Easy $6 Composting

by Kristen on December 2, 2008 · 48 comments

in Composting, Food Waste, Green and Frugal

Since I’ve mentioned composting here and there in my posts, I thought I should maybe share exactly how I compost. I don’t have any special equipment, and my total monetary outlay for my bin was about $6.

Back in April, around the time I started working on reducing my food waste, I got inspired to try composting. I heard great things about worm bins, but they seemed a bit complicated, and I didn’t want to have to buy a bunch of worms! Happily, one of my commenters pointed me to some very simple instructions for a plain old wormless compost bin, so I decided to give it a try.

Following the instructions on You Grow Girl, I made my own bin from a Rubbermaid container. Basically, you just need to cut a bunch of air holes in the lid of the bin, and several drainage holes in the bottom. The site said to use a knife, but I’m not nearly patient enough for that! I got out the drill and made quick work of that….a few minutes, and I was done.

I started it off with some leaves and some fruit and vegetable scraps, which I soaked with water, and I’ve been adding produce scraps, tea bags, egg shells, hair clippings, and sometimes some paper ever since. Aside from adding organic material to the bin, all I have to do is turn the compost with a shovel every couple of weeks (although I sometimes forget about it and leave it longer than that, especially in the wintertime when it’s frozen solid and can’t be turned.).

2014 Update: To keep my compost from getting too wet, I try to add a layer of browns (dead leaves, shredded paper, etc.) whenever I add a bucket of food scraps to the bin.  I find that this also helps to reduce fruit fly problems in the summertime, since the wet scraps are always covered by a dry layer of browns.

I’ve been using the bin since April, and it’s only just now getting full (and I even put a whole pumpkin in there). I’ll probably buy one more bin to use and I’ll just let this one rest until spring. Hopefully at that point I can empty it out and use the compost to fertilize the beds in the front of my house.

The bin is out in our backyard, which isn’t the most convenient place in the world. To make things easier, I keep a small plastic bin on my deck, which is right outside of my kitchen, and whenever I have some compostable kitchen waste, I just open the door and throw it into the little bin.

compost

And when the bin gets full, Joshua, a.k.a. Compost Boy, comes and empties it into the big bin in our backyard.

Composting has greatly reduced the amount of trash that comes out of our house, and it make our trash less stinky. Before I started composting, I often had to take out a bag of trash that was only half full simply because it smelled so bad. Now the only smelly things in the trash are meat-related items, which I usually just put into a small bag and take out right away.

Of course, cutting back on our food waste has certainly contributed to the reduction in trash, but composting has played a very large part. Even the most faithful leftover eater is going to have some food scraps (no one is going to eat tea bags and banana peels), and it’s nice to have an environmentally friendly way of disposing of these inedible items.

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

1 nat December 2, 2008 at 7:10 pm

wow, i didn’t realize it was that easy. thanks for the inspiration!

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2 Franci December 2, 2008 at 7:13 pm

We have a compost bin in our backyard as well and I keep an ice cream container on my kitchen bench for the foodscraps. When the lid is on the container it doesn’t smell at all, even if the things in there have already started growing fur! :-) I find it’s nice and handy and I only have to clean it out into the compost bin every 2-3 days.

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3 Kristen December 2, 2008 at 7:15 pm

That’s a good idea, Franci. I’ll have to keep that in mind during the summer, when an outdoor bin attracts fruit flies.

Nat, no problem! Good luck with the composting!

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4 Another Kristen December 2, 2008 at 9:47 pm

I’ve been trying to convince the hubby this is a good idea. Now that I see how simple it can be, I’m really sold! Thanks! And thanks for stopping by my blog occasionally! :)

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5 Jen April 18, 2013 at 11:21 am

I agree! Even if you started out with just adding a few things, like banana peels and leftover apples, etc. You can usually find private homes that sell worms like 12 for $1 (for fishing, etc); if not, do some digging and find your own worms. Either way, you can definitely keep it frugal! Just don’t leave the lid open, or birds will eat up all your worms!

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6 Mara December 3, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Kristen:

We also keep an empty large coffee container with lid in the kitchen to accumulate scraps – no smell.

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7 Kristen December 3, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Oh, sweet! I’ll definitely ask you about that! lol Free is the best price.

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8 Renee December 3, 2008 at 8:17 pm

This is the single best thing i have ever seen!!! I have been wanting to start composting but was intimidated, now I am going to start tomorrow.

