Compost Bin Experiment

Front View of the compost bin.

With fruits and vegetables in season and bearing fruit year round, we eat our fair share of produce. With all that produce we have plenty of rinds, ends, husks and other veggie and fruit parts we don’t eat.

We had been using an open compost system, which consisted of a small hole in the ground, in a 4’x4′ open top box. We used recycled wood pallets as the walls, and we let the micro organisms and nature do the rest. Ultimately we felt there were design flaws, and we weren’t harvesting as much compost as we would have liked.

The remnants of the old compost bin.

After some debate, we came up with a partially open system, which could air out in the day, and be closed at night. We used an old 55 gallon orange juice drum, flipped it on its side and had some local metal fabricators bring or vision to life.

Side View of the compost bin.

On either end of the barrel are two flaps which can be opened to increase air flow, and on the body of the barrel we cut two more square flaps on opposite ends, so we could fill it with composting goodies.

One flap closed on the compost bin.

Composting requires air flow, moisture, herbivore manure, whatever organic waste you deem fit, and most importantly no animal protein. Our starter mix consisted of 1/4 of a black sandy soil, 1/4 rice husks, a  scoop of the old compost, 1/4 of chicken manure, and a variety of vegetable and fruit scraps. Potential problems we foresee are not enough air flow, rotation on our current wood stand, and cost vs. out put.

We spent $50B on the barrel ($25US), $80B ($40 US) in labor, and the stand was made out of recycled wood. If the bin works, we’ve solved a major aesthetic issue as well as easier maintenance. We know that a second bin will be needed as the compost matures, however, right now we want to make sure the system works.

Compost bin run off water collection.

We are beginning to see results from the water run off. We soak the compost daily, and the run off water is captured in a bucket. This water is filled with minerals and natural fertilizer which we have been using to water our new seedlings in adjacent planter beds. It looks like almost all of the seeds we have planted have begun to sprout.

Sprouting Seedlings.

We are about 2 weeks in, and we think our recipe has a chance at some black gold. We are expecting it to be ready to go in another month or so.  We’ll keep you composted on the results.


60 thoughts on “Compost Bin Experiment

  1. Sounds great (and I’m sure you’ve looked into what was in the barrel before, and if any of the metal elements are capable of leaching into anything you put on veg :) Great design and I’m jealous at the thought of all round use. The weather here is getting too cool for our compost to do much other than go slimy as we’ve not been able to work out a better compost system on our small property.

    • Since the barrel was previously used for transport of orange juice, the the lining protects the contents from metal contamination. You should give the design a try, maybe with a smaller barrel. Having the option of the closed to semi-closed system, you are able to control the moisture levels.

    • Hi Mikalee,

      The bin actually does not emit any foul odors. We don’t put any animal proteins in the compost, which is the cause of most foul odors when composting. Even when we had the open system, the only smell was a strong citrus smell that came from all orange and grapefruit rinds we put in there.

  2. Great idea! When I was a kid we used to have a compost pile (no animal proteins either), and whenever we went fishing me and brothers went and dug through the pile for worms, which I loved for some crazy reason.

  3. This is great! We have an Earth Machine at home. I have looked in to all kinds of options for both home at work. This is great that you were able to find something and make it work. I would be interested to see how you make out!

  4. It never dawned on me until I read this that all the nutrients were seeping down into the dirt below the pit, not much use to my garden. I don’t know if I could ever build something like this, but I’m thinking now. :)

    • Thanks for stopping by. We’re glad we could inspire you. Hopefully you come up with something useful. We learned from the local agriculture center that it’s extremely important to collect the runoff water because it contains so many nutrients. It’s super water for the plants, our seedlings love it.

  5. If you mounted the barrel so that you could turn it, the whole process would speed up. But congrats on your initiative and getting as far as you have. Consider the turning idea for your next barrel.

