Want to create a DIY compost bin? This guide on how to make compost at home will show you how to start composting.
What do banana peels, dead leaves, and cow poop all have in common? If you’re thinking nutrients for the garden, you’d be right. Making your own compost adds nutrient-dense, rich soil to your garden and saves money and resources. Who doesn’t love that idea? Compost is easy to get started, and you probably have scraps and compost-friendly items already. So throw them in and learn how to make your compost at home.
Three Different Ways to Create Compost
There are a few different ways that you can create compost in your home, and choosing which one will work the best will have a direct impact on the type of DIY compost bin idea you want. The main types of composting are as follows:
If you choose aerobic composting, you’re introducing air into the materials to help break down the materials quicker. You’ll have to stir or turn the compost every few days, and it’s helpful to have a compost tumbler to help with this chore. All you have to do is add your scraps and turn the handle to keep it well aerated. Ideally, you’ll add a lot of green matter that has higher levels of nitrogen like grass clippings to the mix.
As the bacteria starts to break down the higher nitrogen items, the temperature starts to rise. This speeds up how quickly the compost breaks down. You can also add moisture via hose or watering can if you have an enclosed system. If you forget to turn the mix and keep it moist, it produces a very powerful odor. Leave at least ¼ or more of the composter empty to ensure good aeration.
You should be able to tell by looking at the work that this is the opposite of aerobic composting. This type of composting is very low-effort on your part, but it’s slow. All you have to do is toss your scraps into your DIY compost bin idea and leave it shut for a year or longer. This type of composting has a very foul odor to it due to the rotting ingredients. Without getting any oxygen, nastier bacteria take over, like they do in a landfill.
This type of composting utilizes moisture, oxygen, and worms to break down any organic matter without producing a lot of odors. The worms will do the hard work, alongside bacteria. Red worms are a fan favorite for this composting type. It has very little dangerous bacteria and produces no methane, an earthy smell, and you don’t need to turn it a lot. Also, you can have this indoors or outdoors, takes minutes each week, and it’s very easy to harvest the fertilizer when you need it.
Benefits of Making Your Own Compost
Making your own compost is one of those projects that keeps on giving. Aside from the obvious supply of soil for your garden, making your compost at home also means your garden won’t need to be fertilized as frequently. Frequent use of commercial fertilizers can end up doing more harm than good in your garden, so using your own compost adds beneficial microbes and nutrients without the harsh chemicals.
Think about cost, too. Making your own compost means saving money in the long run. Initially, you might spend to get your compost up and running, but as you add to it, you won’t be buying bagged soils as often.
And speaking of saving, you can keep so many biodegradables out of landfills. More than just food scraps can be thrown into your compost. Plain paper towels and napkins, nail clippings, your hair — things like this are what you’re saving from your trash bin, which ends up in a landfill. No more unnecessary waste.
Plus, with composting, you can ensure you’re giving your garden nutrient-dense and healthy soil.
Types of Compost You Can Make at Home
There are quite a few composting options when it comes to making your own compost. From worm bins to homemade compost tea, there’s no one way to enrich your compost.
One of the easiest and most affordable methods of homemade compost is creating a compost pile. This is just what it sounds like: a large pile of compost. Use this type of compost method in a spot out of the way in your yard, and that’s basically it. Mix up your pile a few times a week, make sure it’s moist, and you have one of the most simple homemade compost methods.
A worm farm is a great composting option. Worms will give you nutrient-rich castings, which plants absolutely love. Make your own worm bin very easily with a couple of plastic storage totes, and a cup of worms. Your worms will eat your kitchen scraps too, so it’s another great way to reduce waste.
Keeping a worm farm is an easy way to build compost for your DIY compost bins.
If you have friends or family with horses, cows, chickens, or other livestock, or you live in an area where you’re near some, collect the manure to add to your homemade compost. Most farms and ranches are more than happy to donate their animals’ poop. It’s a win-win.
You can also make compost tea. This is a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used much like a fertilizer in your garden. Simply fill a gallon jug with water, molasses, sprinkle in some soil, sawdust, or plain mulch, and then add some food scraps and shake. Let that sit and ferment for a few days and add it to your compost.
