April 11, 2013

DIY Compost Bin

Missus JB and I decided that we're going to try our hand at gardening this year.  Equal parts frugality, a desire for fresh veggies, and a desire to have enough to do some canning this fall and thus reduce our grocery bill resulted in me tilling up a 6x12 section of the lawn, framing it with landscape timbers, and filling with soil and fertilizer.

Yesterday, I decided to take on the task of building a compost bin.  We have a lot of leaves from a few big trees (both our yard and the neighbor's yard), as well as a half acre or so of lawn that gets mowed once or twice a week in the summer.  Add some kitchen scraps and we've got plenty of material to compost.  And I hate paying for fertilizer when I can get it free (that goes for pretty much everything... why buy when you can get it free?)


Here's how I did it.

4 - wooden pallets (obtained free at the local lumber yard)
10 - 1x2 inch furring strips ($0.99 each at same lumber yard)
2 - 8 foot long 4x4 posts ($8 each, same place)
Box of 8d galvanized finishing nails
Box of 2.5 inch galvanized exterior wood screws
2 - Hinges ($3.99 each at hardware store)
1 - Gate latch ($4.99 at hardware store)
1 - Six pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Circular saw
Cordless drill with screwdriver bit and a 1/8 drill bit

I started by measuring the gaps between the pallet boards, and cut the furring strips to fit.  For my pallets, this ended up being about 40 inches.

Now, for those who are used to measuring exactly and being precise with the cuts from the saw, you might want to sit down... These cuts don't need to be perfect.  Remember, this is a box that is going to sit outside in all weather, and holding various plants until they rot.  It ain't a pretty life, and therefore the cuts don't need to be pretty.  "Close enough" is good.

You'll notice that the furring strips don't fit the gaps perfectly... this is done by design, as I want to hold the compost in the box, yet still allow some air flow to facilitate decomposition.  The furring strips will be on the outside.  I cut the 1x2 strips and nailed them in place.  I used the cut parts to fill gaps, as you can see above.  Again, "close enough" was good enough for this part. 

One pallet completed.  Lather, rinse, repeat with the other three.

Once I had all the gaps filled with the 1x2 furring strips, I cut the 4x4 posts to fit (40 inches) and secured them to the side of the pallet with 2.5 inch wood screws.  I used galvanized exterior screws since this is going to be outdoors in all the weather that the Midwest has to offer.

Secure the other pallets to the 4x4s with more wood screws, and be sure to use LOTS of screws.  I used 6 screws per pallet per corner: Two at the top, two at the bottom, and two in the middle.

If you can't fit your cordless screw driver/drill into the gap to drive your screws in, you can cut a small section of a board out.  Since this side will face in, toward the compost, cosmetics don't matter.

I secured three sides, keeping it more-or-less square.  I know the hard core carpenters among you will bristle at the "more or less" part, but again this isn't a piece of furniture that your guests will use to hold their cocktails.  This is an exterior farm implement that is going to be filled with a mixture of grass clippings, egg shells, banana peels, and cow shit.

Then I set the fourth pallet in place, and marked the holes for the hinges.  A quick shot from the drill with a 1/8 bit gave me a pilot hole for the hinge hardware.  Screw the hinges into place, using a couple shims to keep it elevated enough to swing easily.

Hinges are in place.

Once the hinges are mounted, mark holes for the latch, drill pilot holes, and screw the latch into place.  My drill didn't fit very well, given the bulk of the latch, so I ended up screwing these by hand using a screw driver.  

And that's all.  No, the door doesn't fit flush (see "More or less square" above.)  I don't care.  "Close enough", right?

Now, I made a mistake on this project, as I assembled the entire thing in my garage.  Only problem is that it is too heavy for me to lift and carry to the back fence line near the garden.  So I'll have to break it down into two sections (thankfully I used screws instead of nails!) and reassemble it in place.  But it was raining, and I much prefer to do stuff like this in the garage when it rains, instead of getting soaked.

All that is left is to fill with compost material, and let nature take over.

Total cost: About $40, plus beer.  Time: About 3 hours.

1 comment:

Jumblerant said...

Good luck with the composting. I'm very jealous, I'd love to compost but our garden is just too small, as are the kids - and they're curious minds will get them in the compost bin in no time!