How to Choose or Make a Bin
Composting is a great way to create a natural fertilizer for your garden by recycling organic yard and household waste. To compost you need a place where waste materials can break down. These compost units can be bought or made relatively cheaply and easily.
For tips on managing a compost pile, see Compost Tips for the Home Gardener.
Regardless of whether the compost unit is purchased or built, you should consider the following items when you choose a unit.
The unit’s appearance may be very important in some areas because of deed restrictions and other limitations. Otherwise, you can have the bin suit your personal taste. Compost bins can be painted or stained to blend into the landscape.
Size of Unit
Large bins can be hard to manage because you need to turn the organic materials to keep the compost process active.
Small bins, however, may not effectively hold the heat needed to kill weed seeds and pathogens during the composting process. (These bins will still produce compost, but the process will take more time and without the sterilization of diseases and weeds.)
Manufactured compost units can vary considerably in cost, but most are available for approximately $100.
Homeowners can build compost units for less cost. Some compost units are relatively easy to build, while others require carpentry or masonry skills to construct.
Rodents and other wild or domestic animals may be a problem in some areas. In those cases, the compost unit should be enclosed and secure with a sturdy cover.
In general, the compost units that will provide compost in the least amount of time are also those which require the most management. They will require more frequent turning and more attention to placing the proper proportions of materials in the compost unit.
There are at least as many different ways to construct a compost unit as there are people who build them. If you decide to build a compost unit, the first step is to decide which type of unit is best for you.
Compost units can be classified as "holding bins" or "turning bins." Holding bins are stationary bins that have been constructed from masonry, plastic, wood, wire, or a combination of these materials. Turning units include barrels that are turned horizontally or end to end.
The holding bin unit is the most popular type of home yard compost unit. The simplest and least expensive type of bin compost unit can be constructed from wire fence material. If you can obtain it, snow fence works quite well. Consider using vinyl-coated fence wire, which is now available at building supply stores. You may also want to consider splitting the cost of a roll of wire with neighbors or friends.
The length of wire needed for a circular unit will be approximately three times the diameter of the bin. You can wire together the ends of the fence, or use a steel rod or post to permit quick disassembly for removing the compost or for turning the composting material. If wood or steel corner posts or other side support is provided, wire bins can also be square or rectangular.
Unless extensive side support is provided, these units can be unsightly. Additionally, they may dry out very easily because of the large amount of open area on the sides and top, while excessive water can collect in these areas during rainy weather.
To prevent these problems, some mwire bin manufacturers now sell plastic liners with some holes for aeration. Add a cover to your bin if wildlife or excessive rainfall is a problem.
You can also construct bin units from lumber or landscaping timbers. Although these units are more expensive than the wire units, they can also be much more attractive.
Some attractive units can also be made by using lattice panels in wood frames.
A very inexpensive bin unit can be constructed by fastening four wood pallets together at the corners with wire or or wood or metal posts. A fifth pallet can be used for a lid if needed.
Concrete blocks are another alternative for your bin compost units. You can build a nonpermanent unit by stacking the blocks and driving steel posts through the holes and into the soil.
To make sure your bin will be aerated, leave ½ to ¾ inch gaps between the ends of the blocks, or turn some of the blocks on their sides to achieve the same effect.
The concrete block units can be very attractive if they are painted to match the house or landscape.
You can also make a simple bin compost unit from large metal or plastic trash cans. The only modification required is the drilling of aeration and drainage holes. Although these units have a limited capacity and do not retain heat well, they are easily mixed by emptying the unit and refilling it.
Turning bins will produce compost more quickly than a holding bin if properly managed. However, many manufactured units do not have a large enough volume to effectively retain heat or to handle the waste from many yards.
Plastic barrels are most commonly used to make turning units. They are available in many places that handle mineral oils, detergents, or similar products. Avoid using barrels that previously contained hazardous or toxic materials.
Barrel compost units can be turned on either the vertical or horizontal axis. Steel pipe and pipe flanges are convenient ways to mount the barrels on supports made from wood or concrete block. Some barrels have a large screw-on lid for loading and unloading. You can make a door on other barrels by cutting a hole in the side or end and using a piano hinge and a latch. Drill holes in the barrels to provide aeration and drain excess water.
R. Nordstedt and A. Barkdoll, Construction of Home Compost Units (AE23), Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department (archived).
"Composting Bins," Florida's Online Composting Center, UF/IFAS Extension (accessed 08/2012).