You can also do this with canned fish like sardines, or remnant fish parts and make a fish emulsion: just add fish to your water mix rather than the food scraps. Plants love dead fish juice. If you ever need an organic fertilizer or want to give your compost a nutrient boost, fish emulsion is a life saver.
Items You Can Use in Your DIY Compost
It’s kind of mind-blowing, really, when you think about how many of the items needed to make rich compost for your DIY compost bins can be found around your home. Below is a list of different items that can be added to your compost which will increase the variety of nutrient content in your composting.
- The most common household items that we think to compost first are of course our kitchen scraps. Fruits, veggies, eggshells, coffee grounds, and used tea bags are all safe to use in your DIY compost bins.
- Paper products like paper towels and napkins (no prints), coffee filters, newspaper, cardboard, printer and notebook paper can all be added to your compost. Those flimsy paper plates are good, too. Be sure the paper items you’re adding don’t have glossy, colored finishes, as the chemicals can break down into your DIY compost bins.
- Plant debris like grass clippings, wood chips, straw, hedge trimmings, weeds (with no seed heads), those leaves you just raked up, and spent cut flowers can all be added to your compost to give it a nitrogen boost.
- Hair can safely be added as long as there haven’t been any chemicals applied to it. So the next time you clean your hair brush, or even your pet’s hair brush, add that hair to your DIY compost bins. Again, make sure the hair hasn’t been exposed to chemicals like flea medication, hairspray, or chemical dyes.
Throw your garden clippings in your DIY compost bins as long as there are no harmful chemicals.
As mentioned, this list is not exhaustive, and you’d be surprised how quickly these things add up when you’re paying attention. Even aquarium water (freshwater) and boiled pasta water are good for the compost. As long as your compost items are natural and don’t contain any harmful toxins, you’re safe using hundreds of different items for DIY compost bins.
Making your compost at home with DIY compost bins means reducing kitchen waste — win-win!
How to Make Your Own DIY Compost at Home
Use this easy step-by-step process to start your compost, and keep it in mind when adding new items and making new composts.
1. Prep the area you’ll be using to store your compost bin.
If you’re making a compost pile, your area should be one that’s out of the way and won’t directly interfere with movement in the garden. Whether you purchase a composter or build your own DIY compost bin, the area where you store your compost bin should be easily accessible. With either option, your area needs to be fully shaded. Too much sun can dry out your compost bins. You want warm and moist DIY compost bins — yes, I said it.
2. Begin your first compost layer.
The first layer of your DIY compost bins should be a soil-based medium. It needs to be a thick layer to get decomposition of your compost items started. Reusing leftover soil from spent pots is a great way to create this first layer. If you’re making a compost pile at home, spread out the soil layer. If you’re using a composter, fill the composter about a ¼ full with your first layer. Wet the medium thoroughly.
3. Add your kitchen and food scraps, manure, or any plant-based material.
In this step, you’ll be adding all the good stuff you’ve collected for your DIY compost bins. Food scraps, paper products, your lawn clippings and wood chips — add whatever you have collected and soak it all down with your hose. Mix it well and let it sit.
4. Keep adding to your compost.
Keep adding layers of food scraps, plant debris, and paper biodegradables to your compost. In between each layer of scrap, add a layer of soil-based medium to keep in moisture and heat. Add water when it looks dry and mix it up once a week.
It’s really that simple. It’s an enjoyable process for me, as I get to watch the soil form from all the scrap. There are so many benefits to making your compost at home with DIY compost bins — you just need to get started composting and watch your DIY compost bins or compost tumblers work their magic.
Building your own compost bin with DIY compost bins is another way to save money on composting at home.
12 DIY Compost Bin Ideas
Now that you know how to make compost, you’ll want some DIY compost bin ideas to go with it. This way, you can create your own setup from the ground up, get all the compost you need, and have a place to put those pesky garden scraps or lawn trimmings.
