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How To Make Your Own Compost Bin

Updated on October 29, 2009
wooden slat-style compost bin
wooden slat-style compost bin

In this article you will learn how to make your own compost bin. Making your own compost bin is a good project that can have a positive effect on the environment in a number of ways. You might also want to make your own compost bin so that you can have a good and constant supply of nutrients for your garden soil. Compost bins are good ways to reduce the amount of waste you throw away and allows you to recycle yard waste and kitchen scraps that would otherwise end up being taken to the curb for your trash pickup.

If you're handy it is possible to make your own compost bin from any number of materials. There are several types of bins, and you may first want to decide how much compost you need or how much waste you have to dispose of. It is also a good idea to think of where in your yard you will put your compost bin. You can make your own wooden compost bin which of the do it yourself types of compost bins will be a longer lasting and more visually appealing type of construction. It is possible to make compost bins out of old garbage cans, metal stakes and wire mesh, and virtually anything else than can be used to corral the waste materials as well as allowing them to be rotated occasionally until the whole thing is fully composted. This process can take several weeks up to several months depending on how much you want to maintain and play around with your compost bin. Many people who don't have the skills or resources to make a compost bin from scratch can now purchase ready-made solutions. Some of these like the Mantis 4000 to the right are easy to tumble and mix the contents. If you're not sure why this is important read on.

Short Video on How To Make Your Own Compost

What Do You Need To Make Your Own Compost Bin

The types of materials that go into your compost bin that will decompose into the good, black compost that enriches your soil are divided into two primary groups: green and brown. Your green materials are the nitrogen-rich things that serve as food for the bacteria which break down your compost. The brown materials don't contain food for the bacteria, but they break down and give substance to the end result. Making your own compost requires you to balance the amounts of green and brown so the bacteria and other organisms are healthy and better able to decompose everything in your compost pile. Too much brown, and your composting takes place very slowly or not at all. Too much green, and your compost pile turns into a slimy, smelly, nasty mess that doesn't result in the “black gold” most gardeners want to pull out of their compost bins.

Good Green Materials for Your Compost Bin Are:

  • fresh grass clippings
  • certain types of annual weeds
  • old flowers (but not dried)
  • vegetable scraps
  • vegetable stalks or fresh garden waste
  • fruit peelings
  • chicken manure
  • horse or cow manure
  • If you make your own beer or wine the leftover yeast liquid is good also
  • urine

Good Brown Materials for Your Compost Bin Are:

  • pine needles (need to be mixed with other material to prevent clumping)
  • leaves (probably your largest source and single best material but may need to be shredded)
  • twigs and tree branches (broken into smaller pieces)
  • hay or other dried grasses
  • dried corn husks (fresh ones would be a good green material)
  • paper and cardboard (shredded and in small amounts)

Materials to Avoid Putting In Your Compost Bin:

  • meat and fish scraps (smelly and attract unwanted pests)
  • dairy products
  • feces except for the manures mentioned above
  • perennial weeds
  • inorganic material such as metals and plastics or other types of synthetics that do not decompose (many of these can be recycled via your municipal recycling program if available)

Other Things Good To Add To Your Compost Bin:

  • egg shells (only the shells, adds calcium and minerals to the compost)
  • shrimp shells - stay away from oyster shells as they may attract rodents. It's also a good idea to bury the shrimp shells in the bin to avoid odor and pests
  • coffee grounds and tea bags
  • cooked pasta (no oil or sauce please)
  • soil - yes, dirt contains the microbes necessary to get things started decomposing, but you won't need much – a couple of shovels full should be plenty.
  • Worms - they can speed up the process, but you need to have an open bottom on your bin and sitting on the ground, otherwise leave them out

Get on With Making Your Compost Bin

When you have accumulated enough material for your chosen compost bin you will need to make sure everything is broken up into smaller pieces. That means plant stalks need to be cut up, woody materials shredded or broken down, large leaves and paper and cardboard shredded or otherwise rendered smaller. This will help your compost bin produce the good stuff faster and more evenly. Have a water hose or a watering jug available as well, so you can wet things down as you complete the next step.

You will want to start layering your materials. There is no perfect ratio, but you do want to have a good mix of both green and brown to ensure the composting process occurs more quickly and that your pile heats up (don't worry about the heating up if you have a small pile). A good start is somewhere between 60 – 70% brown material. Too much difference either way may make the process happen slower or not at all. Start with a layer 2 – 4 inches thick of brown followed by a layer of green, and so on until you are out of material.

