DIY Compost Bin for City Folk with a Little Yard Space

If you’re not already a card carrying green freak environmentalist, start off the new year upping your green street cred by creating a compost bin.  If you live in cold climates, starting this in the winter may be a poor idea that does not soon yield results.  I recommend in such a case to wait until spring or recognize that winter composting for the novice will hold extra special challenges, like freezing food scraps suspended in dirt rather than a bin full of hot organic decomposing materials that smell of sweet earth.

In the country, making a compost bin is a non-issue.  An outside bin isn’t even necessary most of the time as there is enough space to create a general compost pile or compost fenced in area.  I live in the city and have a “yard” that consists of a four foot by five foot patch of dirt underneath a fire escape.  If I’m going to compost I need a bin impervious to rats, opossums, skunks, raccoons, and the other critters of my alleyway.

The town of Brookline offers the EarthMachine Composter for $40 which is about $30 more than I’d hope to invest in starting my own compost bin. I also looked into vermicomposting, but lack the dedication to ensure I properly feed and care for my worms.  My three plants are lucky they’re still alive; I don’t want to be responsible for the lives of hundreds of worms as well.

A little internet searching confirmed that I could make an effective bin out of a regular trash barrel by drilling it full of holes and using bungee cords to keep out the raccoons.  The holes allow for air to circulate.  The Happy Housewife blog has great step by step pictures.

The most important thing about a compost bin is providing a hospitable environment so the good organisms (worms and certain microbes) move in while the “bad” (like mice and maggots) stay out. There are whole websites dedicated to educating people on how to compost, like I hope that so long as I keep any wet-rotting stuff buried underneath sufficient “browns” of leaves, paper, and dirt that I won’t have any smells or problems emanating from my bin.  Done properly, compost should always smell earthy and never rotten. This flyer, new-compost has a handy trouble-shooting guide for how to make your pile happy. There are a number of fridge friendly bulletins to help you keep on task if you’re new to the composting game.

In my kitchen I now have a plastic ice cream pail set up to hold all my compostable kitchen scraps in to facilitate their collection and transfer into the compost bin on the side of my patio.


  1. Acquire a dark colored trash bin (a black bin will bake in the sun more, which is good for the organisms making the composting magic happen).
  2. Drill 10-15 holes (no bigger than 1/2 an inch) into each “side” of the bin.
  3. Drill additional holes into the lid.
  4. Drill several holes into the bottom of the can as well so that worms can find their way into your bin.
  5. Fill the bottom of the bin with several inches of dirt.
  6. Cover the dirt with your first “green” materials followed by a layer of “browns” and a little more dirt.  Moisten everything that was put into the bin.  Snap down the lid and bungee it into place.  You’re ready to go.  Regularly add to it, turn it with a shovel or roll it around, and after a while (depending on season, temperature and contents) you’ll be blessed with beautiful rich organic compost.
  7. Set up a bin with a lid in the kitchen to hold all your scraps to make transferring materials to your bin easy-peasy.

1 Comment

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One response to “DIY Compost Bin for City Folk with a Little Yard Space

  1. Awesome! We are going to start composting soon- I want to try worms but this looks very doable

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