1. Storage Bin
One of the easiest DIY compost bin ideas is better used for smaller amounts of compost. All you’ll have to do for it is pick out a spot to set your storage bin. This could be in your deck or back patio, or you could set it close to the garden or kitchen so you don’t have to walk far with your scraps. Pick out a storage bin to suit your needs, but it does have to have a decent lid on it. Plastic is preferred for the material, and the lid should optimally have locks on it. If you want to move it, make sure it has wheels. Once you get your bin in place, you can load in your composting materials and lock the lid. Allow it to sit and continue laying compost materials in as you get it. When you need compost, open the lid, take out what you need, and lock it again.
2. Straw Bales
You’ve most likely heard of straw bale gardening, but what about a DIY compost bin made out of straw bales? This is an excellent temporary solution that will allow you to create compost through one growing season. It’s cost-effective, quick, and easy to set up. First, decide how large you want your bin to be. You’ll make a box using straw bales that fit these measurements. You’ll typically stack them two or three bales high. It’s also a good idea to stagger the bales for more stability. So, don’t stack them one directly on top of the other. Instead, put the bales so that the bales on the next level span the spot where the two lower ones slide together. You don’t need a floor for this option, and you can incorporate the straw as it starts to rot to make your compost more nutrient-rich.
3. Hinged Pallets
For this DIY compost bin, all you’ll need is four wooden pallets, nails or screws, nail or screw gun, and a pair of sturdy hinges. You can add an optional latch too if you want one side to open. Make sure all of your pallets are the same size because they will create the walls for your compost bin. Set them up to create a square and use your nails or screws to attach them to one another. You may want to put metal braces on the inside bottom and top corners to connect the pallets and create a more sturdy build, but this is optional. Connect three walls together and put the hinges on the fourth pallet. Attach the hinges to the other pallet wall to create a door. If you’re adding a latch, now is the time to install it. Add your scraps, lawn trimmings, or whatever else you want to have and let it create compost.
4. Garbage Bin
An old (or new) plastic garbage bin makes a great DIY compost bin idea. You will need a level area and four pavers to hoist the garbage bin above the ground. Doing so will allow the liquid to drain off your compost. If you get a rounded bin, make sure it has a locking lid. This will allow you to tip it on its side and tumble the compost from time to time to mix everything together to make sure you get even layers. For square bins, you can rock them side to side to help mix the compost. Get something and punch aeration holes up and down the sides of your garbage bin. You can put a few on the bottom for drainage too. Set the bin on the pavers, put your material inside, and allow it to go to work for you.
Almost everyone has a metal or plastic garbage bin laying around, and you can repurpose it to create an easy bin that can hold a decent amount of materials. Compost Bin (Before) by Pat Joyce / CC BY-NC 2.0
5. Wine Barrels
Larger wine barrels are awesome when you’re harvesting rainwater, but they’re also a practical and easy DIY compost bin idea. Ideally, you’ll get two or three of these wine barrels so you can create a continuous cycle of ready compost while still having space for your newer scraps. Once you source your wine barrels, all you have to do is set them up in a row alongside your garden area. Fill the first one ¾ full and make a point to periodically mix it to bring the bottom material up to the top. When it’s full, you’ll start on the second wine barrel, and so forth. This will stagger when your compost is ready to use, and it ensures that you always have compost on hand to amend your soil.
6. Stackable Milk Crates
Anyone who only needs a small amount of compost doesn’t have to worry about creating a large DIY compost bin. Instead, you can get away with smaller amounts. All you’ll need for this bin is a few stackable plastic milk crates. You want more than one so you can stagger your compost out and ensure you never find yourself without any. Get your milk crates and add your compost ingredients in. Find a flat surface and stack them one on top of the other. Three or four are enough, and they’re still stable at this height. Use the compost on the bottom first, and rotate the milk crates when you finish with one. You can easily label each crate so you know which one to take next if you’re worried about mixing them up. The top milk crate should have a lid of some sort, and a piece of wood is more than efficient.
