Composting for Beginners: $12 DIY Compost Bin, Getting Started, & 50+ Things You Can Compost

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

By Daisy Luther

Have you ever priced out those compost bins that you can buy? They have all sorts of bells and whistles, like cranks that turn the contents for you and fancy slide-out trays at the bottom. They can also cost hundreds of dollars. Since that was totally out of my budget, I decided to make a simple DIY compost bin for a whole lot less money.

Of course, you can always pile of a heap of compost in your yard or garden, and that’s exactly what I did when I lived in the country.  Now that  I’m living in town, I decided I should be a little more civilized. But, not $300-for-a-container-civilized.

Because we have raccoons, foxes, squirrels, groundhogs, and other varmints, I needed a closed container, lest I lure the little $*%#s into my garden. So, I spent $12 to make a compost bin from a 32-gallon latch tote and it only took about 15 minutes. You can get these in all sorts of colors to blend with your fencing or your outdoor decor. I got a happy, cheerful coral color.

This is the easiest DIY ever.

How to Make a Super-Easy DIY Compost Bin

Drill 6-12 holes in the bottom of your bin, then drill a few holes in each side. (The number of holes will depend on the shape of your bin.

Here’s what mine looked like when I finished drilling the holes.

Then, put the lid on the bin to provide a little bit of stability. Finally, drill another half dozen or so holes in the lid of the bin.

That. Is. It.

Can you believe how stupid-easy that was?

Get your compost off to the right start.

Don’t just go pile rotting produce in there or you’ll have a stinky mess. You have to balance out the greens and the browns. (We’ll talk about Greens and Browns in a moment.) With the proper balance, your compost will not smell unpleasant.

To get your compost off to a good start, lay some ripped up cardboard or newspaper (not the kind with color, just black and white) in the bottom of the bin. Top that with some straw or leaves, then top that with some garden soil. You may need to buy a bag if you don’t have any to spare. I filled my container about a third of the way with these items.

Place your bin in a convenient spot so that you don’t have to climb a fence and hang upside down like a bat to get to it. Make things easy on yourself. I put mine right in the garden, lurking between a shrub and a small tree. This way, when my glorious compost-to-be is done, I don’t have to lug it half a mile. I can just tip it over and spread it out.


How to make the compost magic happen

Now, let’s create lush soil out of the stuff that people usually throw in the trash.

The smaller the pieces are that you put into your compost pile the faster you will have beautiful soil from it. You can run your fruit and veggie scraps through the blender and run outdoor clippings over with the lawnmower for best results. Paper can be run through the shredder.

Each time you add something to your compost pile, give a little stir. I keep a rake handle nearby for stirring things up. Things are decomposing when they’re giving off a lot of heat. If there isn’t any heat in there, your composting magic is not occurring.

Now, remember how I was talking about balancing your greens and your browns? Here’s how that works.

Things with lots of carbon are Browns and things with lots of nitrogen are Greens. According to

The ideal ratio approaches 25 parts browns to 1 part greens. Judge the amounts roughly equal by weight. Too much carbon will cause the pile to break down too slowly, while too much nitrogen can cause odor. The carbon provides energy for the microbes, and the nitrogen provides protein.

To clarify: If your compost begins to smell bad, you need to add Browns. If it isn’t composting fast enough, you need to add Greens.

50+ Things You Can Compost in Your New DIY Compost Bin

Here are the Browns and Greens you can add to your compost pile, heap, bin, or whatever.

Browns are things like:

  • Paper napkins
  • Paper towels
  • Toilet paper (not with human waste on it)
  • Raked leaves
  • Newspapers without colored ink
  • Junk mail without colored ink
  • Sawdust from untreated wood
  • Pine needles (don’t go crazy, they can be very acidic)
  • Pine cones (also acidic)
  • Straw
  • Peat moss
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Envelopes (remove the little plastic window and shred the paper)
  • Cotton balls (pulled apart)
  • Shredded toilet paper or paper towel tubes
  • Shredded egg cartons
  • Crushed nutshells
  • Shredded twigs and branches
  • Coffee Filters
  • Lint from the dryer

Greens are things like:

  • Fruit skins
  • Apple cores but not the pits from stone fruits unless you grind them up
  • Vegetable peels
  • Vegetable trimmings (like the bottom of the celery)
  • Fruits and veggies that have been in the freezer too long
  • Grass clippings
  • Clippings from shrubbery
  • Potato peel
  • Human hair
  • Pet hair
  • Eggshells
  • Tea bags (remove the staples) and tea leaves
  • Clippings from non-toxic houseplants
  • Dead bugs
  • Dead cut flowers
  • Stale cereal
  • Feathers
  • Bread
  • Leftover hot cereal
  • Onion skins
  • Leftover fruits
  • Leftover vegetables
  • Dust bunnies
  • Banana Peels
  • Stale chips
  • Stale crackers
  • Coffee grounds
  • Coffee filters
  • Pet bedding from non-carnivorous animals
  • Manure from non-carnivorous animals
  • Contents of the dustpan
  • Contents of the vacuum cleaner
  • Pulp from the juicer

If the pH needs to be adjusted you can add ashes from the fireplace or woodstove. Just a little, though, or you will turn your compost too alkaline and decomposition will not occur.

