Ready to turn waste into nutrient-rich soil for your plants, right at home?
Once you’ve got your tools and materials ready, you can set up a compost bin in minutes!
Our simple and low-cost method works well, even if you’re living in a high-rise apartment with limited space.
Before you start, we recommend that you take a quick read of our two-part series, Become A Composting Expert. It’ll give you a head start in ensuring an enjoyable and successful composting experience!
Step 1: Prepare at least one container (or bucket or pot)
We got these thick, hardy containers for $11.90 each from a neighborhood houseware shop. Each measures about 32cm (diameter) by 42cm (height)—slightly larger than a wastepaper basket.
They are translucent, allowing us to observe and check on the composting activity without digging into the bins.
Do note that the size of your bin depends on how much and how often your household generates waste.
For example, a family that cooks often will likely require a larger compost bin to contain the bigger amounts of raw vegetable scraps from the kitchen.
Next, we got two containers for good reason: Once the first one is full, we would set it aside to compost completely, while adding new wastes to the second one.
Usually, by the time the second container is filled, the compost in the first one would be ready to use. We would then remove the finished compost and add new wastes to the first bin, while setting aside the second bin to compost.
Do we need lids on our compost bins? Nope. Click here to find out why.
Step 2: Ensure drainage holes at the bottom (for first-timers)
If you’re composting for the first time, we recommend drilling several holes (about 1/4 inch in diameter) into the bottom of your bin.
Do check beforehand if your bin is strong enough to withstand drilling. You wouldn’t want to end up with a cracked bin!
Alternatively, you may choose to use large gardening pots as they usually have drainage holes at the bottom.
These drainage holes are important as they allow excess liquids to drain off, preventing your compost pile from getting overly wet, anaerobic, and smelly.
If you’re confident in maintaining the moisture level in your bin (not too wet or dry), then drainage holes are not necessary.
Step 3: Prepare items to prop your bin off the ground
If your bin has drainage holes, it’s important to prop your bin off from the ground by placing it on top of a few stable bricks, pebbles, stones, or any other suitable item. In our case, we used these cheap plastic pots.
This allows excess liquids to drain off and prevents your compost pile from being waterlogged.
Also, this encourages airflow through your bin, thereby improving aeration in your compost pile and quickening the breakdown process.
Step 4: Prepare ‘browns’
‘Browns‘ are biodegradable carbon materials that soak up and balance moisture in your compost pile.
Examples include empty toilet paper rolls, newspapers, cardboard, paper bags, cereal boxes, brown leaves etc.
Do shred or tear up bulky ‘browns’ such as cereal boxes into smaller pieces, otherwise your bin will fill up too quickly!
For a more complete list of ‘browns’, click here.
Step 5: Prepare ‘greens’
‘Greens‘ are the opposite of ‘browns’. They contain moisture and important nitrogen for your compost, and they break down a lot quicker.
They include raw kitchen scraps such as carrot peels, corn husks, vegetables stems, garlic husks, onion husks, fruit peels etc.
Click here for a more comprehensive list of ‘greens’.
Important: Do not add any cooked food into your bin! These give off bad smells and attract pests.
Raw, uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps are the safest ‘greens’ for your compost bin.
For a list of materials you should not add to your bin, click here.
Step 6: Prepare some water for sprinkling into your bin
Tip: If you’re new to composting, we recommend not adding water for the time being. It’s easier to manage a dry compost pile than a wet one.
Step 7: Set aside a simple insulator
Warmth is an important requirement for composting to go well. Read more about it here.
To keep your compost pile warm, set aside a thick layer of newspapers, or a flattened cardboard box, or hay for Step 18.
Step 8: Prepare a waterproof label
To prevent your compost bin from being emptied out by a kind public cleaner, we recommend labelling your bin.
Use a waterproof or laminated label so it can withstand weather elements such as rain and hot, humid weather.
As you can see from the picture above, we printed and laminated our labels, and placed them right on our compost piles.
You may also use a thick permanent-ink marker to label your bin—just make sure your handwriting is clear and obvious! 😉
Step 9: Prepare compost starters
Compost starters function as “fuel” to kickstart the composting process. They contain important microorganisms that help break down the material in your compost pile.
