I've wanted to try making my own compost for awhile now. However, with compost bins at big box stores starting at around $50 and going up to as much as $250, it was something that I kept pushing to the bottom of my to-do list. I decided to check out one of my favorite blogs, Young House Love, to see if they had any ideas for a DIY budget compost bin, and to my pleasant surprise, they did!
John and Sherry Petersik of Young House Love recommend using a simple plastic bin with a lid as a compost bin. Now, I (probably) know what you're thinking. That plastic bin doesn't look anything like the barrel-style compost bins sold at big box stores. Well, the great thing is that it also doesn't cost anywhere near as much! You can pick up one of these babies at a big box store for under $10. The one that I bought (pictured above) can hold up to 30 gallons, and it only cost $9.87 at Home Depot.
Before putting anything in your compost bin, you need to drill some holes in both the bottom of the bin and the lid for aeration. Young House Love recommends drilling 8 to 10 holes. Alex used a 1/4" drill bit for this.
After you're finished drilling the holes, you're ready to start composting!
You should start with a base of what are often referred to as browns. Browns are things like branches, dead leaves, and twigs. Browns add carbon to your compost. Greens (fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds) add nitrogen to your compost. It's important to have both carbon and nitrogen, because the organisms that decompose the things that you put into your compost need carbon for energy and nitrogen to build cell structures.
I chose to use dead leaves and a few twigs that were mixed in with them for my base because they were already in my yard. I was originally going to use shredded paper, but after a little research online, I discovered that it's not good to use printer paper, especially paper that has been printed on, because the paper is bleached and most inks contain nasty chemicals and heavy metals-- things that you don't want in your garden, especially if you plan on using your compost to grow food. If you have any doubts about whether or not you should compost something, just do a bit of research online. Some things that you should not compost include dairy products, eggs, meat, pet waste, and plants that have been treated with pesticides.
I filled my compost bin about 1/8 with dead leaves. Young House Love recommends filling your compost bin 1/8 to 1/4 with your base material.
Next, you should add even more browns on top of your base. Young House Love says to use dirt at this step, but I had some dirt mixed with sawdust and plant matter from when we had our palm tree stump ground last fall, so I used that.
I filled my compost bin a bit under halfway with this mixture of dirt, sawdust, and plant matter. I wanted to leave plenty of room to add more browns and greens over time.
Finish by adding in your greens. I used some leftover spinach, tangerines, apples, and carrots. Cover everything with dirt and give your compost a light watering-- you want it to be moist but not soaking wet, as over watering can cause your compost to stink. The lid of your bin will help your compost retain moisture and keep out pests. If you put your compost in the sun, it will warm up and decompose much faster. Cutting your greens up into small pieces and turning your compost daily can also help speed up the process.
It's been about two weeks since I started composting. I've since added strawberries, banana peels, broccoli, egg shells, and tea bags. All of the leaves at the bottom of my compost bin have already decomposed! I'm pleasantly surprised by how low-maintenance it is, and I feel good knowing that all of our food scraps aren't going to waste. I'm hoping that the compost will be ready to use in a few more weeks when I'm ready to start planting my first-ever vegetable garden.
You can check out Young House Love's compost bin tutorial here. For more composting tips and information about what to compost and what not to compost, check out the United States Environmental Protection Agency's composting guide.