(Note: While the manures of humans and carnivorous animals are compostable under certain conditions, great care must be taken with that or serious food-borne illness could occur. Those instructions are not included in this article. Check out The Humanure Handbook if you want to take composting to that level.)

What do you compost?

Did I leave something that you commonly put in the compost off my list? Share in the comments below. Did you make your own compost bin? Let us know how you did it!



Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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12 Responses

  1. We started a compost pile not too long ago… It stunk! We added a bunch of grass clippings and straw which helped a lot with the stink. Thanks for the useful article! =)

  2. If you save egg shells to compost, rinse them out, then after you’ve used your oven put the shells on a cookie sheet & use the residual heat in the oven to bake the shells. I just leave mine in overnight. Then when they are cool break them up into tiny pieces. They seem to decompose quicker when I do this.

  3. Thanks for the tips and easy to read instructions. I just have a quick question for you. Approximately how long does it take for the compost to be ready?

    1. That’s going to have a lot of variances depending on your weather, the time of year you start it, the humidity levels, etc… I usually start mine in the late summer and stir it over the winter. By planting time, I have rich compost to add to my garden.

  4. 30 yr composting in the same house. City provided first bin, we bought a 2nd of a different shape that resisted raccoons better. When city changed type of garbage cans they allowed, I drilled holes in bottom & sides of a disallowed model and it was easier to turn over the composting material as it had rounded sides. Used 2 bungee cords thru handles and over the lid to keep out thevraccoons. Eventually city provided green bins max 42 lb and we needed 4 to deal with droppings & litter from 4 dogs & 10 cats, biweekly pickup. We still composted in our garden, everything except hair, sweepings, and vacuum contents which our city considers garbage & goes to landfill. When 2 dogs passed and a few of the cats we were down to using just the 2 raccoon proof green bins altho even they are not truly raccoon-proof. City now allows 2 dogs, 3 cats per household, so we are in compliance. Grass clippings not accepted at curb, they must be mulched & left on lawn so a special mower blade is necessary or they must be composted on site.

  5. Eventually things will rot down, whatever/however you do it (just as they do in nature), but composting will work much better if your bin is at least 3-4 feet wide/long/deep–then you’ll get some real heat generated. Also necessary is moisture–dampen each layer of material so it’s like a wrung-out sponge–and keep an eye on it, sometimes the heat generated dries things out and more water is needed.

    Because time is another sanitizer (and keeps things easy!) I keep 3 bins going. One is currently being filled, starting at midsummer (so it gets going and finishes in the warmest part of the year). One is filled and just sitting “working” until the next midsummer, covered in a layer of something like hay. The third is finished compost, ready to use (occasionally bigger bits still appear, just sift them out and toss into the currently-filling bin). So all compost has had a year to decompose, by the time you use it.

    If you can arrange to turn your compost every month or so once the bin is filled–turning the outside layers into the middle–everything will be more uniformly rotted. An extra bin is useful, if you regularly turn–just dump the compost into that extra bin each time you turn it.

    The advice to use no carnivore bedding/manure is wise if you are looking for “quick” compost–but if you have a large enough pile/bin (so heat can *really* work for you!) and can give it at least a year to finish (two years is fine if you want to be safe) then go ahead and use whatever you can get! I include the kennel waste from a pack of foxhounds, and use sawdust (*not* clay litter!) in the catbox so it goes in too. And the humanure from our humanure toilets (yes, I know there may be municipal rules against this, in which case, no–as well as not if someone is on certain meds which may pass through). I suggest checking out as well as the book (available on the website as a download) for more information.

    Waste nothing!

  6. Thank you so much for your helpful information! I’m a beginner and so excited to start composting! The multiple bins was such a bonus!????

  7. If it’s organic, you can compost it. We run three piles, and rotate use. Our run hot piles, and we have composted everything from humanure to entire varmint carcasses (raccoons, opossums, etc).

    We’ve had people tell us that it’s dangerous to use cat manure, but I doubt they thought that through. The neighborhood cats certainly make uncomposted deposits into your garden beds, whether you see them or not. Go ahead and put your cat litter (as noted: NOT clay!) into your compost heaps. It’ll be just fine.

    Same for grease and fat. Make sure you put in plenty of carbonaceous material, and your compost will cook right along, breaking everything down into the most wonderful black gold ever. 🙂

  8. Thank you for the useful information. Have a question. How long once you start your bin can you start using the compost? Also, should it be covered from heavy rain? We live in SC and get some torrential rain at times. Thank you in advance!

    1. Some rain is beneficial but you don’t want to let it get flooded. You can use it once it turns into a substance that resembles soil. It generally takes 6-12 months.

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