Friday, November 18, 2011

Build Your Own Composter

I'm often asked what are the best composting containers.  I've tried a lot of them.  And while the best one for you will depend on your situation (how much time, space and plant material you have at your disposal), my favorite is a home-made wire mesh bin.  The Master Gardeners in El Paso County first showed me how to build it, so when I moved to Austin a few years ago, I asked my dad to help me build one.  It's a very easy container to make, and it works very well.  So if you're looking to expand your composting activities, or even if you're just starting out, consider building this bin.

My favorite type of compost bin.
To make this type of bin, you'll need 10' of hardware cloth, which you can get at most home improvement stores.  You need a piece that is 10' long, 36" tall and has half-inch square mesh.  (Don't use chicken wire, it's not sturdy enough). You should be able to purchase a piece of hardware cloth that is exactly this size.  You may also see it in 40' or even 100' lengths.  But you only need 10', so don't buy more than you need (not a fun thing to store).  

Straighten and flatten the mesh, which is rolled up when you purchase it.

 While you're at the hardware store picking up your wire mesh, you should also purchase a two-by-four, two door latches (hook and eye type), some screws, and some metal washers.  If you don't have a saw at home, ask the hardware store to cut your two-by-four.  You'll need two pieces, three-feet long each.  Attach the two-by-fours to each end of the hardware cloth (a staple gun works well, but screws and metal washers work even better) and secure one door latch to the top and the other to the bottom of the two-by-fours. 

If using screws, you'll also need metal washers to tack down the wire.

Hardware cloth attached to 2' x 4' with both staples and screws, to hold it down really well.

You'll probably need to snip off the small pieces of wire at the end of the mesh.

Now you can pull your bin into a circle, where the two-by-fours meet, and latch the door latches to create your bin.  It will be a little unsteady while it's empty, so you might need someone to help the first time you fill it.   This bin is 3' feet tall and a little over 3' feet in diameter--the perfect size to keep your compost cooking. 

Looks are deceiving-the bin doesn't easily stand on its own until you put some plant material in it.

If you'd like, you may also use a large piece of pvc pipe, with holes drilled along the side, in the middle, so that you can get water down into the pile a little better.  When it's time to turn the pile, just unhook the door latches and peel the wire mesh away.  Then set the bin back up a few feet from the pile, and shovel the plant material back into the empty bin--no need for a three-bin system.

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