Make Your Own Compost Bin For Under $20

Ready to turn wastes into nutrient-rich soil for your plants, right at home?

Once you’ve got your tools and materials ready, you can create your compost bin in minutes!

Our simple and extremely 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 fail-proof composting experience.


Step 1: Prepare at least one container (or bucket or pot)

We got these two containers for $11.90 each from a neighborhood houseware shop. Each measures about 32.5cm (diameter) by 40.5cm (height)—slightly larger than a wastepaper basket.

There were other similar-sized containers sold at a cheaper price, but we picked these two as they were thick and hardy.

More importantly, they are translucent, which allows us to see through and check on the composting activity without having to dig into the bins.

Do note that the size of your container/bucket/pot really depends on how much and how often your household generates wastes.

For example, if you often have raw vegetable scraps from preparing food, we recommend getting a larger-sized container/bucket/pot.

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’d then remove the finished compost and add new wastes to the first bin, while setting aside the second bin to compost completely.

Easy peasy!

Do we need lids on our compost bins? Nope. Click here to find out why.


Step 2: Ensure drainage holes at the bottom

If your compost bin already has holes at the bottom, great! Large gardening pots usually come with drainage holes at the bottom.

Otherwise, we recommend drilling several holes (about 1/4 inch in diameter) into the bottom of your bin.

These drainage holes are important as they allow excess liquids to drain off. This prevents your compost pile from getting overly wet, anaerobic, and smelly.

Avoid drilling holes that are too small, or else waterlogging will occur.

Lastly, do check that your bin is strong enough to withstand drilling! You wouldn’t want to end up with a cracked bin…


Step 3: Prepare items to prop your bin off the ground

It’s important to place your bin above a few stable bricks, stones, or any other suitable item to prop it off the ground. In our case, we used cheap plastic pots easily found in a supermarket.

By allowing excess liquids to drain off through the bottom of your bin, waterlogging in your compost can be prevented.

Also, air can flow through your bin, thereby improving aeration in your compost pile and quickening the composting 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, fallen leaves etc.

Do remember to shred or tear up bulky ‘browns’ such as cereal boxes into smaller pieces, or else 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’.

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.

Quick tip: Cut or chop your ‘greens‘ into smaller pieces (about 2-inch by 2-inch size) before adding to your bin. This allows microorganisms to work on them a lot faster, resulting in a quick composting process.


Step 6: Prepare some water for sprinkling into your bin

Moisture is important for composting, so we’ll need to set aside some water for Step 17.

Tip: If you’re new to composting, we recommend not adding water for the time being. This is because 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 an effective composting process. Read more about it here.

To keep your compost pile warm, we would need to set aside a layer of newspapers, or a flattened cardboard box, or hay for Step 18.


Step 8: Prepare a waterproof label

To avoid 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.

As you can see from the picture above, we had printed and laminated “Please Do Not Touch” signs and placed them right into our bins.

You could also use a permanent-ink marker to label your bin, but make sure your handwriting is large, clear, and obvious enough! 😉


Step 9: Prepare compost starters

Prepare a few handfuls of compost starters such as used coffee grounds or soil.

Compost starters act as “fuel” that kickstart the composting process. They contain important microorganisms that help break down the material in your compost pile.

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.

If you’re already composting, you can use compost from your current batch as excellent starters too!


Step 10: Prepare a gardening spade or tool for mixing

We got a garden spade for $3. It comes in handy when we mix or turn over the compost pile once every few weeks.

Using a tool for this purpose is a lot 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 a plant to feed your homemade “black gold” to.

We got ourselves a fragrant pandan leaf plant for only $5. This added to our collection of edible plants, such as curry leaves and limes.


Step 12: Find a suitable location

We allocated a space at the doorstep of our HDB apartment—near our row of edible plants.

We also made sure our bins were right above the drainage area, so that excess liquids from our bins 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 bins on grass.


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’

Add your prepared ‘greens‘ (see Step 5) into your bin. They should form a layer above the ‘browns‘ that were added in Step 13.


Step 15: Add compost starters and mix

Add a few handfuls of compost starters (see Step 9) into your bin.

Then, mix them with the ‘greens’ that were added in the previous step.


Step 16: Add ‘browns’ and mix

Add another layer of shredded ‘browns‘ to your bin—you should aim to add about the same amount of ‘browns‘ as ‘greens‘ (from Step 14).

Then, mix this new layer 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 smells and pests.


Step 17: Sprinkle in some water

Sprinkle a handful of 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? (It could just be a layer of newspapers, a flattened cardboard box, or hay.)

Use it to cover the top of your compost pile completely, as if placing a blanket over and keeping your 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 first 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 hay easily, thereby 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 would 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 to prop it off the ground (see Step 3).


Step 21: Keep the area around your bin clean and dry

Ensure that the ground around your bin is free from mess, dirt, and spillage. This prevents pests such as mosquitoes and ants.

You’ve successfully created your very own compost bin. Awesome!


Quick tips for the composting newbie:

Aim for a 50-50 mix of ‘greens‘ and browns‘. For example, for every bowlful of raw vegetable scraps that you add to your bin, add the same bowlful of shredded newspapers.

This also means: add the same amount of ‘greens‘ as ‘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 hope you’ve had fun creating your very own fertilizer-maker! We’d love to hear about your experience and any enquiry you may have. Do drop us a comment below or reach out on our Facebook page.

Happy composting!

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