Simply prepare a few handfuls of compost starters such as used coffee grounds or soil.
We got a packet of soil from a neighborhood shop for about $2. You may even get handfuls for free if you stay near a field or garden.
Wish to use something more potent? Check out this compost starter that contains beneficial bacteria cultures that accelerate composting.
Tip: If you’re already composting, you may use compost from your current batch as excellent starters too!
Step 10: Prepare a gardening spade or tool for mixing
A garden spade comes in handy when we mix or turn over the compost pile once every few weeks.
It’s better than digging into rotting material with your bare hands. Trust us, we know.
Step 11: Set aside at least one potted plant
The benefits of composting become real and satisfying when you have plants to feed your homemade “black gold” to.
We grew ourselves a fragrant pandan plant. It added to our collection of edible plants, such as curry leaves and limes.
You can easily get an amazing array of seeds on Amazon too! Check out these beautiful planting kits:
- Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit
- Nature’s Blossom Herb Garden Seed Starter Kit
- Planter’s Choice 9-Herb Window Garden (40 Piece Kit)
- Mason Jar Herb Garden Set
- Nature’s Blossom Sow & Grow Seed Starter Kit
Step 12: Find a suitable location
We allocated a space at the doorstep of our highrise apartment—near our row of edible plants.
We also made sure our bins were right above the drainage area, so that excess liquids can flow straight into it, minimizing mess.
If you’re living on the ground floor or have access to a backyard or garden, you may simply set your compost bin on grass.
Tip: It’s best to place your compost bin in partial sun, because warmth helps the living microorganisms in your pile to thrive. This quickens the composting process!
Step 13: Shred ‘browns’ and add to your bin
Fill the bottom of your compost bin with a thick layer (about 5 inches) of ‘browns‘ such as shredded toilet rolls and shredded newspapers. These help to soak up excess moisture and improve aeration in your bin.
Step 14: Add ‘greens’
Step 15: Add compost starters and mix
Add a generous amount of compost starters (see Step 9) into your bin.
Then, mix them with the ‘greens’ that were added in the previous step. Ensure that your ‘greens’ are well coated with the compost starters.
Step 16: Add ‘browns’ and mix
Add another layer of shredded ‘browns‘ into your bin—you should aim to add the same amount of ‘browns‘ as ‘greens’ from Step 14.
Then, mix well with the ‘greens‘ and compost starters from the previous step.
This introduces air spaces into your compost pile, ensuring an aerobic (oxygenated) and effective composting process. It also prevents your compost pile from odors and pests.
Step 17: Add water
Add some water into your compost bin.
However, if you are composting for the first time, we recommend skipping this step as it is easier to manage a dry compost pile than a wet one.
Step 18: Cover the top of your compost pile
Remember the simple insulator that you’ve set aside in Step 7?
Use it to cover the top of your compost pile completely, as if placing a blanket over and keeping your compost pile warm.
This helps the microorganisms in your compost work more efficiently, as they thrive in warmer temperatures.
A dry layer at the top also functions as a line of defense against flies that are seeking moist places to lay their eggs on.
In our case, we prefer using a thick layer of hay (see picture above). This is because air can flow through it easily, improving aeration and keeping smells and pests at bay.
Quick tip: You may also position your bin under partial sun to keep your compost pile warm. However, avoid placing it under direct sunlight as extreme temperatures will kill the beneficial microorganisms.
Step 19: Label your bin
Remember to label your bin (see Step 8), if you haven’t done so!
Step 20: Prop your bin off the ground
Place your bin securely above a few stable bricks, stones, or any other suitable item (see Step 3).
Step 21: Keep the area around your bin clean and dry
Check to make sure the ground around your bin is free from mess, dirt, and spillage. This prevents pests such as mosquitoes and ants.
You’ve made your very own DIY compost bin. Well done!
Quick tips for the composting newbie:
In other words: add the same amount of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ in Steps 14 and 16.
If it’s your first time composting, we recommend adding more ‘browns’ than ‘greens’, because a dry compost pile is easier to manage than a wet one.
For more awesome tips on composting, click right here.
We believe you’ve had fun setting up your very own black gold generator! We’d love to hear about your experience and any questions you may have. Drop us a comment below or reach out on our Facebook page.