Compost Bins

Forget a gym membership. All I need are weekends spent in the yard turning compost; my goodness am I sore. Last summer I built a four bin system out of 12 scavenged pallets, L-brackets, and some hooks and eyes. I researched plenty of building plans online, but ended up just winging it once I started putting it together. Some people get fancy and include hinges so the front "doors" swing open. Not me; I kept it simple. I just started screwing pallets together until I had the backs and sides for all the bins. The fronts I attached using hooks and eyes. This keeps them all together, but I can take off the front of each individual bin when it comes time to get in there and turn.

The idea is to put everything for several months into one bin. Then you move down a bin and use it while the first bin cures for several months. Then you turn the first bin's contents by using a pitchfork and moving it to an empty bin. This mixes up the contents and aerates it, speeding up decomposition. You keep up the process; ideally turning often enough so that your first batch of compost is finished by the time you need an empty bin. We have only been able to harvest a very small amount of finished compost so far. We made some rookie mistakes that have set us back. In the beginning we threw some things in there (like pine needles) that take far too long to decompose and hold up the whole process. Also, we weren't very mindful of keeping the appropriate nitrogen to carbon ratio; we always have way too much green material and not enough brown, which also slows down decomposition. So, to remedy that, I've been keeping all of our shredded paper, which we'll mix in whenever we add more lawn clippings or kitchen waste.

Composting has been one of "my" projects. Steve was not terribly interested to begin with and was actually downright resistant to the idea. He was really worried about the smell and attracting rodents, both of which have turned out to not be problems at all. I built it in an out-of-the-way spot in the backyard, away from the house, so it's very discrete. We haven't seen an increase in rodents or raccoons, and as long as I keep the right ratio of green to brown material and keep meat and dairy products out of there, there is no smell at all.

I have two composting goals for the future. The first is to build a separate system for composting animal waste. We have three cats and a dog, so we have quite a bit of "material" to work with. It's not safe to put animal waste into my regular composting system because it just doesn't get hot enough to kill any pathogens that might be lurking there and because it's not securely covered, it would attract scavengers. I've found some really easy plans online to build a composter out of a lidded plastic 33 gallon garbage can, but I'm waiting until I can find a free one. I'm not going to spend $20 on a garbage can only to cut the bottom off of it.

My other goal is to start a worm bin in the garage to take care of all our kitchen waste. There are few things that I like less than trudging through 4 foot snow drifts in order to dump kitchen scraps in the middle of winter!


  1. Sounds like you have a good composte plain.

  2. great composting info! we're starting a worm farm soon as well! i'm so happy the warm weather is here. so much to do.....

  3. I've been thinking we need to start composting as well. Its great free nutrient rich soil. We live in a small little area with neighbors pretty close, so one rubbermaid tub I think is the only option.

  4. this looks like a great project! you're going to have some really great soil to work with next year. my mom has been composting for as long as i can remember--it was always her project--and before we moved i composted. my husband wasn't much interested in it either, but he reluctantly helped out. i wonder why that is.

  5. Funny, we started with worm bins and just now added a compost bin (made with one pallet, but I'd like to find two more pallets to complete a 2-bin system). We began with a worm bin in the basement because we lived in Philadelphia and had a postage-stamp sized yard. This will be our third summer with red wigglers. Last winter we added a second rubbermaid worm bin. For us (2 adults, 2 eating toddlers, eating a good amount of veggies) I would say that the second worm bin was necessary for winter composting to happen. We still filled about 1 milk carton per month of food waste that waited to be added to the outdoor bin in the spring. I checked out the book "Worms Eat my Garbage" for ideas. Oh, we have been able to divide our bin in half to give away half our worms three times now so maybe look for a friendly worm sharer. :)

  6. Won't have a bin [grin] Just a big ol' pile on the edge of the garden.
    Which works, except for it needing be turned and the good stuff accessible to me.

    So, so tiring.