When horticulturists at the University of California Cooperative Extension set out to design the perfect compost bin, they wanted one that was simple to build, easy to use, and efficient at making compost. The bin shown here meets those criteria.
This 3-foot-square unit consists of five sections. You start the compost pile by filling one or two sections with organic matter, then stack on the other sections as you add more material. By following the recipe below, you can have a load of finished compost in about six weeks.
TIME: Two to three hours
COST: $50 to $75, depending on the grade of wood (we used untreated pine)
• 60 feet 1-by-6 utility wood
• 10 feet 2-by-2 utility wood
• 80 2-inch woodscrews
• 1 quart of wood sealer
1. Saw the 1-by-6s into 10 36-inch lengths and 10 34-inch lengths; saw the 2-by-2s into 6-inch lengths.
2. Lay each of 34-inch boards over two 2-by-2s, with one 2-by-2 flush with each end but offset from the top edge by 1 inch. Drive two screws through the 1-by-6s into each 2-by-2.
3. Place one 34-inch board upside down with 2-by-2s extending upward. Place a 36-inch board against one end, flush with the top, bottom, and outside edge. Attach with two woodscrews through the 1-by-6 into the 2-by-2. Add second 34-inch board at other end of 36-inch board. Complete section with other 36-inch board, making a 36-inch square. Repeat the process for each of the remaining four sections.
4. Apply two coats of wood sealer.
Recipe for homemade compost
Compost improves soil texture, fertility, and ability to hold water and air. Here's how to make it.
INGREDIENTS. Include grass clippings, dead leaves, and vegetable kitchen waste. Don't add diseased plants, plant parts that contain thorns, weed seedheads, or meat, fat, or bones from the kitchen. Chop or shred everything to speed decomposition. I run my lawn mower over fallen leaves.
ALTERNATE LAYERS OF BROWN AND GREEN MATTER. Put down a 3-inch layer of brown matter, such as shredded dead leaves, which contain plenty of carbon. Cover it with an equal layer of green matter, like grass clippings, which contain a lot of nitrogen.
If you're short on green matter, sprinkle the brown matter with high-nitrogen fertilizer (such as lawn fertilizer). To speed up decomposition in a new pile, add a few shovelfuls of old compost, which already contains bacteria and fungi.
KEEP THE PILE MOIST AND AERATED. Sprinkle the pile with water to keep it about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Use a spading fork or pitchfork to thoroughly mix the ingredients and aerate the pile. When the compost is ready, its texture will be like that of fine soil.
More: How to grow veggies