Building A Compost Bin: A Guide From Scratch

It is a fact – building a compost bin can make a HUGE difference to the health of your yard.

The compost they house can play a vital role in improving soil – but you need to make sure that compost is of good quality.

Want to find out how to do that? Read on…

So what is the story with compost bins?

They help with the decomposition of organic matter via both moisture retention and proper aeration.

The proper combination of moisture and air produces ideal conditions for anaerobic activity. It is the anaerobic bacteria that generate high temperatures which transform organic materials into useful compost.

But enough science for now!

A similar process occurs over time inside a compost heap or pile with or without the housing. Compost bins speed up decomposition meaning you can get your compost on your garden faster!

Benefits Of Composting

There are several benefits associated with a compost bin:

Composting significantly helps in preventing erosion. Erosion that is experienced on playing fields, side of the road, near water and on hills is reduced.

Areas that have compost promote healthier soils, trees and plants. It provides food and a home for useful soil organisms such as earthworms and bacteria. Composting inoculates soil with useful organisms like nitrogen fixing bacteria.

Soil chemistry
It helps to improve the effectiveness of both chemical and organic fertilizers. Composting increases the capacity of the soil to retain plant protein but only the soluble ones. It helps in holding nutrients in the root zone thus preventing leaching.

Composting helps in keeping landfills free of organic matter. This is good because it results in less production of methane gas. This is a gas that is estimated to be 21 times more potent compared to carbon dioxide.

Composting inhibits the spread of all the toxic matter present in soil like fuels and pesticides. This translates to healthier water, plants and soil in an area. It binds all heavy metals so that plants do not absorb them.

Compost degrades both toxic chlorinated as well as non-chlorinated hydrocarbons, wood preservatives and explosives. It filters water and air contaminants.

Physical structure of soil
Humus contained in compost helps to bind particles of light crumbling soils together. Water retention of light sandy soils is improved by compost.

It aids soil to resist compaction hence the root can penetrate the soil much easier. It transforms heavy and sticky soil into a workable state.

Who Is A Compost Bin Suitable For?

Compost bins are suitable for gardeners particularly in city and town centers because they do not occupy much space.

Building A Compost Bin

The main reason for building compost bins is to ensure that composting materials stay together. The bin must be big enough to enable compost to be turned with a pitchfork or a shovel, this speeds composting materials and promotes aeration.

Here is a sneaky little secret:

Compost bins are ideal when covered because excessive rain cools down the compost and the composting process slows down. The construction of a compost bin should be simple.

It is good to build compost bins from scrap or recycled lumber. However, plywood should never be used because it quickly delaminates in the composter’s damp environment.

So this is how you can make your own compost bin:

What Materials Do I Need?

You will need to:

  • Obtain 2 x 6 lumber (7 lengths) and cut each to 3’. You can have the cuts made at your local lumberyard. Get unplaned wood. In addition, the lumber must not be treated with preservatives because even the untreated lasts for long.
  • Get 2 x 2 lumber, a total of 4 lengths and cut each to 3’
  • Buy 28 galvanized common nails, each 2 3/4″ long. Alternatively, you can utilize coated decking screws.

How Do I Put It Together?

The steps are as follows:

  • Sharpen 1 end of each of the 2 x 2 to function as stakes. The best way is to use a hatchet to guarantee your bin will stay in place.
  • The 3’ board should be nailed to the 2 x 2. Adequate space should remain between the boards for aerating the pile. It is advisable to pre-drill all the nail holes to simplify nailing and to minimize splitting of the wood.
  • The compost bin should be set in place and its corners driven deep into the ground using a heavy hammer or a sledge hammer.

The height of the bin can either be 2 or 3 boards high as it depends on the expected compost. The space between the stakes should not exceed 3″. Alternatively, consider stapling 1/4″ galvanized mesh to the interior and leave the large spaces.

When Is The Best Time To Compost?

A compost bin can be started at any time. This is because compost piles are capable of generating their own heat. However, the best times to compost are in the months of spring and fall.

Spring is the best time to compost as it is also the time most people plant their gardens. The warm weather facilitates an easier break down of the compost materials.

Start a compost bin in the fall at the time when you are cleaning the garden and preparing for the cold months. This allows the compost pile to gradually grow in readiness for spring. Furthermore, the bin will act as a good disposal spot for leaves.

How Do I Make Compost?

Composting in the correct manner uses a simple approach and there are two types of composting i.e. hot and cold.

You are probably wondering – what is hot composting?!

Hot composting is a faster process and is considered to be for serious gardeners. It allows the gardener to get compost in just one to three months especially in warm weather. It needs four ingredients i.e. water, air, carbon and nitrogen. It is these items that feed microorganisms which in turn expedite the decay process.

On the other hand, cold composting involves collecting yard waste and simply collecting them in a bin or yard.

I think you get the idea.

Items to compost include sawdust from untreated wood, straw, shredded newspaper, finely chopped wood and bark chips, dry leaves, grass and plant clippings, eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps and fruit scraps.

Avoid items such as dairy products, dog or cat faeces, chips or sawdust from pressure-treated wood, deceased plant materials and items with grease, fat, oil and meat.

The composting steps are as follows:

  • Combine brown and green materials. Collect adequate materials i.e. 3 feet and above. Build the pile gradually using green and brown items.
    Add brown items in case your pile smells and appears too wet. Add water and green items if it appears very dry and brown.
  • Regular sprinkling of water is mandatory for it to achieve the consistency of damp sponges. Too much water is discouraged because it can drown the organisms present.
    The temperature should be carefully monitored using a thermometer to ensure proper decomposition is taking place. It should be warm.
  • The pile should be stirred up to provide adequate oxygen, this can be done on a weekly basis using a garden fork.
    Turn at temperatures of 130 – 150 degrees F or when the pile feels warm. Stirring helps in cooking and eliminates odor.
  • When the compost ceases to produce heat and is now crumbly, brown and dry, it is properly cooked and ready for use.

Follow all of these steps and you should be left with a great compost bin and some glorious compost to benefit your garden!



Want to learn more about composting? You can find more information here:

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4 thoughts on “Building A Compost Bin: A Guide From Scratch”

  1. Hi, I do have a question for you. I live in the lovely rainy state of Washington. we get lots of rain. you said not to let the compost get to wet, any ideas on how I could keep it from getting to wet?? I have lots of trees surrounding my home, but nowhere I could put this to keep it from being soaked.

    • Hi Lynda, I suspect the easiest way will either be to make some kind of waterproof roof to put over it Or you could buy a cheap waterproof tarpaulin to protect it. Hope you find something that works!

  2. Couldn’t agree more that composting is not only important but extremely satisfying when you see the results in your garden. I’ve been composting for 50 years and would add just a note or two to your construction guide. As you say weather proof screws and nails are tantamount to keeping your bin together. I would add that when you pick your scrap wood don’t use treated wood or wood that may have lead paint on it.
    We keep our kitchen scraps in a bin in the freezer until it’s full, usually weekly. Then dig to the center of the pile to add it. That way you’re not dealing with it daily and you are still there often enough to monitor the decomposition and to keep it turned.
    All the best!

    • Thank you so much for adding your expert advice to my post Jim, it really is much appreciated. Sounds like you are quite the expert, I may have to call on you to write a guest post sometime!


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