Are you looking for an easy way to get started with composting? Why not make your own cheap compost bin for around $5? We’ll show you how to make a plastic bin like this one and give you some composting tips along the way.
Yard waste and food scraps make up more than 30% of the things we throw away in the trash. Most of this waste is compostable.
If we composted all of our “compostable” food scraps and yard waste, it would help to reduce methane gas (a greenhouse gas) emissions caused by landfills. Plus, it would lower your carbon footprint and help you save money on trash bags!
In addition to that, finished compost is really beneficial for plants. If you do any gardening, compost is your best friend!
Why Make Your Own?
After searching for a bin that fit our lifestyle and needs I realized that we couldn’t afford one. In actuality, compost bins are pretty pricey. Sadly, that may be a deterrent for people that may be considering purchasing one.
If you want to get started with composting and don’t have the budget for a bin or a lot of space in your yard, making one from a tote is a good option.
What You’ll Need:
Here’s what you’ll need to make this DIY compost bin:
- 18 Gallon (or similar size) Plastic Storage Tote with Lid – The same kind you use to store holiday decorations in the attic or basement. The key is to buy one that’s on sale. We bought ours for $3.50!
- Hand Drill – for drilling holes in the tote
- 5/16″ drill bit – A 3/8″ drill bit will also work.
- Secure the lid on the tote and flip it over so the bottom is facing up.
- Load the drill bit into your hand drill.
- Start by drilling holes roughly 2″ apart in both directions.
- Drill these holes on the bottom and sides of the bin.
- Flip the tote over so the lid is facing up.
- Drill more holes in the lid, but keep them 3 – 4 inches apart.
The holes allow airflow in and out of the bin, which is required for the beneficial bacteria that’ll be breaking down the materials. The type of bacteria that makes traditional compost is Aerobic, meaning that it survives in the presence of oxygen.
What Can You Compost?
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coffee grounds
- Paper and paper coffee filters
- Grass clippings
- Yards waste like small sticks and twigs
- Leaves – green and brown
- Wood chips and bark
The ideal mix/ratio for compost is 25-30 parts carbon (browns) to 1 part nitrogen (greens).
This ratio is ideal, but not required. Just keep in mind that every time you add greens to your bin, you should also add a bunch of browns.
Nitrogen-rich materials (greens) are most of your kitchen scraps or literally green materials such as:
- Fruit peels,
- Leafy greens,
- Potato peels,
- Grass clippings, etc…
Greens also contain more moisture than the browns.
Carbon-rich materials (browns) are:
- Dried leaves,
- Shredded paper,
- Wood chips,
- Bark, etc….
How to Make Compost
To get your bin started:
- Add your greens and some shredded paper and dry leaves.
- Add a scoop or shovel of soil from your yard or garden. The soil acts as an activator since it contains the natural bacteria necessary for composting.
- Add water to moisten the pile of material, but not so much that it’s soggy.
- Mix up the pile with a shovel or pitchfork. Chop it up and make sure it’s consistently mixed.
- Place the lid onto the compost bin and leave it alone for 1 – 2 days.
- Mix the materials at least once a week, but twice or three times a week is better.
- Mix it every time you add scraps to it.
- If the pile becomes dry, add more water to moisten it.
That’s the process for creating all-natural “black gold” compost. With regular mixing, you should have fresh compost in 6-12 weeks (providing that temperatures aren’t freezing outside).
How to Tell When Compost is Finished
This is how to tell when your compost is ready to use:
- Color: It will be dark brown to black.
- Smell: It will have an “earthy” smell.
- Feel: It will feel slightly moist and fluffy.
- Look: It will have unidentifiable small bits of organic material that break apart easily.
Once the materials start to compost they will break down and make more room inside the bin. You can continue to add new material until the bin gets about 3/4 full. At that point, you’ll need to stop adding material and just keep it mixed every few days until it’s finished.
If you never stop adding new scraps, you’ll never make finished compost! Therefore, it’s a good idea to have two compost bins. That way, you can let one bin compost, while you add new scraps to the other bin.
**In climates with cold winters, like here in New England, the bacteria typically goes dormant (unless you have a huge compost pile). You can continue to add scraps throughout winter, and once the weather warms, the bacteria will become active and your compost process will resume.
Compost is wonderful and essential for plants to thrive. Best of all, you don’t need to spend money on synthetic fertilizers! I cannot wait for spring to roll around because we have hopes of growing a ton of healthy goodies.
But until then, I’ve been adding our kitchen scraps to our worm bin, which is a different way to compost.