A couple of points on the layering and material: when you make your own compost bin the goal is to have things happen efficiently and sometimes quicker is better, depending on your needs. If you have a compost bin that measures a minimum of two cubic feet (that is 2 x 2 x 2), then you should be able to get the heating process. This happens when the microbes that do the composting are happy. They multiply and their activity creates heat. Some bins can get up to 150o which helps to kill any weed seeds that made it into your compost bin, and it can sterilize your compost bin as well. You want to keep your compost bin moist but not wet. Some of your green material may need to be mixed with brown during the layering to keep it from being a soggy mass. Conversely, you may need to wet down some of your brown materials as you are layering. You did remember the water hose didn't you?

After this is done and your layers are complete just let everything sit in your homemade compost bin for a couple of weeks at least. Many people recommend a lid of some sort to protect the bin from rain, but this isn't essential unless you live in a very rainy area. If the climate is cold, things are going to happen a little slower in your compost bin so a sunnier exposure may help. If your climate is dry, you may need to add some moisture periodically to ensure the microbes stay happy and begin to multiply as they start the composting process.

After a few weeks or a month, you probably want to turn or tumble your compost bin. I don't mean the bin itself, but the contents. The purpose is to mix everything back up and to introduce more oxygen into your compost bin. If layers are isolated from oxygen, the anaerobic bacteria can take hold and compete with the good microbes. The presence of excess anaerobic bacteria isn't a good thing for your compost bin, so turn that stuff over. Depending on what container you used to make your own compost bin, you may can just tumble it or a garden fork works well for larger compost bins. Just give it a good mix, and add some moisture if necessary and let it sit for a few weeks.

You will continue this process, and in as little as six weeks or as long as one year your compost bin will produce the famous black gold that is so good for your garden. You will know it's ready when it resembles the good soil you find under the leaves of the forest floor or in the pots of the plants you buy at the garden center. If it has that dark black color and you don't see any of the solid pieces of leaves and other material then it is finished. If you still see a lot of brown material not broken down, it needs more green material and time. If you see slimy, stinky clumps, then add some dry brown materials and let it sit. Just remember, this is a natural process, and you don't really have to do much of anything to help it along if you're patient. If you need it faster, the tips above should help.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      It's great to find an expert who can exailpn things so well

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Stellar work there evoreyne. I'll keep on reading.

    • profile image

      Teresa Anderson 

      6 years ago

      Jeff, I was a little disappointed to find no specific "how-to" instructions on building the pictured bin. The title indicated how to make a compost bin but actually was an excellent article on how to compost. I think the removable slats is an easy way to access the mature compost, as well as, maintaining the upper layers.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Jeff

      Good rundown on composting here. Composting really helped to reduce the amount of trash that we used to produce. We put coffee grounds and egg shells in along with watermelon and canteloupe rinds, veggie peelings etc. I was amazed after I bought my bin how much could really be recycled.

    • Jeffrey Neal profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeffrey Neal 

      9 years ago from Tennessee

      Hi, NewHorizons! I try to respond to my comments individually, and I just use the comment box same as if I'm commenting someone else's hub. Composting is pretty easy, I agree, and it's a good way to recycle organic material. Thanks for your comments!

    • NewHorizons profile image

      Joseph Attard 

      9 years ago from Gozo, Malta, EU.

      hi Jeff, I see that you put 2 comments in this comments section. How come? I mean I'm never allowed to put more than 1. Well this is pretty good information about composting. I make my own compost and i've been doing it for years. I just pile it up in a corner of my small garden and turn it over once in a while. It works good too.

    • Jeffrey Neal profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeffrey Neal 

      9 years ago from Tennessee

      If my back yard weren't almost complete shade, I would certainly have a good vegetable garden out there. I believe next summer I will have some veggies growing in large pots out front since sun is abundant there.

      Thank you for your comment. Hopefully you found something here, you'd not thought of. :-)

    • elayne001 profile image


      9 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      I currently have a square-foot-garden in the back of my house with a little compost we take our peelings to. I just need to get some worms. Thanks for the great hub. Very useful.

    • Jeffrey Neal profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeffrey Neal 

      9 years ago from Tennessee

      Thank you, prettydarkhorse. I hope it proves helpful to someone.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      9 years ago from US

      this is very informative, we are staying in an apartment here but this is worth sharing to other friends...continue writing...


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