Condo Blues: How to Make a Compost Bin from a Trash Can

Monday, April 14, 2008

How to Make a Compost Bin from a Trash Can

Any plant unlucky enough to be stuck in my yard with it’s nothing but clay and zippo topsoil is destined for a slow painful death. I needed do something to enrich my so-called soil. Compost was the answer. However Condo Association mows our lawn. They won’t allow us to have freestanding doo-dads like sheds, playhouses, or compost bins that the lawn people have to circumnavigate with their mowers. So what to do about my desire to make compost? Easy. I decided make a Covert Composting Bin out of a COA-allowable garbage can.

How to Make a Compost Bin Out of a Garbage Can

1. Purchase a plastic garbage can preferably in a dark color.
  • A dark colored can will collect and retain heat from the sun better than a light colored garbage can. You want a warm compost bin for optional compost action.

  • Don’t use a metal garbage can for this experiment. A metal can may rust from being out in the elements and you really don’t want iron oxide (remember chemistry class? Iron oxide is the fancy-shamansy sciencey term for rust) in your soon to be compost.
2.For air circulation under your bin, either:

  • Attach a set of casters on the bottom of the garbage can. Casters allow me to easily move the full can of compost to the garden for easy-tip-the-can-over-and-dump-compost-into-the-garden-bed-action.

  • Photobucket
  • Put the garbage can on top of a few bricks or large flat stones.
3. Tool Time. With a power drill (otherwise known around The Condo as Mommy’s Little Helper), drill random aeration holes around the garbage can and its lid.

  • See anything interesting in my bin’s aeration holes? I got a little giddy and drilled the aeration holes in the shape of smiley faces on each side of the garbage can. Not very covert, but pretty darn fun nonetheless.

4. Set the compost bin in a sunny area in your yard and put compostable matter in the bin.What can you compost? Ah, Grasshopper you should chuck a mix of the following into your bin:

  • Green waste matter = kitchen scraps (excluding meat, bones, and dairy. These items could attract raccoons and other pests to your compost bin. You really don’t want that.)

  • Brown waste matter = shredded paper/ripped up paper bags, grass clippings, tree/shrub branches, dried cornhusks, etc. (excluding diseased plant clippings & weeds.)

  • Paper is my main source of “browns” since I don’t have ready access to grass clippings.

  • For optimum compost, your bin should have more browns in it than greens. However, since I’m a lazy gardener, I don’t pay much attention to my green/brown matter mix. I throw whatever compostable material that comes my way into the bin. My compost comes out just fine.

5. To start the microbial composting process along (in other words – let's get this rotting started!), either:
  • Toss in a bit of blood meal or commercial compost starter. I use blood meal because I use blood meal as a natural fertilizer for the pansies in my garden.

  • Keep a bit of compost in the bottom of your bin.

  • This step is optional. You can also just let nature take its course.

6.Water the matter in your bin so it’s damp but not soaking wet.

7.Wait about six months for chemistry in action.

  • Or less if you stir up the compostable matter in your bin. (In compost lingo “stir up” = Manging your compost.

  • I don’t “Manage” my compost and it comes out just fine. I’m a lazy gardener, remember?

8.Compost Happens.

If you'd rather buy than DIY, check out the following options - and more! - below!

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Anonymous said...

Great idea! I would rather spend a lot less on an industrial size bin than spend the big bucks on the ones they make you think you need. Hubby was looking at building one, but I think I'd rather talk him out of that route...I don't want hammers and saws flying around.

I also want to thank you for stopping by my blog and for your comments, they were really appreciated.

Cobblestone at the Preserve said...

My wife and I are in a 4-unit condo building, in a development with green space around each of the buildings. Condo rules prohibit garbage cans being kept outside the building except on pick-up day.
Do you or any of your readers know of a compost arrangement that will work in an attached garage with no odors?

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Cobblestones - You might try putting your compost bin inside your garage. As long as you keep things damp and turn it often the heat from being in a garage/indoors might speed up the prosess a bit. Our you could try a Natural Mill indoor composter. They are pricey but you can use it indoors.

Anne said...


Also consider vermicomposting. Yes, worms! I have a worm bin in my condo kitchen and I've been really happy with it. I've found the outside bin to be a pain, but the worms are no problem. No odor, doesn't attract pests, and the best method for composting food scraps according to some garden experts. I know it sounds weird, but it's actually very cool and efficient.

Almost Mrs Average said...

That looks great and just shows you don't need to buy a purpose built one. Thank you for letting me add it to my blog. Will be posting at the end of the month and will let you know when it's up :-D

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