You don’t need a lot of backyard space to turn kitchen scraps into compost. Follow this guide and you’ll have your very own homemade compost bin in no time. You just need a few simple supplies and a bit of time.
I’ve always appreciated growing up in the country and on a farm, but attempting to garden in the City has made that appreciation grow incredibly. We never had to think about where to get good soil or manure from. It was always just readily available.
We had a giant composting bin on the edge of our yard as well, so I never thought twice about composting, now however, I live in an apartment building with no composting services. The idea of throwing out food scraps that could go to good use in my balcony garden really bothers me, so I started looking at how I could make composting work in my situation.
Are you living in a similar situation: not much space, but an interest in doing your part for the environment? I can’t help but feel silly buying dirt sometimes, so I hope this article helps you as well.
What’s Your Homemade Compost Bin Style?
Whether you prefer a minimalist style or something with a little more flair, as long as you are willing to spend the time to find what you are after, you can make a nice little composter that won’t be out of place in your outdoor space.
If a minimalist look is more your cup of tea, look for square planters with clean lines and perhaps muted colours. Luckily plastic pots are made in so many different shapes and colours that it’s much easier to find something that matches your tastes.
If some colour or flair is more your thing, you can pick any colour or shape of pot that you like, although the middle pot will need a lid, or something sturdy that can function as a lid. I’ll explain the reasoning behind that more below.
What You’ll Need
In order to make this homemade compost bin, you’ll need three plastic pots. The largest should be at least 18 inches in diameter. If you have the space to go larger, then by all means go right ahead. The second “pot” should ideally be a pail with a lid about 14 or so inches.
You want there to be at least an inch in space all around between the first and second pot. The third pot is more a matter of choice and used merely as decoration. It helps to disguise the fact that you have a composter on your balcony.
You’ll also need a drill and a small saw, or something that can cut through plastic. In addition, you need a large stick: bamboo works well. Finally, you need something that can function as a small handle. It doesn’t have to be fancy—a large screw or bottle cap works just fine.
How to Put it Together
Now that you’ve got your supplies, it’s time to assemble it all.
1. The Base Pot
You’ll want to cut a piece out that will function as a trap door for collecting the finished soil. I suggest cutting a square hole that’s just wider than the fingers of your hand with fingers slightly spread. This hole will be cut along the side of the pot, right at the bottom.
Normally all four sides of the door are cut out, but I would suggest cutting only the sides and top. Allow the pre-existing line where the side and bottom wall of the pot meet to act as a sort of hinge. You will probably need to use an X-acto knife to score the line along the bottom edge of the pot to allow it to open and shut more freely.
Trace out where you want to cut with a black marker and then drill holes at each corner of the square. That way, you don’t need to navigate any corners while you’re cutting the door.
For ease of use, add a knob to this makeshift door of yours. Drill a hole that’s just a bit smaller than any bolts you might have laying around. Then, twist the bolt into the hole that you’ve drilled. Be sure to add a couple drops of glue to ensure it won’t eventually twist out. You could also use any old knobs from drawers or even a large plastic bottle cap. As long as it provides enough grip to open the door easily, it will do just fine.
2. The Middle Section
Now that the base of your homemade compost bin is sorted you can start work on the middle section. This is the section that you will add the compost to. Without compromising the integrity of the bucket or pots structure, use a large drill bit to drill holes all over the bottom and sides of your container. The organic matter that you will be adding needs oxygen to become proper compost.
The only thing you don’t want to drill holes in is the lid as it will be bearing the weight of the top pot, and of course you don’t want to be attracting flies.
Once you are done with the middle pot, you can add a couple of inches of soil to your base container (with the door shut of course). Now take your middle container and set it down into the base container, and fill up the space between the middle and base pot with soil. This ring of earth around the central pot is a great place to plant some flowers or vegetables. This soil will get lots of nutrients from the matter that is breaking down inside the central pot, so it is a great place for some added growth.
3. Top it Off
Put the lid on your central pot and add the decorative pot on top. Ta da! You’re all ready to start composting. Keep reading below for some valuable information on how to compost properly.
Using Your Homemade Compost Bin
It may seem quite simple, but proper composting does take a bit of work. I promise, it will all be worth it when you get to pass by those expensive bags of soil at the garden centre or grocery store.
You’ll need to add a layer of dried leaf matter for every layer of organic matter that you add. The dried leaves are packed with essential nutrients and even more important, carbon, which is needed to aid in the process of composting.
Even if you don’t have a yard (like myself) you can easily find dried leaves by straying just off path at the local park or wooded trails. Bring a bag with you out on walks and you should have no problem collecting what you need. Make sure that the leaves are allowed to dry out and then shred them before adding to the base container. Create a base layer of shredded leaves before adding the organic matter.
Grass for Nitrogen
Adding grass clippings (if you can get your hands on them) will add nitrogen to the mixture. This is very important for the health of your plants. Grass clippings count as organic matter, so make sure to add them as part of the vegetable matter.
Chop it Up
As with the leaves, you’ll also need to chop up the organic matter that you plan to add. This is especially true with larger bits such as banana peels and apple cores. This helps to speed up the composting process and make sure that the pile breaks down evenly.
Once you’ve created a tiered system of leaves and organic matter, top it off with one more layer of leaves and then mist the top layer with water. Remember that each time you add organic matter: you need to top it with more leaves and while a bit of moisture is good, you don’t want your pile to be soggy.
Break it Down
Once a week, take the large sturdy stick that you picked up and turn over the compost pile, mixing everything up will aid in the process.
You may be wondering if your bin will end up getting smelly. I can happily tell you that as long as you don’t add any greasy or oily scraps, smells won’t be a problem. Do remember to keep the lid on, though. Rotting matter will be far too tempting for all sorts of insects, and that’s not something you want.
The composting process will naturally stop during the winter, but it will start up again all on its own once the warmer weather returns. If your area is prone to high winds, you may want to push the whole system back into a protected area of the balcony. Some people do continue to compost all winter, but this system is too small and the contents will most likely freeze. As a result, you’ll have to seek other measures during the winter months.
Reap the Rewards
So while some prep work and maintenance are necessary, the rewards of having your own composter are many. You’ll feel good about doing your part for the environment, save money by not purchasing soil or fertilizer and benefit from a far healthier crop. Good luck with your composter, and as ever, happy gardening!