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9 Jessica December 4, 2008 at 6:52 am

It’s been eating at me pretty bad that I don’t compost, but the only room I have available is on the balcony at my apartment–and we aren’t allowed to put anything on out balcony! I’ve been trying to feel better by just using as much up of the food as I possibly can.

-JSC

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10 Kristen December 4, 2008 at 8:15 am

Jessica, they do make compost bins that can be used indoors(somehow they make them so they don’t smell). I know that people keep worm bins inside too with nary a problem…I guess the worms keep the smell down. So, maybe some research on the internet is in order! lol

I know Colin from The No Impact Man kept(keeps?) a worm bin in his kitchen.

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11 lauren December 4, 2008 at 4:05 pm

Love it! We might give this a try as a way to waste less food and to grow our own compost. No sense buying the stuff if it can just make itself!

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12 Barbara December 6, 2008 at 7:12 am

I have had a worm bin on my ebay watch list for a long time, but cringe at spending the money. This is a great idea. I do have a question. Does the temp outside matter? Is this something I can start outside now in the winter? I live in NJ – today the temp is 40. Nights down into the 30′s and even had upper 20′s.

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13 Kristen December 6, 2008 at 10:06 am

Barbara, this is my first winter composting, but I’ve read that the freezing/thawing cycle actually helps the decomposition process. So yeah…go ahead and start now!

I know you can’t keep a worm bin outdoors when it’s freezing, but a regular compost bin should be more than fine.

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14 kenny brown February 1, 2014 at 10:31 am

I’m rearly interested in growing my own compost. It looks really cheap, but can you really put anything you whant in it , suchlike leaves and table scraps. My second question Will it be good for planting annuals/ perennials . and when can start this .I live newengland does the climent have any effect on the process .Sorry for all the questions I’m not that much of a Gardner thanks,
Ken brown.

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15 Kristen February 1, 2014 at 11:33 am

As long as you keep layering greens (food scraps) with browns (leaves, cardboard, paper shreds), you should be good to go.

You can start it anytime, although in the freezing temps of winter, the compost doesn’t do a whole lot. The freezing/thawing process does help things to break down, though.

You can use this to plant anything…I know that it’s not recommended to use straight compost, but rather to mix it with other dirt (straight compost tends to be a little too heavy to use alone.)

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16 John Costigane December 7, 2008 at 12:03 am

Hi Kristen,

Good to see you have the composting well organised. Have you considered composting the other food waste?

Bokashi Bin, Green Cone devices are able to compost meat, fish, fat and bone. There is a cost to this especially with the continual use of bran in the Bokashi. Green Cone may be more economic. It is an outdoor device requiring animal proof resilience.

What about community food waste collection? This is an emerging trend in the UK.

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17 Tamika February 20, 2009 at 2:27 pm

We kept a worm bin for about a year before we moved – it was in our basement and never smelled at all! :) I can’t wait to get my hands on worms again once we’re in our own house!

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18 E Mae April 25, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Hello. Thanks for the wonderful post on how to make a cheap compost bin. I am just wondering how big is your bin that you used to start off with? I plan on making one soon. Does the size matter or no? So everything pretty much can go in there except protein.

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19 Kristen April 25, 2009 at 3:52 pm

I don’t honestly know how big it was! It’s almost the largest size that they come in. I’d say the lid is 2 feet by 4 feet?

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20 WilliamB May 27, 2009 at 8:22 am

Interesting coincidence – I thought of the same thing last year. I do it a little differently. I cut out the bottom of the container, and drilled largish holes all over the side. I have two: one for new inputs, one for older stuff that doesn’t need to be turned as much. I use kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy because I don’t want to attract rats) and shredded office paper.

From the looks of yours, I expect it to be stinky from too many greens (food) relative to browns (paper, leaves). Is it? I have to add a lot of shredded paper to mine to keep it from getting goopy and stinky.

For all the new-ish composters reading this. There’s nothing wrong with goopy and stinky per se. A goopy and stinky input pile (ie, one with a disproportionate amount of greens) will turn into compost. It will take longer than a pile that has the ideal proportions of greens and browns. To learn more, I recommend the “soil, compost, and mulch” forum of The Garden Web. It’s populated by nice people willing to answer any question.