7. Natural Woven Bin
Generally speaking, most DIY compost bin ideas are more for function than form, and this can stick out in a nice garden or yard display. So, this idea introduces a whimsical look if you’re willing to take the time and make it. You’ll need sturdy sticks or poles and lots of grapevines to complete it. Decide the shape and size of the bin and section this area off with the poles. Get your grape vine and start weaving them around the poles to enclose the bin. You’ll want longer pieces because this gives the walls more structure and support. Start at the bottom and weave the grape vines around your design as high as you want the walls. Dump your compost mixture inside the structure and lay something over the top to completely enclose it. The items will break down and be ready, and you have room to stir it around periodically.
8. Wire Fencing
This DIY compost bin idea utilizes around 12 feet of wire fencing, zip ties or hinges, two-foot pole for the handle, and mesh hardware cloth. Measure out your circle where you want to form the body of the bin and bend the wire fencing to fit this circular pattern. You can zip tip the ends together to complete the circle, or you can easily bend wire together. For the lid, you’ll take your mesh hardware cloth and mark out the dimensions of the top opening. Cut the mesh hardware cloth slightly larger than this dimension and bend the ends down around the larger wire sides to lock it into place. Cut a two-foot by two-foot hole in the mesh hardware cloth for a door. Attach it back with a few zip ties. You can also zip tie the wooden pole to form a handle. You should wear safety glasses and gloves to avoid injuring yourself when you bend the wire into shape.
New compost bin by amanda / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Wire is one material for your DIY compost bin idea that can survive several seasons and other elements without breaking down, so you get a lot of use out of it.
9. Lattice Bin
For this compost bin, you’ll need one 4×8 piece of thicker lattice fencing. To start, measure and mark out three 32-inch by 48-inch strips. This will divide your lattice piece up into three equal parts. Cut one of the three parts in half to create a 24-inch by 32-inch piece. This will be for the short side of the compost bin. Next, purchase eight sets of hook-and-eye fasteners and attach two of them on each corner of your compost box. One should be at the top of each corner and one should be at the bottom. You’ll want to drill the holes to prevent it from splitting. You want to leave this bin open to the rain and the air to allow it to inject nutrients into the compost materials and help break them down quicker.
10. Landscaping Timbers
Landscape timbers can help you create a very rustic and sturdy DIY compost bin idea. You’ll need four 7/16 steel rods, 20 eight-foot long landscape timbers, four eight-inch tall landscape pavers, and a drill. Get your drill and drill 7/16 holes into each end of your landscape timbers. You’ll form a square with five timbers on each side. Make sure the holes you drilled line up because you’ll drive the steel poles down into each corner right to the landscape paver to stabilize the stack. Once they’re in, you can put your straw bales and compost into the new compost bin. This is a significantly large bin, so you’ll need to have a plan on where to use all of the compost it creates.
11. Cinder Block Bin
This compost bin requires you to have a decent amount of cinder blocks around. All you have to do is create stacks of cinder blocks to form the walls of this DIY compost bin idea, You shouldn’t have to put anything in them to keep them upright. However, if you want a more hidden wall design, you’ll flip the cinder blocks on their sides and build them up to create the walls. This also gives you a place to drive steel poles into each block to make them more sturdy, but this is completely optional. You can either completely enclose all four walls or do three walls and leave one open for easy access. Don’t put a lid on this bin to allow for air circulation and rain to get in to help with the decomposition process.
12. Counter Top Bin
If you only need a tiny amount of compost, you can easily create a counter top bin for your home. You may want to store it outside though because compost can smell, especially if you plan on putting food scraps in. To start, you’ll need a few old plastic or metal coffee cans or even paint cans. Whatever you get, it should have a lockable lid on it to prevent accidental spills. Punch a few holes in the lid of each can to allow for aeration before you fill it with your compost material. Periodically shake the compost bin to mix up your material, and allow it to sit and break down for several weeks. The plastic will heat up under the sun or light, and this can speed up the decomposition process.
DIY compost bins are an excellent way to get nutrient-rich compost for your flowers, gardens, or other plants. We’ve told you what excellent ingredients are, and you most likely have them around your home. You can decide which method works best for you and build your own DIY compost bin to suit your needs to give you fresh, readily-available compost all year round.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.