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How to Make Your Own Compost and Compost Bin

I am a writer and lover of nature. My knowledge of gardening is extensive, having used and applied many of the principles I preach.

Why Compost?

Here are some reasons why anyone who has a garden should consider starting their own compost pile:

  • You are recycling kitchen and yard waste which would otherwise wind up in a garbage bag in a landfill.
  • Finished compost introduces beneficial microbes to your garden.
  • It acts as a soil conditioner.
  • It is good for the environment, since you will be using less chemical fertilizers.
My homemade compost bin made out of a garbage can with a locking lid.

My homemade compost bin made out of a garbage can with a locking lid.

How to Make Your Own Compost Bin

There are a few ways in which you can create your own compost bin without having to purchase one. Some of the bins you can purchase can be pricey, so this technique can save you money as well.

  1. First, go purchase a garbage can with a snap-on lid. You can find these at any of the big box home improvement stores.
  2. Second, take a drill and drill some holes in the bottom for drainage.
  3. Third, drill some holes evenly spaced down the sides of the can. This will help aeration.
  4. Lastly, label the lid "Compost" to avoid anyone attempting to throw their regular garbage into it.
Starting a new pile.

Starting a new pile.

Items That Make Good Compost

Here are some items that you can add to your compost:

  • Dried leaves: Take your raked leaves in the fall and add them in.
  • Grass clippings: Instead of leaving them on the lawn, compost some.
  • Veggie and fruit scraps: If composting items that still have the outer rind or skin, it is best to use organic produce for this. You don't know what could have been sprayed onto your produce.
  • Coffee grounds: Used coffee grounds post-brew.
  • Tea leaves: Cut open used tea bags and sprinkle into your compost. Discard the bag.
  • Wood shavings, chips and sawdust
  • Pruning scraps from your garden plants
  • Eggshells
  • Shredded newspaper: Only the non-glossy pages.
  • Cardboard
  • Soil: I like to use old, spent soil from my planters.
  • Chicken manure

Things You Should Never Compost

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Bones
  • Human poop
  • Pet poop
  • Items that don't break down like Styrofoam, plastics, etc.

How to Turn Your Pile

This is where the snap-on lid comes into play. You can turn it the old fashioned way by taking a shovel or gardening fork and turning the pile that way. Or you can do the lazy way and roll the bin down the driveway.

I do this once a week. It helps mix everything and add aeration. You also want to add some water to your compost. Just a misting. You don't want it to be soaking wet.

Finished Compost

Finished Compost

When Is Your Compost Ready for Use?

I usually start my pile in the fall to coincide with the fallen leaves. My base is always dried leaves. I like to save extra leaves in another bin to keep adding in throughout the year. Just keep adding layers of kitchen scraps, grass cuttings, and other items from the list above.

Your finished compost should look something like the photo above. If it doesn't and there are still larger pieces that haven't broken down, that is not a problem. I will take my compost, even with larger pieces, and top dress my planting beds in the fall when I'm putting my garden to sleep for the winter. The larger pieces will continue to break down through winter. In the spring, I give my beds a good toss and a good rake, and they are ready to go.

If you want a finer product, you can always sift your compost through a large screen to separate out the larger bits from the small ones.

Choosing the Right Location for Your Pile

Generally, a place away from the house is a good place to put your pile. It does off-gas as it is breaking down, so that is something to consider. Keeping it away from windows (yours and your neighbors') is a good idea.

Starting a Compost Bin

Other Composting Options

If you decide you want to create a more traditional pile and you have the space, you can also do what I like to call the one-two-three method:

  • Choose a site where you have the space to create three open-air sections.
  • You can use bricks, hay bales, or any other retaining materials and create three divided squares, one right next to the other.
  • Keep adding new scraps to the pile in square number one. As the compost breaks down, shovel the pile into square number two. As number two breaks down, shovel into square number three.
  • By the time you get to square three, the compost is almost ready.
  • This is more labor intensive, but the benefit is that the compost is ready sooner than the garbage can method.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Lisa Roppolo

Comments

Lisa Roppolo (author) from Joliet, IL on May 03, 2017:

Thanks for stopping by! It is super easy to do and economical as well.

Leah Kennedy-Jangraw from Massachusetts on May 03, 2017:

Great tips in this article. I am just started to compost so I need all the advice I can get. I like your suggestion of keeping a separate leaves bin to add to the compost bin as you go.