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21 Rebecca February 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Oh wow, I found this post and am I glad you do compost. I had mentioned it on my one other post. I have a piece of snow fence set in a circular config., hubby put in a few stakes to keep the sides up. We use neighbors leaves, clods from the garden, any grass raked up, our waste etc. We also have another spot with a couple of pallets we got for free and compost kitty litter and other meat bases refuse when it occurs. That compost goes on the plants we do not eat from. Thus nothing wasted, everybody and thing fed. hehehe. I am so thankful I found you.

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22 Linda March 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I got the worms for my worm bin free. I have a neighbor who keeps llamas. worms are naturally attracted to their poop pile. I asked them for a coffee can full of poop. That can probably contained 100′s if not 100′s of worms. I’m sure that horses, goats, sheep, any livestock would work. If you don’t know anybody in the neighborhood take a ride in the country. I’ve learned that to be really frugal you have to be bold and ask for things that you want. when you see a horse in a pasture drive up to the house ask for some poop. the worst that can happen is they say no. For any one interested in worm bins I highly recommend Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary applehoff. I checked it out at the library.

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23 Anabel March 10, 2010 at 2:05 pm

We have been composting about two years now. We have quite a few fruit trees in our backyard. My husband started using our grass clipping but we noticed it wasn’t enough to we started asking our neighbors for their grass clippings so we can help our pile grow. A good friend of mine keeps chickens and whenever our pile starts to get cold we add chicken poop. Oh and you also have to make sure to turn the compost pile because if you lose the heat, you pretty much have to go back to square one again.

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24 Amy April 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Do you have any problems with animals getting into your compost bin? I have wanted to start a compost pile, but we already have a problem with raccoons getting into our garbage, so I don’t want to have another critter-attracting bin in the backyard!

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25 Maribel Ibrahim January 10, 2011 at 11:07 am

I started composting this summer and wrote an article about how easy it is to compost. I also have a picture of the Geo Bin that the county gives you.

It’s so easy to compost, I’m ashamed I didn’t start sooner.

here’s my handy dandy article on composting with a freebie bin…
http://www.suite101.com/content/frugal-and-easy-composting-a302523

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26 Sue July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Just to let you know that I also starting composting this year. But your idea of using a container with holes drilled in it sounds right up my alley. I do cut my scraps up though using kitchen scissors so that they will decay faster. It doesn’t take long to do this either.

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27 Ali January 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Hi Kristen, I just found your blog today. I love all the post I’ve found so far, I was wondering if a compost bin will smell honorable?

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28 Kristen January 16, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Well, it won’t smell like something delicious, but as long as you make sure to keep it dry enough and add plenty of “browns” (dry leaves, cardboard, paper, etc), it shouldn’t be really stinky.

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29 Ali January 17, 2012 at 12:34 am

Thanks Kristen for the answer. I just needed to know because I rent an townhouse with my family and cant have anything that smells worse then an average “pet potty” bin

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30 Terri April 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Hi Kristen,
I just found your website after seeing a reference to your homemade yogurt! I’ve been trying to blog too, but with working full-time and trying to get a garden going and yardwork at a new house there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day.
I started composting and found a compost bin on sale at Home Depot. (I’m all about a sale.) It’s enclosed so that’s where I put my scraps and also located in my backyard. So I don’t have to make daily trips I use a pastic coffee can that has a handle and closed lid to put my kitchen scraps in. The handle makes it easy to dump the yucky stuff. Since I had so much yard waste I also made a real easy bin out of poultry wire. It’s 4 foot high and I just used plastic ties to close it. To make it a little sturdier I stuck bamboo through some of the holes and put them in the ground. The only problem is now that one is full!
Good luck with all you do! I look forward to reading more….
Terri

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31 Karen May 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Wow! I was all thinking I had to go out and get hay bales for the browns. Good to know I can just use paper and cardboard! I’m so glad you shared this with your readers. I am no longer intimidated by composting :)

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32 Dana May 19, 2012 at 10:57 am

Hi Frugal Girl!!!! I really love this post. I came across it a month or so ago and immediately went and made one. It was so easy because I already had a dirty bin in the garage (I didn’t even have to clean it) and I just drilled the holes and voila! Compost bin. It’s also a great way to teach my child the science of composting AND less stuff in the landfill! Thank you so much. When I get my blog up and running, I will post about it and link back to you!

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33 Jenn November 6, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Wait, so you don’t use worms at all? And the trash bin doesn’t smell?

I tried composting with worms a couple of years ago but I was doing something wrong because I killed all the worms in 2 weeks. I haven’t tried since.