    • Thanks Mohan, it turns out our welder was a step ahead of us, and suggested we attach two rollers on a new stand to easily to spin the barrel. We just wanted to make sure that initial system worked before we put more money into it. We were recycling wood we already had. In the next phase we’ll build a better stand, and perhaps modify the air vent windows to be bigger. The compost should be ready in about another two weeks.

    • Thanks Gardener! We made this one from a recycled bin, recycled wood, and some metal work. We’ve learned you want to use the run-off water quickly, because if it stays stagnant too long, you’ll get unwanted bacteria in your garden.

  6. I’m a complete composting nerd* & love your story. I’m always amazed at how quickly kitchen and yard scraps turn into the best dirt around. My garden loves it.

    *I’m such a nerd about composting that I’ve been known to collect horse poop while out hiking to add to the compost (really warms things up fast!)

  7. Way to get it going once you have some good compost really going look into making compost tea in large quantities so you can fertilize all your fruit trees and keep the compost. I have made a lot of it so hit me up with any questions. PS watch your head here come the coconuts

    • That’s a great design! Our free range chickens and turkeys were making a mess of our open system, so we decided we need to go for a more closed system. The local agriculture center, Central Farms, had a similar design to yours. They told us there’s no standard for composting, as long as it works, you’re composting. Keep up the good work!

  8. Best of luck with the composting. I find that used olive drums are also effective and am making a couple of tonnes of home made compost every year. You might also find that used coffee grounds work very well in that setup – worth a try if you live or work close to a cafe.

    • Thanks Shane! We drink a lot of coffee in the morning to fuel our early A.M. bird watching trips, and definitely throw the grounds in the compost. Coffee grounds are also good to put around planted pots to keep the bugs out. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Try putting in crushed egg peels, flour mill dust etc. To hasten the process do not put fresh peels, vegetables or fruits etc. That includes cow dung too. And see the results.

    • Thanks Hiraman. We’ve been adding egg shells to our compost, but we haven’t tried flour mill dust. We recycle local rice husks from the rice mill , and they have been amazing for the compost. Rice Husks also help with spacing the dirt when planting seedlings in a planter bed, and allow for more oxygen in the soil.

  10. Muy practico el sistema, y suspendido sobre una tarima. Me gusto.
    Normalmente las composteras tienen un portalón para extraer el material al final del proceso. ¿Como piensas gradualmente extrayendo?

  11. Bueno Suerte. The design is tried and true and using recycled drums is good thinking. I would take the advice of your welder and adapt the stand with rollers to mix the batch to get even decomposition. I’ve used a similar idea but it was set up for anaerobic decomposting with minimal air. took about two 1/2 weeks to get my “black gold”. Your plants are going to love it! Eat well.

  12. Do you think plastic 55 gallon drums would work? They are naturally water resistant and will not rot or rust. I have always built my compost bins out of pallets, and they last for a good 5 year here in northeast US. Plastic would last FOREVER. Aesthetically, blue plastic vs. wood? I think wood wins. But, I am intrigued by your design. Keep us (com)posted on your results.

  13. Nice, nice work! I think you’re going to see some great results with the barrel.

    Are you finding the compost in the tumbler to be a bit wet, or are the flaps getting enough air in there? A few drilled holes around the drum might help out with that if needed.

    Also, are you diluting the compost leachate as you collect it, or just applying it directly to the plants as is?

    • Hey Tyler,

      With the tropical climate and humidity, we are finding the conditions quite good for dampness factor. On hot days we even have to water it. The barrel as sort of acted like an oven, which has been good for the final stage. We are going to mix it with sandy soil and rice husks when we plant our next garden bed. We had excellent results using this mixture on our first round in the planting beds.

  14. Thanks for sharing. I just started composting, using a black plastic trash can with holes punched in the sides. I’m in New Jersey, so the black color was chosen to retain the heat. I can’t do anything with the compost till next spring, so I’m doing it the lazy way…a layer of kitchen waste, a layer of leaves.

  15. Pingback: 2011 in review | Lower Dover Field Journal

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