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DIY Backyard Composter

If you live in the city and have a small backyard garden, you can still have a compost pile. There are a lot of different containers you can purchase to store your compost in, but I found this great idea for making your own compost container from a metal garbage can.


I saw this idea on the Vegetable Gardener web site. You can purchase what you need at the local hardware store and put this compost container together in less than an hour.

You will need:

  • Galvanized metal trash can
  • Drill with 1/4 or 1/2" drill bit
  • Shovel

I bought my metal trash can at Lowe's. All they had was the 31 gallon size. It was about $25. You want metal instead of plastic because these galvanized metal cans are rodent proof, odor proof, and rust proof. That is one of the benefits of using the can over just having a pile laying in the yard. You want to keep pets and rodents away from your compost area. This container with the lid solves that problem.

Next you want to drill some holes in your can. 1/4 or 1/2 inch is fine. The holes are so that moisture can drain out, and so that earthworms can get in and help decompose the organic matter in the can. Drill about 20 holes in the bottom of the can, and about 20 holes around the sides of the can. You only need to drill holes in the bottom third of the can. This is the portion of the can that will be in the ground.

Next dig a hole that is about half as deep as the can. Set the can into the ground and pat soil down around the sides. About half of the can should be above ground (see photo). Your can is now ready for your kitchen scraps.

Add your kitchen scraps a couple of times a week. After you add the food scraps, add a thin layer of dirt. If your compost gets too wet or starts to smell, you can add some "brown matter" such as grass clippings, shredded paper, saw dust, or straw.

Depending on how many scraps you are adding to the composter, it will take 2-4 months to fill it. To use the compost, dig the decomposed organic matter from the bottom of the can by pushing the compost to the side and digging out the compost on the bottom. Return the top layer to the can. It will take a minimum of 90 days for the entire container to be composted.

Your compost is ready to add to the garden when it is rich and dark and looks like dirt. You shouldn't be able to identify any food products in it. A compost pile you start in the spring will be ready for your fall garden, and a compost pile you start in fall will be ready for your spring garden.

If you have a large garden and need a lot of compost, you can use more than one composter. As one fills up move on to the next one, then you have more than one composter you can rotate. The contents will be done at different times, ensuring compost year round.

I'm new to composting. I have a large garden planned for this year. I am very excited to try out my new composter and will keep you updated on how it goes.

Here is a list of items you can add to your composter:

  • Vegetable scraps
  • Grains and pastas
  • Fruit rinds and peels
  • Breads
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Egg shells
  • Paper napkins

Do NOT add:

  • Meat
  • Fish and poultry
  • Cheese
  • Oils
  • Butter
  • Other animal products

Copyright 2012, Creative Homemaking, LLC. This article may not be reprinted.




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Rachel Paxton
Work with Me
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