Different Methods of Building a Compost Bin

Updated on April 7, 2018
Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert is a Virginia Master Gardener, gardening magazine columnist, and book author. She is a full-time freelance writer.

Compost adds nutrients to the soil.
Compost adds nutrients to the soil. | Source

Build a Backyard Compost Bin

There are many different methods for building a compost bin. Some call for elaborate materials, while others can be made from recycled objects, bricks, or boards. Compost bins don't need to be big or elaborate. They do need to be far enough away from your property line so any stray odors don't offend the neighbors, and they need to be easy to access so that adding materials to the bin and working with the compost is easy for you to do.

Gardeners often call compost "black gold," and good compost is truly as valuable as gold. It not only adds nutrients to the soil but beneficial microorganisms as well. It's a great organic gardening method that also reduces the amount of garbage added to landfills. Composting makes sense no matter how you think about it, and if you're an organic gardener, it's a must! Compost improves soil and makes plants healthier and more productive.

Whatever DIY compost bin project you tackle, please be sure to take appropriate safety precautions. Wear eye protection when using tools and gloves when handling rough surfaces such as bricks.

What Can You Add to a Compost Pile?

What can you add to a compost pile? Here's a quick list of what you can safely add to a compost pile:

  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves from fall raking
  • Vegetable peels
  • Potato skins
  • Carrot peels
  • Banana peels
  • Apple cores
  • Citrus fruit rinds
  • Eggshells (just rinse them out first)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Horse, cattle, goat, rabbit or sheep manure

Keeping a simple compost pail in the kitchen makes it easy to add kitchen scraps. My kitchen came equipped with a small bin for recyclables such as cans. I made it into a compost container. I take the full container out to the pile a few times a week, and keep it clean with simple soap and water. You can also use a bowl with a cover on it, or buy a fancy compost pail and lid. Odors shouldn't be a problem; if they are, you have left it inside too long. Fruit flies can, however, become a problem. Keep a lid on the compost pail if fruit flies develop and remove the materials frequently to your compost pile.

Soil almost entirely made of compost.
Soil almost entirely made of compost. | Source

Build a Compost Bin with Bricks

A simple compost bin can be built from bricks or square cement blocks. This is a great way to recycle old building supplies. The amount you need depends on the size of the bin you intend to make. Be careful when stacking bricks. Wear gloves, and take proper safety precautions to prevent injuries.

Brick sizes are standard, but the size depends on the country where you live. For those living in the USA, bricks measure 4 x 8 x 2 1/5 inches. To figure out how many bricks you will need for a two-compartment compost bin, divide 8 (the length of the brick) by the length of one side of your bin. The compost bins I have made from bricks were not cemented together. Instead, we simply stacked the bricks just about two feet tall. There were cave-ins occasionally as the bricks tumbled, but stacking the bricks made them easier to move out of the way. Once a year, we would remove the bricks from a section to get easier access to the compost.

Compost must be turned over at least once a year to unearth the rich, crumbly compost underneath the fresh layers. That's the layer you want to use with your plants, the layer that looks like chocolate cake. It should be rich and dark, and if you see earthworms, congratulations - you've made great compost!

You don't need to put bricks on the bottom of the compost bin. Just let the compost rest on the soil or grass.

My compost pile is very simple and outlined with masonry blocks left over from my house construction.
My compost pile is very simple and outlined with masonry blocks left over from my house construction. | Source

Compost Bin From an Old Dresser Drawer

One of the easiest compost bins to make is one made from completely recycled and reclaimed materials. If you see someone throwing an old, tall chest of drawers out, or perhaps an old kitchen cabinet, snag the drawers. Just place the wooden drawer in the garden and start piling your compost up inside of it. That's it! Nothing special, just use the drawer to hold the compost together. You can't make a lot of compost in a standard-sized drawer, but it is good for small gardens.

Build a Compost Bin from Old Pallets

Garbage Can Bins

A plastic garbage can with several 1" diameter holes drilled around the sides can also be made into a compost bin. Why the holes? Good compost needs moisture and air in order to decompose, and if it's stacked inside a plastic bin without holes, it can get smelly, and won't decompose quickly. Adding the holes ensures some air circulation. You will have some that drops out through the side holes, so make sure the bin is placed in an area where a bit of mess won't hurt it.

One of the best compost bins I had was a metal leaf bin. It was an old-fashioned barrel used to burn leaves in years past. It had wire mesh sides and was about the size of a garbage can. We lined it with a wire mesh with smaller holes, and voila - instant compost bin!

Simple Wooden Frame Bin

If you want to try your hand at some simple carpentry, gather four 2 x 4s made of rot-resistant wood and a four foot square piece of plywood. Attach the wood at the four corners. Then stapled chicken wire or wire mesh to create the sides of the bin. Instant compost bin!

Just Pile Up the Compost

Feeling lazy? Did you know you can just pile the compost on the ground, or in a raised bed, and let nature take care of it? It's true. As long as you can leave the area undisturbed for a while, and not plant anything in the compost before it is decomposed, you can compost in place. Ruth Stout was a gardener and proponent of a similar system. Mother Earth News offers insight and directions into her mulching and composting system.

© 2013 Jeanne Grunert


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    • WendySue Hagins profile image

      WendySue 9 months ago from Hayward, WI

      What about winter composting? Up north here, we have winter temps and snow 7 months of the year. Cloudy too. How do you keep it warm enough without sun?

    • Pamela Bush profile image

      howtopam 4 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Great compost bin ideas! I specifically like to use recycle ideas. I build with pallets whenever I can because pallets are generally free from business that do not want to bare the expense of transporting them to the landfill. I also think that we help the planet out in the GREEN effort by saving trees.

      Nice work on this hub.



    • profile image

      anndango 5 years ago

      Great suggestions and ideas! I never thought to use old dresser doors - what a clever idea.