Ready to Rot: How I Built a Compost Bin For Free

25 Jun

[This is a post that I started last August (2007), but for some reason didn’t finish and publish. I just ran across it recently and thought I’d wrap it up with a pretty bow for you.]

compost construction

DIY Compost Bin Construction

It’s pretty easy (and free!) to build a compost bin for your yard or garden. I built this one all with stuff I found in my garage. Inspiration for the design goes to Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost (I think–not 100% positive where the idea came from).

You will need:

  • One used 32 gallon plastic garbage can, with lid. Mine has broken handles and a couple cracks in the lid. I’ve had it for years in my garage.
  • At least four feet of plastic drainage tile/tubing. I had dozens of feet of this black, ribbed stuff from when we built our house and I tried (tirelessly) to keep the rain spouts from washing away by grass seed.
  • A utility knife
  • A hand-held drill and auger bit. No precise size–I used a bit that drills a hole a little larger than the circumference of a pencil.
  • Organic garbage to dump inside (see my recipe below).

Now the instructions are pretty simple.

  1. First, cut the drainage tube to a length that will fit level with the top of the garbage can when stood up vertically on the inside bottom of the can (see the pictures below if that doesn’t make any sense).
  2. Now drill holes all over the can, lid and tube. Space them about every couple inches; even closer on the tube. Just dot that sucker with holes.
  3. Now, stand the tube in the inside center of the can, so the top of the tube is even with the top of the can. Check to be sure the lid fits nicely, with at least a few inches between the top of the tube and the lid.
  4. Fill ‘er up and let it rot!

The tube allows air to circulate into the center of the can. This is great news, because it means you don’t have to turn or mix up your compost so often (I still mix mine once in a while).


Here’s what I threw in the can:

  • I filled the can a little over half full with brown leaves I collected at the ballpark. I also collected poison ivy during that expedition, so BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU GET YOUR LEAVES!!! While it’s fun to scare children with an elephant man face, it is absolutely no fun to itch so badly you want to tear your very skin off for a week. (For summer 2008’s batches, I gathered up bags full of leaves last fall and kept them for this year.)
  • I read that cattails make great compost ingredients, so I rummaged a local slew. I also gathered some green swamp weed and various other nutrient rich plants.
  • I put some fresh green grass clippings in there too.
  • I also dug up as many thistles, dandelions and the like from my weedy yard. The deep roots are chock full of good stuff.
  • A couple of shovels full of sweet stuff from the Bartmann Brothers Farm manure pile. Ah, pure magic. I guess it’s oat straw, a bit of corn stalks and cow poop.
  • Finally, over the course of a few months, I added scraps from the kitchen. Fruits and veggies only–no meats or dairy. I also threw in a few egg shells, coffee grounds and tea bags. ( the picture below shows the “play beans.” Our kids had a tuperware container full of a variety of beans that they liked to play with–until someone spilled a glass of water in the beans. Soggy beans are no longer fun to play with, I guess. The girls’ loss is my gain–into the composter!

Other than the kitchen scraps, I mixed everything together really well. This was a bit of an experiment for me. I made two similar bins and tried different processes with each one. I also started a compost heap (no bin) and a vermiculture composter (a box full of worms!). I added stuff here and there to the bin, and mixed it up three times from mid-august to frost (late November). I let it sit over the winter and mixed it into the garden this spring. So far, so good. Batch number two is in the works…

You certainly wouldn’t need such a diverse recipe. You could just use brown leaves and some grass clippings. The key is to be sure about 2/3 of your mixture is brown stuff, and 1/3 green stuff. Leaves make fantastic compost. You also want to be sure to throw in a bit of finished compost, or some manure, to get the potion started (need those micro-organisms).

1 Comment

Posted by on June 25, 2008 in compost, going green


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One response to “Ready to Rot: How I Built a Compost Bin For Free

  1. Laura uszenski

    February 28, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    Going to try this for the first time; LOVE the tube in the center to allow circulation!! Have not seen that idea in my limited research. Question: can I throw dog poop into the bin instead of purchased cow manure? The dog poo is free!


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