How to Make a Compost Bin From a Garbage Can

With a compost system, it doesn't take much to turn your kitchen waste and yard debris into healthy soil. Compost setups can be as simple and inexpensive as a pile in a corner of your yard, or they can include a more expensive compost churner you buy from a garden center. A DIY, recycled option is to create a bin from an old garbage can. This method will work somewhat like the upright holding bins you'll find at garden stores, but with the garbage can you also have the option of rolling it around to churn the materials inside.

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Clean the Bin

If you've been using the can for garbage, give it a good cleaning before you start using it for compost. Spray it out with a high-pressure hose to remove any chemicals that may have been dumped in the bin. Then disinfect the inside by wiping it down with an old rag soaked in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. This can prevent spreading dangerous bacteria to your new compost and then on to your plants.

Drill Holes

Use a drill bit, such as a 1/2- or 1-inch bit, to drill holes all the way around the bin. This provides the necessary aeration for your compost, as well as allowing some moisture to move out of the can. For a 55-gallon garbage bin, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service recommends drilling three rows of holes all the way around. The holes in each row should be between 4 and 6 inches apart.

Fill the Can

To fill the bin, first add 2 to 3 inches of wood chips, sawdust or straw to the bottom of the bin. The materials will soak up excess moisture. After that, add yard waste such as leaves, twigs or grass clippings to provide carbon, and manure, kitchen scraps or coffee grounds to provide nitrogen to your compost. Because the carbon materials break down rapidly, your bin should contain about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Never add meat, bones or pet feces to the compost bin to avoid unwanted pests and bad bacteria.

Turn the Materials

If you have a lid for the can that secures tightly -- and your can is round -- you'll have an advantage that can help you make finished compost faster. With the lid securely in place, tip the bin on its side and roll it across your lawn about once a week. Regular agitation of the compost materials helps to break the materials down faster and adds more air to the mix. If you don't have a sturdy lid, all is not lost. Use a shovel, spade or hoe to churn up the materials in your bin once a week. You can also buy a special aerator tool that you can stick into the bottom of the pile to bring materials from the bottom to the top.


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