DIY Files: How to Make a Composter

To Compost or not to Compost?

If you are reading this article you are likely already convinced of the many benefits of composting, so we’ll start with inspiration for how to make a composter out of (you guessed it!) a blue plastic barrel

If you’re completely new to composting, we’ve included some tips below for how to create your own “black gold.” Compost is a rich, regenerative resource made from kitchen and garden scraps, naturally!

hands with compost
Compost: it's called black gold for a reason!

How to Make a Composter

A compost set-up can take on many forms from a free-standing mound on the ground to a fancy, pricey compost contraption with all the bells and whistles.

Our suggested composter at BlueBarrel? Well, a blue barrel, of course! 

A 55-gallon recycled plastic drum is an ideal receptacle for composting, and with a few DIY modifications you can build a rotating, aerating, compost-making tumbler of your own. (And, yes, we can help you find recycled barrels near you.)

There are many custom designs out there for a rotating DIY composter. Whether you re-use materials on hand, or make a trip to the hardware store, the basic design elements include:

Elevation:

A frame elevates the barrel off the ground and supports the rotation pole. An elevated composter also allows you to place it on a deck or patio—a great option for urban composters!

Rotation:

A rotating pole and optional handle or crank is the key to keeping your compost in motion. Tumbling the compost incorporates newly added materials while aerating the mixture and accelerating the aerobic decomposition process.

Ventilation:

Drill holes into the drum to further aerate the mixture. Holes can be screened if they’re large enough for debris to escape. 

Access: 

A hinged door for adding ingredients and accessing the finished product. This is also an entry point for water—an essential ingredient in any compost recipe. 

Example DIY Composter

barrel composter

Here is one example from BlueBarrel customer, Andrew, of Columbus, Ohio. A simple wood frame provides elevation for easy rotation and allows for convenient deck placement right outside the kitchen door. 

Can you identify all of the above elements in Andrew’s home composter design?

Click here for a similar example, including a step-by-step from Instructables.

We love learning about all the creative ways our customers use our recycled blue barrels. Thanks for sharing, Andrew!

This is actually a great case-study in “upcycling,” or repurposing used items into something of even greater use.

How is that for a great segue into compost itself, which re-imagines kitchen and yard “waste” as a valuable resource for nourishing any garden. Because we know there is no such thing as waste in nature’s design.

Getting Started with Composting

Compost enthusiasts may find the process and its results magical, but composting is not magic, just nature. In other words, anyone can do it! Below is a brief introduction to the best practices and benefits of composting...have fun and good luck!

Reduce waste and utilize your organic “trash” to make “black gold” (a.k.a. compost!)

You’ve got the coffee grounds, the vegetable peels, the grass clippings, and the fallen leaves so don’t go shipping them off to the landfill! Keep this organic matter on site and turn it into food for your garden—the ultimate in upcycling.

Don’t have a garden per se? Scatter finished compost on the lawn, beneath trees, or in your neighbor's garden...share the wealth, it is black gold, after all. 

 

Browns and Greens

There is a method to this magic and it has to do with proportions and ingredients. The millions of micro and macro organisms breaking down the organic matter into compost have some requirements: carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen. Accordingly, the organic matter should include a mix of carbon-rich "brown" materials and nitrogen-rich "green" materials (check out the handy Browns and Greens list below for details.) A very basic approach to proportions is 2 parts green to 1 part brown. Water can be added as needed to keep the mixture moist, and the tumbling action and ventilation holes introduce oxygen to the process to keep those hard-working organisms happy. 

 

There is no wrong way to compost

Are there better methods than others? Sure.

Again, a well-aerated and turned pile with the right combination of brown and green materials will result in hotter, faster, and more “standard” compost (i.e. that earthy, crumbly black gold). But the recipe for aerobic decomposition (the biological process transforming your scraps into compost) is as easy as organic waste + air + water. You may have to tinker with your recipe and make adjustments over time, but the organic matter will break down, and you can be proud that you’re sending it back to its rightful home, completing the cycle of nature. 

 

Make your plants happy(er)

Adding compost to your garden increases the organic matter in the soil which improves soil structure, increases beneficial microorganisms, and provides essential nutrients for plant growth. Decomposed organic matter is one of the original fertilizers provided by mother nature and it works, naturally! Since we are a rainwater harvesting company, may we also add that rainwater is another amazing and natural way to make your plants happy

compost infographic on carbon and nirtrogen
from Stacey Murphy and GrowYourOwnVegetables.org

Article by Olivia Loughrey, BlueBarrel staff writer, MS ecological design. 

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