How to build a compost bin

Not too long after I started this site (back when it was still hosted with WordPress) I set out to build a compost bin for my new house.  I had plans to take pictures of the process and blog about it, but I never did.  I think that I thought I had done all those things, then only recently realised I had not done those things.  So, with about 2 years of composting behind me, I can tell you how I did it and how well it has worked out (so far).

The first thing I did was try to find a spot for my compost bin to go.  The best places are away from the house window (mine doesn’t stink, but ensuring that even in the event that it did the aroma wouldnt reach the window gave me enough capital to complete the project), shaded to prevent drying out, and with enough room for you to easily get to all sides of the box to stir the mix occasionally.

There are a few different designs, but I went with this one from Lowes that I originally saw on gather little by little (which has been sold since that post).  It’s fairly simple, but because of space (and I think fiscal) constraints I built only 1/2 of the design.  I also didn’t think that I’d need the whole design with two people.  The design has worked well, but there are a few things I’d like to note:

1) the screens on one side were quickly chewed through by an inquisitive hound, so they were replaced with wood.
2) the screen on the top of the box did not work well for me.  At first I thought it was genius because it would allow snowmelt to get through in the winter months, and still allow for air circulation.  It worked well until the snow on the lid partially melted, then re-froze, creating a layer of ice on the lid that was quickly weighed down by more snow, then ended up tearing the screen (I have yet to find a solution to this)
3) the design on this is ok, but after having it for two years, I can say that I’d go another way with it.  You.have to manually turn the pile with a shovel (or pitchfork) and it has to be done fairly frequently.  Sometimes I forget to turn the heap, and its a real pain.  If I had to do it over, I’d make one that has some sort of turning mechanism integrated.  It will save you a lot of time and hassle.

The bin was easy enough to build, and aside from the wood, I had most of the needed materials on hand.
One of the biggest hurdles that I’ve found is getting the scraps from the kitchen to the heap before the fruit flies get to it.  I have modified a gallon jug/old milk carton for this, but it has no lid.   I like the one that Matt jabs has over on his site, and would make one if I could get an empty coffee container without having to buy one to throw out.

Readers: do you compost? Where do you store your compost pile and what do you plan on using the soils for?

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About Jeff

Jeff is the founder of sustainable life blog and has been interested in sustainability for most of his life. After realizing in 2007 that his finances were a total wreck, he started reading financial blogs and quickly realized that what is best for your wallet is typically better for the earth, and is usually healthier. On sustainable life blog Jeff shares his journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. For updates, subscribe by email or like us on facebook.


  1. One of my goals before fall is to start a compost bin for next years gardens. With all the work on the kitchen, though, I haven’t gotten to it yet, so we have just been tilling fruit rinds and other organic things into the soil. It’s worked pretty well.

    What are you using the compost for?

    • Glad your composing method is working. I havent decided where i’m going to use it, though I suspect it will be in my yet to be planted garden. Hopefully next year!

  2. I built a compost bin out of 4 free pallets, zip ties, and a scrap piece of 2×10. It has two compartments and works great!

  3. We have a plastic (yes I know) compost bin that we purchased from the County. We put grass clippings and garden waste that has been run over with the mower plus some sandy dirt. Husband mixes it with a tool, can’t remember the name, that has 4 tines set at right angles from each other and the handle. The composter has 2 parts, top and bottom and is made to be animal proof. There is a slide in panel at the bottom to retrieve completed compost. We use it on all our raised beds.

    I make ‘instant’ compost in non-rainy seasons – after supper I put all kitchen waste including tea bags & paper wrappings in the blender with a couple cups of water, usually waste cooking water or leftover tea or coffee, blend, put in a shallow trench in the garden and it’s gone in 2 days. During rainy season I simply plant the kitchen waste in a shallow trench and it’s still gone in a couple of days.

    I was raised with a compost bin and I’m almost 65 so it’s just a way of life with me. Have had a pile or bucket in CT, IN, TN, FL, and even Sicily. All worked well.

    • Wow bellen –
      I’ve never heard of the instant type compost. I’ll have to look into that. Your plastic bin sounds like a pretty nice operation. I’ve seen some ones like that and they seem to work pretty well.

  4. I have composted in the past, but not with a bin. I just had an area or heap in the backyard where I tossed everything. But honestly, there wasn’t much food in my composting. It was mainly grass and leaves with some food mixed in there when I would remember.

    I tend to get side tracked and forget I am doing things like composting, but to be honest I didn’t have a real aim with it. I was just curious. Ended up using the dirt for a garden that I didn’t maintain very much. I have found I am not a very handy person outside of the house, but need and want to grow out of that.

    • I’ve found that piles are easily neglected, freddie (and i’ve got a dog, so she gets into it) but I sometimes forget about the composting heap as well. I know way more stuff could go in there, but I just forget about it sometimes. Something I’ve got to work on as well.

  5. I have to admit we bought our bin. It looks like a Darth Vader helmet (I think its called the Earth Machine). We inherited a kitchen compost that likely cost my Mom about $15. It has a lid that snaps shut.

    My father-in-law built his composter out of shipping flats and it works quite well for him. He even did a workshop for landowners on his lake on how to build their own. About 9 people came out during that sweltering July!

    • That sounds like a great deal SPF – I built mine because I was looking for a project at the time (I didnt have a job yet) and it was fun.

  6. I compost, but I do it a very easy way. My compost bin is a plastic storage box (like the big Rubbermaid kind) with holes drilled alone all 6 sides. It took me about 20 minutes to make and it is the perfect size for me. I am thinking of adding another one to my garden, actually, just so I always have a constant supply of compost.

  7. At our old house, we had a plastic compost bin from the county. It didn’t work out that well because it’s difficult to turn and I put too much leaves in there. I think I’ll go with one of those spinable mixer the next time. They look very convenient, but I probably have to research a bit more.

  8. Our city was practically giving them away last year to encourage composting so we got two more. We love it. It has really helped my garden this year. It does help to stir it often though- I find you get compost quicker that way.

  9. We don’t have a compost bin because we don’t eat enough fresh fruits and veggies, and almost anything we do cook at home is eaten in entirety over time. I chow on leftovers till they are gone because they are cheap..

  10. I need to build a compost bin, and I’ve meant to every year! Now that I know how, next year might be the year. And the year for a garden; and the year I finally run a marathon; and the year I willfully throw myself out of a plane…


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