Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reader Question: Building a Composter

In response to a reader inquiry, here is a repost and update of the composter entry.

Building a Composter

There are many ways to compost, ranging from throwing scraps in a hole in the far end of the property to more elaborate and permanent institutional approach.

Still, many have started composing with the best intentions, only to soon give it up.  This composter - of original design - uses easy to find materials, is simple to use and requires little maintenance.

DIY Composter
  • Pick a location that is a short walk from the kitchen door.  
  • Stack bricks (or flat stones) into two walls, about three feet apart. 
  • Put coated shelving between them (err on the side of too big spacing, at least 4 inches and preferably 6, rather than using a more intuitive smaller mesh).
  • Put a traditional composter (or even some type of square or cylindrical structure) on top of it.
  • Put water holes in the lid.  (A large outdoor plastic planter, with drainage holes, of the right size can make a good lid as it can deters animals and still be removed with one hand.)
  • Put a catch bucket underneath the composter. Drill some 2" holes directly on the bottom. This facilitates the ability of bugs and worms to go up from the earth into the compost and lets any water seep out and not pool.
Put food scraps (no meat, no dairy, as with all composters) in the top. Over time, the food turns to compost and sprinkles down into the bucket below. (The traditional wisdom of putting in layers of leaves seems unnecessary and perhaps even counter-productive.)

This system models the human body. It allows for the long term development of microbes in the middle that never get flushed out.

Also, because the entire bottom of the compost is exposed, there is plenty of air in the system, so there is no need to "turn-over" a pile or do the other traditional maintenance activities.  Rain and gravity do the work of moving the compost, and only when it is ready. There are no uncomposted squash pieces or corn cobs mixed in with finished compost as is the case with traditional piles - the bigger pieces simply stay higher up until they break down. Worms that are added seem to survive the winter and thrive.

This model allows for constant, thoughtless use. Even the volume is self regulating within the composter; the more weight there is at the top of the composter, the more finished compost is pushed through at the bottom.

One can add a second or third composter to increase capacity if need be.  These composters are close to zero maintenance, although the process of composting is not fast, so patience is a necessity, and the resulting product more resembles perfect topsoil than fresh compost.

From Around the Yard

Every day, food scraps that can't be saved, fed to the dog, or given to the chickens end up in the composter.  And about twice a year, the compost can be harvested and added to the garden beds.
Bits of leaves and other flotsam make it through the system.
Chickens use the opportunity to find some bugs to eat and even egg shell flakes to reprocess.

Chickens are then very "helpful" in working the compost into the soil in the perennial beds.


  1. We are in need of expanding our composting capabilities, so this post is much appreciated. The bins shown are so much more attractive than the usual plastic bins one finds at the local garden center.

  2. Love, love, love composting. Makes me very happy to toss a container of kitchen scraps into the pile and know soon it will be black gold. My compost pile is nothing more than a cinder block frame behind the garage that we regularly toss "stuff".