How to Make a Compost Bin From a 5-Gallon Bucket

Composting is awesome! You can recycle your food, provide the environment with different benefits such as a more nutritious soil structure, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, lessen the damage from droughts, and avoid the use of chemicals.

However, purchasing a composting bin can be expensive, with some bins costing upwards of $100, which is why people turn to DIY alternatives.

There is a do-it-yourself option that is very easy to assemble and it won’t cost you tons of money. All you need is a 5-gallon bucket (which you might have already) that you can acquire from a local hardware store or farm for a few dollars, and a few other tools.

Before I show you how you can build your DIY composting system, let’s go over a few basic and foundational questions.

What is Composting?

Before you learn about how to make a compost bin on your own, it is important to understand how composting works.

Composting is nature’s way of recycling organic matter and convert it into valuable nutrients that can be used to enrich the soil. Organic matter can decompose on its own, but composting can speed up the process by providing an environment that is ideal for the bacteria, fungi, and other decomposing organisms to break down matter.

Nonetheless, there are factors you must consider before you decide to start composting:

  • The available space in your household
  • How much organic waste you produce on a weekly basis
  • What kind of organic waste do you produce (vegetables and fruits are the best)
  • How much time can you spend overseeing your compost (you still have to turn your compost from time to time)

In other words, you must have enough space to set up a composting system, you need to produce enough organic waste to decompose (preferably veggies and fruits), and you need to be able to set up some time every week to aerate the compost.

What is a Compost Bin?

A compost bin is a container made specifically to turn organic waste into compost over time. Most compost bins are designed to speed up decomposition through proper aeration and moisture retention. When air and moisture are properly combined, an ideal condition is created to transform and turn the organic waste into compost. 

Most compost bins only have a single compartment, so you either make a batch of compost all at once, or you employ the add-as-you-go method, though it will take longer for the compost to decompose. More sophisticated compost bins have separate compartments for different batches of compost, which means you can have compost at different stages of decomposition.

Using a compost bin helps speed up the decomposition, and it also protects your compost against rodents and cold/rainy climate.

How to Make a Compost Bin from a 5-Gallon Bucket

It’s actually simple to make your compost bin! Here are the materials you will need to get started:

  • One 5-gallon bucket with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Small sticks for the drainage
  • Drill or hammer with nails
  • Green materials¬†
  • Brown materials
  • A trash can to collect food scraps in your kitchen

Here’s an easy step by step explanation on how to make your compost bin:

Step 1

Start by acquiring a 5-gallon bucket. If you’re not using a brand new bucket, make sure you rinse and wash out any salt or sugar residue that may affect your plants. 

Step 2

Drill some holes around the perimeter of your bucket and lid. This will allow air to get in and the excess water to flow out of the bucket. Decomposing bacteria require oxygen and moisture to properly decompose, however, you do not want to have too much or too little of each. Also, make sure to use a small drill bit that is about 1/4 inch in size to make sure the dirt doesn’t pour outside.

Use a nail and a hammer to make holes if you don’t have a drill available. 

Step 3

Layer several sticks in the bottom of your bucket to help make sure that the bottom holes for drainage do not get clogged with the compost materials you put inside. This will create a space for the oxygen to flow through. It is also a good thing to add extra brown materials on top of the sticks… something like dried leaves.

It is also important to make sure that the sticks you’ve placed are crammed in tightly to avoid them rolling around the compost and affect the drainage system. 

Step 4

Place your scraps, paper, eggshells, or whatever food waste you have accumulated for composting inside your bucket. You mostly have the freedom to add anything except animal products but make sure you alternate between fresh vegetable matters like plant clippings and vegetable scraps that have dry leaves, straw, and other “brown” stuff to keep the moisture level ideal. 

Also, sprinkle a handful of ordinary dirt on each layer as you go. Halfway through piling, sprinkle a little bit of water. It’s better to have a compost that is dry than overly wet. 

Smelly compost is not good. It happens when there is not enough “brown” material added to the compost and the compost does not get the air it needs. Also, avoid filling the bucket too full so that the air can still move through the compost.

Step 5

Tightly close the lid on and roll the bucket on the ground as you go.

Roll and shake your compost bucket every time you add new waste. This will help evenly distribute the moisture and air through the compost and quicken decomposition.

Make sure you place the bucket in a warm and sunny spot since heat helps break things down quicker. But do not get it overly hot or you risk killing the microorganisms that break down the compost.

Step 6

Have a small trash can placed in your kitchen to collect the scraps and waste until you are ready to add it to your compost bucket. You can put a trash can under your sink for storing waste, however, this will require you to empty it out each day to avoid attracting flyes and grow mold.

Hopefully, by following these steps you can have your DIY compost bucket! Under the right conditions, you should have ready-to-use compost in six weeks. Once ready, compost shrinks to about half the original volume and looks pretty much like regular soil.

What Can I Put In My Compost Bin?

To decompose waste you need four key elements to thrive and effectively decompose your organic waste. These are nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. Since pretty much every compostable material has carbon different amounts of nitrogen, now you just have to use the right combination of materials to achieve the best results.

Greens or Nitrogen

Nitrogen is known to be one of the basic building blocks of life. This is an important element for growth and reproduction in both plants and animals. Having a lot of greens in your compost pile allows the decomposing bacteria to grow and reproduce quickly.

Here are some “greens” you can add to your compost bucket:

  • Grass clippings
  • Fruits and Vegetable Scraps
  • Egg Shells
  • Coffee or Tea Grounds

Browns or Carbon

Another important one is carbon, and it’s abundant in brown plant materials.

Carbon is a food source for decomposing bacteria and keeps them alive as they break down and decompose waste.

Here are some “browns” you can add to your compost bucket: 

  • Shredded Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Brown Leaves
  • Mulch 
  • Straw
  • Twigs
  • Branches

Oxygen and Water

Like any other living matter, decomposing bacteria need oxygen and water to thrive. To ensure a smooth composting process, air and water are absolutely essential.

However, be careful not to add too much water, otherwise you risk drowning the bacteria. Too much water will also cause the compost to become smelly or even gain mold.

Materials You Should Avoid Adding to Compost

Just because compost requires food and other forms organic waste, that doesn’t mean you can add every type of waste at your disposal.

In fact, here is a list of things you shouldn’t add to your compost bucket:

  • Pet waste
  • Charcoal
  • Fat and oil
  • Meat and bones
  • Dairy
  • Manure from horse and pigs
  • Plants with pests
  • Coffee or tea bags

Unfortunately, these may

Conclusion

Yes, you don’t need an expensive compost bin to get started.

With a 5-gallon bucket and a few items you can now recycle your organic waste to produce compost to sell or use in your own garden. Now you can avoid using chemical fertilizers (that damages the soil) and you can avoid contributing to methane emissions derived from organic waste in landfills.

Hopefully, we’ve made the process of building your own composting system much easier with this quick and simple step-by-step guide.