I recently read an article stating the two most important things you can do for your garden is mulch and compost. Up until last week my gardens were void of both! I’m happy to report now with our DIY compost bin one of the two have been addressed.
I had a compost pile several years ago when we lived in the country and it attracted a bear… Scared me so I quit composting for a while! Since then, I’ve been reading a lot about composting and feel compelled to get back at it. I think it’ll be good for both our organic veggies in the raised containers we have, as well as all the flower beds around the house.
On refreshing myself with why, how and what to compost, made me think how easy it is to do and so good for plants! Compost is pretty much the best fertilizer and it’s totally free, all you need is patience. Well, patience and ‘stuff’.
The ‘stuff’ is pretty straight forward, here’s a list of what to put in a compost:
- grass clippings and yard waste
- kitchen fruit and veggie scraps, just no meat or grease
- paper, just not shiny print
- wood ash
- wood chips
What NOT to put in a compost:
- I’d avoid sick plants just in case it could spread disease.
- I’d also avoid weed seeds. Even though the compost heat should kill them, I’d still avoid it just in case.
- Never put in poison ivy leaves, vine or roots. Even dead, the leftover oils will have the ability to spread the itch to you!
- No meat or grease
- No dog or cat feces
- I also avoid anything that’s been treated, like grass clippings. (see explanation below)
Heat and Moisture: Both heat and moisture are your friends with composting. Both will help it to ‘cook’ faster and decompose into just about the best fertilizer you could put on your plants. For the heat, I’ve read if you can put it in a spot where it gets some hours of sunlight, to help heat it up is good, but not absolutely necessary. During a dry spell, giving it a douse of water every now and then will encourage the organic breakdown to keep on breaking down.
Timing: Ideally what I put in the compost pile this summer will be ready to use in 2 years, (see what I mean about patience?!) That’s for me, up in Wisconsin, where winters are cold and the compost pile just sits frozen during that season. If you’re where it’s warmer, you probably can have it ready in a year.
Grass Clippings: I’ve read from several people that adding grass clippings to the compost really makes a huge difference. It aids in the heating, and probably adds tons of nitrogen for the finished product. We don’t treat our lawn with chemicals, so I am happy to add our clippings to the compost. I’m not sure about using treated grass clippings in compost though. First, I would not want to add that to my organic veggie garden. I actually wonder what effect those chemicals would have on the process of the organic breakdown of the compost?
Care and Maintenance: Care is super easy for the compost. You can turn it regularly being mindful to keep it moist to speed it up a bit. Or you can just ignore it and over time it’ll still breakdown and become compost. Honestly, once you put the ‘stuff’ in a pile, you’d be hard pressed to stop it from composting, so this is a super chill process.
Container: I first thought I’d get a compost barrel to do the composting in. That seemed neat and clean. I also liked how easy it was to turn the pile with a few rotations of the barrel. However, a couple of things swayed me from that thought. First of all, we do have the space for a much larger compost bin. Then as I was working through the process in my mind of adding grass clippings from the mower bagger, I decided to be able to dump them on the ground is a ton easier than having to shove them into a raised barrel.
All that being said, if you have a smaller space, a barrel type composter may be just the perfect fit! Here are some great choices:
- If you’re in the US here are several choices including a wood bin style, in case you don’t find almost free cedar boards like I did.
- For my UK readers, this one at Thompson & Morgan looks great!
I decided to embrace the 3 year compost method, 1 year to add stuff to it, 1 year for it to just sit and compost, and the final year to use it. That’s how I landed on the 3 bin DIY compost bin.
Here’s what we did to make the DIY compost bin:
For the wood, I was initially going to make it from pallets, but fortunately came across some almost free cedar decking and posts. Fortunately, because I later found out that most pallets are treated with insecticide and other chemicals that I definitely wouldn’t want in my compost!
Also fortunately, because cedar is a little pricey, and to buy this many cedar boards and posts at the lumber yard would have been a hefty investment for this compost bin. Facebook Marketplace is a great resource to save and re-use!
Once the boards were sorted, we figured out how big the compost bins could be. That’s the thing when you find ‘treasures’ like almost free cedar boards, you have to be willing to compromise and design with whatcha got!
We didn’t want to have the posts buried in the ground, instead the plan was for the bins to be attached to each other and provide its own stability.
We measured and clamped a simple jig on the picnic table next to the radial arm saw to make cutting easier.
Next, we screwed the boards onto the posts, leaving half the post exposed for the adjoining boards.
After making level pads with concrete and pavers for the posts, we set the end posts and attached panel up. We started with the end piece of the corner, That was fairly stable to stand on it’s own with a little support, while we constructed the next panel and post and added it to it.
My husband and I worked together on this project, so holding it stable while screwing in more boards was easy with 4 hands. If I was working alone, I’d have to be clever with some temporarily added boards to support it during this process.
We continued down the row of attached bins, adding the last end after 3 bin areas were built.
The next step was to built the dividers between the bins.
This was the same process. Create the level pad to set the post on. Add the boards, attaching it to both the front post and the back wall post. At this point, the DIY compost bin was quite stable.
But just to give the ends and dividers a little more stability in case they got bumped extra hard, we added some top angled supports. We considered adding a cross board in the front, but because you have to go into the bin to both empty the mower bagger and to turn the compost, as well as when it’s time to shovel it out for using, I opted to not have anything in the front of the bins. I could just see myself trip over it and take a digger face first into the compost heap! If the sides feel like they are too wobbly later on, I can always add something more.
The top angles were easy for us ‘novices’ to cut. Once we screwed the top support boards onto the top, allowing it to hang over a bit on each end, we then cut that extra end part off with a saw by just following the edge of the wall. No need to try to figure angle cuts.
There are my 3 bins, the first one already has 2 weeks worth of grass clippings nicely decaying in it. I still need to retrain myself to not throw the kitchen scraps into the trash!
Now onto the other most important thing for the garden… mulch!
So how about you? Do you have a compost bin? Do you notice a difference using it for your plants?
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Here are more gardening projects I’ve been working on: