There’s plenty of reasons to start composting!
Think of compost as a soil conditioner for your garden or lawn. You’re adding minerals, microorganisms and organic matter to help your landscape prosper— all stuff proven to dramatically improve your soil structure to promise long-term results.
If you already eat organic, use your food waste to create a more natural, nutrient-dense fertilizer than most big box stores offer. Composting adds often neglected micronutrients like manganese, copper, iron, and zinc to your soil— minerals that many commercial fertilizers often lack.
Plus, once you invest in the compost bin, the compost is free to make! Need we say more?
Here’s a quick way to make-your-own compost bin, using plastic storage containers:
What You’ll Need
There are only a few things you’ll need to start making your own compost at home:
- Two large plastic storage containers, with tight-fitting lids (both the same size)
- A drill and a ⅛ inch size bit
- Dry decomposable materials, like leaves, thin twigs, etc.
- Wet decomposable materials, like food scraps
- A container of earthworms (optional, yet recommended. Learn more below)
How to Make the Compost Bin
Making a compost bin for under $20 isn’t hard. Once you’ve gathered your supplies, it’s just seven easy steps to DIY composting.
- Get your plastic bins. Head over to your local Wal*Mart or Home Depot and buy two large plastic storage containers, at least 24 inches tall or higher. On sale, you can likely find these for only a few bucks. Make sure the containers come with tight-sealing lids, as keeping your bin closed will allow the compost to retain moisture and protect it against the outdoor elements.
- Power up your drill. Drill ⅛ inch sized holes every three inches along all four sides of the plastic containers. On one of the containers only, drill holes on the bottom of the container too. Then, drill three rows of holes across the lid of one of the containers, leaving the other untouched. Empty any plastic residue from the inside of the storage containers.
- Place one bin inside of the other. Place the container with the base holes inside of the other. The bin should lock into the lip of the other, suspending it slightly higher. This creates a gap inside, so any excess moisture will be able to drip into the second bin, helping to ensure your compost doesn’t oversaturate or leak stinky juice all over! The holes allow for airflow and oxygen to break down the matter.
- Choose a convenient home for your compost bin. Before you start filling the compost, find a good spot for it to “live.” It can be placed outside of your back door to make adding to it easy or place it in a sheltered area, out of sight. Ensure it’s undercover to stay sheltered from the rain or excessive sun, which can cause your compost to overheat, “baking” and creating a smell. Fortunately, using two containers helps to contain any decomposition odor.
- Add your starter dry materials. When composting, it’s best to layer dry materials with wet, incrementally. Start your first layer with dry materials— like leaves, broken down sticks, grass clippings, and dirt. If you add a newspaper, ensure it’s damp to promote decomposition. These organic matters will create a stable base, and stop the wet fruits and veggie excretions from dripping greatly into the bottom of the bin.
- Release the worms! While your compost can break down materials without worms, these little guys will expedite the process. The worms feed on the scraps—called “vermicomposting”— and the organic matter gets recycled back into the compost. Go to your local tackle shop or order Rig Wiggler earthworms online. The number of worms you’ll need will vary depending on the size of your bin, but you can generally start with a 250 count. Open your container of friendly earthworms and let nature’s organic garbage disposals loose in your compost dirt mix!
- Add your kitchen scraps. Before adding your kitchen compostables— like vegetable pieces, fruit skins, etc.— be sure you chop them up very finely. This will help them to break down faster and are easier for worms to consume.
Maintaining Your Compost
With the right mix of fresh food scraps and natural dry materials, your compost will thrive. But what’s the right mix?
Use a ratio that is roughly 25-30 parts carbon material (AKA your materials) to one part nitrogen (AKA green veggies and food scraps) inside of your compost. Too much dry material will slow down decomposition, while not enough will lead to a smelly bin!
You must periodically “turn” the contents to aerate the pile and to shift material from inactive decomposition areas to active. With long rubber gloves on (avoid using a shovel if you have worms, as you can kill them!), dig deep into the compost bin and bring materials from the base to the top. “Fluffing up” the compost allows trapped oxygen to be released and for everything to integrate thoroughly to form a robust mix.
There’s no secret time period for aerating your compost, but we recommend shifting the contents every three days or so. Turning too often— like daily— will disrupt the formation of the fungi and actinomycetes that help with decomposition.
In contrast, leaving your compost to sit too long can lead to some crazy growth (yes, food scraps can root and start growing in there like they were planted in dirt!). You don’t want to open it up after a week or two and find a potato plant-eating all your rich nutrients, meant for fertilizing your garden.
Pro tip: Keep it moist. Spritz some winter into your compost frequently, keeping the inside of the container nice and moist to induce decay.
Fertilizing Your Garden or Lawn
After your plastic compost bin creates some nutrient-rich compost, it’s time to share the wealth with your plants.
Sprinkle some of this dense organic matter around your garden or throughout your lawn. The great thing about compost is that it can take a few days to slowly break down and nourish your plants, needing to first incorporate into the soil before sending juice to your roots. Because of this “slow-release,” it’s almost impossible to over-fertilize using compost!
Lay down a fresh layer of compost once a month during the growing season, or whenever you have enough to spread around. Then, ta-da! Your landscape will flourish.
Everything You Need to Know About Fertilizing
Watch your “waste” become rich nutrients for your turf and plants with the help of your own DIY compost bin.
If you love taking care of your landscape yourself, then you have to get your hands on our Ultimate Guide to Fertilization! It includes a whole section on composting, as well as more information about choosing the best fertilizer for your yard.
Best of all, it’s completely free. Download it today!