mini composter DIY

Building a large outdoor compost bin that will safely keep out critters, not be an eyesore and never be in scent-range is not always feasible. Churning a large pile by hand can be overwhelming and is hard work. Ready-made compost bins with easy-churn handles are easier, but will set you back anywhere from $100-$500.

Too lazy for this option                     -                             Too frugal for this option
 I really wanted to dabble in composting, but wasn't ready to commit to building or buying yet, so I've decided to start an adorable miniature-sized bin!

Why bother? Well besides the obvious, (creating your own free, organic, gentle soil fertilizer) I like to reduce and recycle waste and garbage when I can. Once the compost is ready, it's a very cheap and easy way to improve soil texture for better water retention and drainage, hence healthier plants. It's fun to watch things develop like this, so involve kids if you have 'em. Also, it's cool.

Here's what you need to make your own:
A clean miniature bin (cat litter bin, Tupperware, 5 gallon bucket with lid...etc)
Charcoal Filter (optional)
Spray Paint (optional)
Crap to compost

1.) I used an empty cat litter container for my bin. (Be sure that you wash your container thoroughly with hot, soapy water and rinse well.) Drill plenty of holes in the bottom of the bin for drainage and into the lid of the bin for airflow. The amount and size of holes will depend on your container, so just keep an eye on the moisture level of your compost and add more holes (in the bottom or sides) if things are too moist.

cat litter compost diy
Cat Litter Bin with a bunch of holes drilled in bottom & top - Charcoal Filter shown in foreground

2.) My bin will be kept outside, but I decided to add a charcoal filter because I find the smell of rotting garbage offensive. I just duct-taped it onto the inside of the lid, underneath the air holes. These filters are the kind you can buy for a cat litter box at a pet store; they're very cheap, can be cut to fit any size and only need to be replaced every few months as needed.

3.) I also decided to spray paint my bin black to conduct more heat and also to make it look a little less cat-litter-bin-ish and a bit more compost-bin-ish. If you have a good shrub to hide your bin behind, you might not care. Or if you're going for that snoody, high-end compost look, you could spray paint it solid gold.

4.) Find a shady spot outside for your bin. (If the bin ends up in direct sun, your compost could dry out and not decay.) Add your crap and water as needed, stir it or roll it around every day or two and wait patiently for awesome, rich fertilizer!

mini compost bin DIY
The finished cat litter bin incognito

Currently home to 1 chopped banana peel, carrot shavings, dried grass and leaves, and shredded newspaper
Crap You Can Compost:
Green Materials (nitrogen):
Coffee Grounds/Filters, Tea Bags, Fresh Grass Clippings, Chopped Vegetable & Fruit Waste, Fresh Leaves or Plant Waste
Brown Materials (carbon):
Wood Chips or Sawdust (untreated wood only), Paper Towels, Shredded Newspaper, Dead Leaves, Dried Grass Clippings, Straw, Pine Needles

Crap You Shall Not Compost:
Inorganic material such as plastic, glass or that dirty cookie sheet you don't feel like cleaning, Meat, Dairy, Bones, Manure (herbivore manure is technically okay if you really feel like harvesting it), Weeds or diseased plants, Glossy Paper

A Few Tips:
• Try to have more brown than green in your mixture, by weight. Brown things are rich in carbon. Green things are rich in nitrogen. A healthy bin needs more carbon-rich material to allow oxygen to penetrate and decompose. Otherwise, you might end up with a soggy, smelly, slowly decomposing lump. If you'd like to speed the process a bit more, you can even add some soil and/or earth worms, but when in doubt add more brown material.

• The surface area of the crap you add effects the time needed for composting. By chipping, chopping, shredding, or mulching before adding to your bin, you will be helping the bacteria to more quickly break down materials into compost.

• Smaller compost piles or winter composting will take longer because the center of the pile (where the magic happens) will not reach and maintain as high a temperature. Compost is ready when it's dark brown, crumbly like dirt and has a rich, earthy decayed organic material.

• The pH of compost is slightly basic (or alkaline), so when it's ready, add to acid-loving plants (such as azaleas, hydrangeas or hollies) at your own risk. If you have plenty of coffee grounds in your compost, acid-loving plants will do well with compost.

I think a mini bin is a great option for small spaces or to help newbies get a feel for composting. I have no idea what I'm really doing, but I'll post trouble-shooting tips as needed. So before you splurge on that solid gold compost bin, try a mini cat litter bin. :)