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34 Kristen November 7, 2012 at 8:10 am

Yeah, I don’t use worms. And as long as I keep the browns to greens ration in balance, the smell isn’t terribly significant. Now, I wouldn’t want to keep the bin by my bed or anything, but you can’t smell it across the yard.

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35 Canadian Budget Binder December 9, 2012 at 6:13 am

Great Post, I love how innovative you were with making your own composting bin. I did pretty much the same post but our bin was made for the composting purpose and has a trap door at the bottom where I can scoop everything out. I have to laugh when I see people tossing out their leaves every year. The city collects it, you bet, sells it to a company who does what we do and then sells it right back to the people who put the leaves out in the first place.. lol. It’s so easy! I’ve put my pumpkin in as well. Have a look at my post to check out my bin … Cheers.. I’m new here just having a look around. My goal is to add a couple new blogs to my reader every month and get to know other Bloggers! I’m Mr.CBB and I blog at canadianbudgetbinder.com! Cheers Mr.CBB

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36 David January 4, 2013 at 9:54 am

Food Waste. Almost no food should be thrown away. I can understand some “going off” or “getting lost” in the fridge. But then putting it into the trash is compounding the problem and making it even worse. There are several things that can be done with food waste that will be useful and/or good for the environment. There is the compost. If you don’t know how to do that get a book from the library. Then there are the birds. You should not compost meat products – meat, cheese, eggs etc, but the birds love them. I say feed the birds, which encourages them to come around, eat up your bugs and provide beauty and entertainment right in your backyard – or even your porch or patio if you live in an apartment. No porch or patio? Fix a shelf up outside a window, if you build it they will come. (As a big bonus you will need less pesticides – hopefully NONE as they can kill birds, fish and are bad for pets and children. Not to mention ourselves.)
In my case I have another alternative – chickens. We have 6 chickens that provide us with all the eggs we can eat and even a few for friends.
Consequently our trash can goes out only about once a month, and even then is almost empty!! We put into the trash can the cat litter, the dust from the vacuum and not much else! The recycle takes all the paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and metal. What else is there that doesn’t fit into those categories? Old clothing I guess – which I first use to polish the car, or maybe for a cats bed for a while.
Food Waste – what is that?

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37 cosgrove February 26, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Do you live where it gets cold? How has your bin tolerated the winters? I do a variant of this, and I love it. But the plastic cracks in the cold, and I always have to shut down for the winter. If yours can holding up to real cold, I’d love to know what kind of plastic it is.

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38 Kristen February 26, 2013 at 10:25 pm

It doesn’t get SUPER cold here….it’s unusual if we get down into the teens most of the time.

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39 Tried&Twisted April 18, 2013 at 9:27 am

You make it sound so easy! This would help my garden so much. How long do you compost until it’s ready to add to the ground? And how badly does the compost bin smell?

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40 Sylvia Mckinnon July 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

I will definitely try this. Have wanted a compost bin forever.Thank you for the idea. Sincerely,Sylvia Mckinnon

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41 City Mom November 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm

There are four families in our building (including ours) and we would love to bin compost! Our issue has been animals getting into the bins. How do you keep the rats, squirrels, and raccoon population from chewing through the plastic bin every night? Also, do you screen the holes? If not, how do you keep flies from laying eggs and inadvertently making a maggot colony?

Your tips would be greatly appreciated!!!

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42 Kristen November 5, 2013 at 4:10 pm

I haven’t really had problems with animals chewing through my bin, and the lid seems to keep them from accessing the compost through the top.

I haven’t screened the holes, but I find that layering each round of green additions with a layer of brown really helps to keep the fly population down.

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43 Laura February 16, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Is there an odor problem with this?

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44 Kristen February 17, 2014 at 5:37 am

In cold weather, definitely not. In the summer, there’s a bit of an odor when you stir up the compost, but as long as you keep adding equal amounts of greens and browns, it should be manageable. I mean, I wouldn’t want to keep it in my kitchen, but it’s fine in the backyard.

In my experience, compost starts to smell terrible when it gets too wet, and so for me, it’s really important to layer my food scraps with layers of leaves, paper shreds, and other dry brown items.

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45 Alica February 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm

You’ve probably already heard of this method as well…I made my compost bins out of old pallets. The idea is in no way original to me…but here’s a link to my blog, and how I did it. http://happilymarriedtothecows.blogspot.com/2012/05/making-compost-bin.html

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