Good-quality compost is sometimes called "garden gold." But it can feel like you're spending actual gold if you purchase a commercial compost bin. You can easily spend $100 or more on a high-end composter. For this reason, many gardeners create their own methods for holding compost out of lumber or by repurposing a container. If you don't have much space to compost or just want to start on a small scale, consider making a compost bin from a plastic storage container. This is an easy project that will give you finished compost in about three months.
Equipment / Tools
- Drill and sharp drill bit
- Plastic storage bin (18 gallons or larger)
- Kitchen scraps, yard waste, shredded newspaper, and other compostable materials
- Wire mesh or hardware cloth (optional)
Select a Plastic Bin
Plastic storage bins are widely available, and you might already have one in your home that you're willing to repurpose into a compost bin. The bin should be no smaller than 18 gallons, and it must have a lid. In fact, a second lid can be helpful to catch the liquid that leaches out of the bin. This nutrient-filled liquid can be used as a fertilizer "tea" in the garden.
Prepare the Bin
You must have air circulating around your compost to help it decompose faster. To provide this in a plastic bin, drill holes throughout the container. Complete this step outside, as the drilling can create a mess. Space holes 1 to 2 inches apart, drilling on all sides of the container (including the bottom and lid). It doesn't matter what size drill bit you use. However, if your holes are large, consider lining the interior of the bin with wire mesh or hardware cloth to keep out rodents.
Position the Bin
Once you've drilled your holes, find a good spot for your compost bin. Thanks to its small size, it should fit on most patios, porches, or balconies. Consider putting it outside the door nearest to your kitchen, so you can easily compost kitchen scraps. Or place it near your vegetable garden if you have one, so you can toss weeds or trimmings into it. It can also go inside a garage or storage shed if you'd rather not look at the composter.
In cold climates, consider bringing the compost bin indoors to a utility area to continue composting through winter. Otherwise, the compost might freeze, and decomposition will temporarily stop.
Fill the Bin
Anything you would throw in a normal compost pile can go in your storage container composter. Leaves, weeds, fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and grass clippings all work well. Whatever you add to your composter should be chopped fairly small, so it will break down quicker. Chop fruit and vegetable trimmings with a knife or by running them through a blender or food processor. And crush leaves by running a lawnmower over them a few times.
Maintain the Bin
Every day or so, aerate the bin by giving it a quick shake. If the contents are staying very wet or are smelly, add some shredded fall leaves, shredded newspaper, or sawdust to the bin. This will dry out the contents and help to restore the ratio of greens to browns, which speeds the development of compost. If the contents are very dry, use a spray bottle to moisten them. Or add several moisture-rich items, such as fruits or veggies that are past their prime.
Harvest and Use the Compost
The compost should be ready for use after roughly three months. The easiest way to harvest the finished compost from your bin is to run it all through a simple compost sifter. Commercial sifters are available, or you can create a makeshift sifter using a piece of wire hardware fabric with a quarter-inch grid. Any large pieces that still need to decompose can go back into the bin. And the dark, crumbly finished compost can be stored in another container for later use or immediately spread in the garden.
Tips for Composting With a Plastic Storage Bin
Compost naturally generates heat. If your compost feels warm, this is a good sign that the composting is occurring efficiently. But if the material in your bin is cool to the touch, it probably needs a bit more moisture. Adding green materials—grass clippings, produce scraps, etc.—can improve the moisture content. Or you can add a small amount of water, thoroughly mixing it into the compost.
Many kitchen scraps can be composted, but don't add meat, bones, cheese, or other animal-based scraps. These can develop pathogens as they decompose in the compost bin. For the same reason, never add solid waste from pets.
To turn the compost easily, give the bin a shake every one to three days. This blends in air and distributes moisture, creating the perfect environment for the materials to decompose. You can speed along the composting process by adding a handful of nitrogen fertilizer or commercial compost starter.