Last fall (September or October… I can’t remember) I decided that I wanted to attempt composting. Compost is the product of decomposing organic material. When it decomposes, you’re left with highly nutritious food for your garden. You’re also keeping a whole lotta stuff out of the landfill which is great. With those two huge benefits and the fact that it is really cheap, I didn’t see much of a reason not to do it.
Depending on what you read and who you talk to, composting can sound like a huge chore that is easy to screw up resulting in a rat infested garbage pile in your lawn. I talked to some experts and asked if it was, in fact, that difficult. The answer: absolutely not.
You want a mixture of a LOT of brown waste (grass clippings, leaves, brown paper bags, newspaper, etc) and a little green waste (kitchen waste, fruit and veggie scraps, egg shells, etc.). The actual ratio is about 30:1 but I certainly don’t measure. Think about it; especially if you mow your grass, you generate a lot more brown waste than green waste anyway. I don’t put any effort into making sure my proportions are correct. If they are off, it will start to smell. That’s when you know to add more brown waste; then the smell will go away. That has only happened to me one time and the odor was minimal. Otherwise there is no odor at all. Yes, really. And without an odor, there are no critters either.
To help your compost pile along in the decomposition process, mix it often with a pitch fork or shovel and keep the pile wet. Not doing these things will just lead to a very slowly decomposing heap. That’s pretty much what I had until this weekend.
The county where I live gives away free compost bins. They are like big plastic hoops that hold your compost pile. Compost bins sold in stores can cost $100 and up. I was not interested and no one really could explain to me why I needed to spend that much. So… I got a free bin from my county. It did the job. One problem, though, was that I couldn’t mix the compost very well because I couldn’t get to the bottom. Which brings me to the biggest problem: getting compost out of this thing was extremely difficult.
I needed something that was a little larger and that had easy access. This weekend my husband and I built a new compost bin out of shipping pallets. I would say it cost us about $30.
Shipping pallets are used for shipping heavy materials and then they’re trashed. You should have no trouble finding them for free. We got some from a construction site (at the site of the new civic building in Downtown Silver Spring). The guys there had no issues with us taking them (yes, we asked first). There were piles and piles around. We later realized we needed two more, so we got them when we stopped at the hardware store. We asked if we could take a couple and the manager actually came out to help us find the best ones. We used 6 pallets; 4 would work fine for a smaller bin.
Here are the other materials you will need for a 6-pallet bin:
- Drill with a screw driver bit
- 4 L brackets and the screws that come with them
- 2 mending plates (flat brackets) and the screws that come with them
- 4 hinges and the screws that come with them (I suggest some heavy duty hinges)
- a latch or hook of some sort (we used 2 eye-hooks, 2 feet of chain, and a carabineer)
- 4 bricks or something to support the gates
Lay the pallets out like you want them and make sure they are about the same size. You’ll want two in the back, one on each side, and two in the front as doors. We had two that were larger than the others, so those were the sides.
Using the L brackets, connect the back corners. The brackets will go on the outside of the pallets. Put one L bracket towards the top and one towards the bottom. Do this for both corners.
Stand up the corners and bring them together to make the back. Attach the mending plates to connect the back – one on top, one on the bottom.
Now you should have three sides of your compost bin done.
For the doors, you will want to lift the pallets off the ground using bricks so that the doors can swing open. Line them up with the rest of the bin and balance on the bricks. Attach the hinges – one on top, one on the bottom. Do this on both sides. You should leave the bricks in place; when you open the gates, move the bricks to support them.
Now you’ll need to attach the latch. Because we used the eye-hooks, we drilled small holes in each gate and screwed in the eye-hooks. Then the chain could easily go through and be connected with a carabineer.
- If you would like, you can cover the inside of the pallets with chicken wire or some kind of mesh to keep the compost from falling through the slats. We cut up the compost bin that the county gave us and screwed it to the inside walls of the new pallet-bin. It didn’t cover every inch, but it covered most of it. It does the trick!
- Start building this in the place where you want it to be. It isn’t very easy to move. If you already have a compost heap somewhere, try to build the new bin around it or near it. We didn’t have space near our old bin, so I had to move the compost. That sucked. That was definitely the worst part of this process. But I did it.
- Mike’s dad suggested lubing the hinges right away to prevent rusting. Probably a good idea.
- For a 4 pallet bin, you only need 2 hinges and no mending plates.
And that’s how you build a pretty sweet, very cheap compost bin. Happy composting!