to the frame. A “chimney” for aeration should be stuck down into the compost material and can be created by rolling up some chicken wire into a cylindrical pole, as shown in this video.
  • Straw Bales: This design is best suited for a larger piece of land, as even the smallest straw bale compost bin will be the width and height of at least one straw bale. They don’t require a bottom and the bales should be staggered when stacking for better stability. Organic Gardening provides this handy how-to showing how easy it is to assemble a straw bale compost bin.
  • Cinder Blocks: Building a compost bin out of cinder blocks is another basic design that requires little assembly and mostly stacking. Cinder blocks will last longer than straw bales or wood compost bins, as those materials will start to compost themselves after a while. University of Wisconsin’s Agricultural Extension provides these useful instructions once you’ve got your cinder blocks in hand.
Green plastic compost bin full of organic and domestic food scraps
Do you have an old plastic bin lying around? Consider upcycling it into a compost bin. Image Credit: pryzmat / Shutterstock

Maintain Your Works of Art

Once you’ve got your compost bin ready to go, the next step is to pick the right spot. Typically, if you have a garden you will be using the finished compost for, put your compost bin next to your garden. If you are worried about the scent or the aesthetics of having your bin near your house, just make sure it’s somewhere on level ground, in the shade, and not so far away that it deters you from taking out the compost on the reg. Here are some tips on how to maintain your compost pile and other “do’s and don’ts” of composting, which will help you to deter pests, keep a pleasant odor and know what items to compost.

Composting Alternatives

Maybe you are a busy bee and would rather throw down some cash to get an already designed compost bin. If that’s the case, there are plenty out there to choose from.

Perhaps you don’t have a yard or place to put a compost bin. Only a few cities like San Francisco have residential compost pick up services, but more and more small start-up compost companies are popping up across the country to provide compost pick-up, like the Compost Company in Nashville, Bootstrap Compost in Boston or CompostNow in Raleigh, to name a few. Often these companies will provide you with a small bin or bucket, or you can easily find a bin to store your compost in, such as the Stainless Steel Compost Keeper or the Compost Keeper Bamboo Pail.

Now you’re ready — go get your compost on!

Feature image credit: Elena Elisseeva/ Shutterstock

By Lesley Lammers

Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.