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Choosing a compost container

Choosing a compost container

For a long time I thought composting required one of these fancy tumblers you see at gardening stores.  Those composters are really nice but they’re quite expensive and fortunately they’re also completely unnecessary -there are a ton of good low cost container options you can choose from.  All have their pros and cons so I’ll give you feedback on the methods we’ve tried to help you choose a container that’s right for you.

Option #1 – No container method: 

Our first compost attempt used no container at all, we just piled materials directly on the dirt.  This is the cheapest and easiest option and it actually worked pretty well.  However, there were obvious drawbacks.  First it’s completely exposed to the elements and to animals.  We had surprisingly few animal issues but were constantly worried about it and had to be extra careful about keeping things like meat out of the pile that would attract animals.  And because it had no protection, it was vulnerable to extreme weather.  This isn’t really an issue when the weather is nice but can be problematic with heavy rain or cold.  This method  also loses heat quickly which slows the decomposition process.  Finally it just didn’t look very good and I wanted to use something more official looking.  This is a good short term method if you want to start composting right away.  It gives you a chance to start accumulating a pile while you look for the right container.

Option #2 – Chicken wire method:

This was the second thing we tried and my personal favorite.  It was inexpensive, easy to make and provided some protection while still allowing good air flow.  It was convenient to add materials and to access for turning.  It’s also easy to unhitch, pick up and move to a new location when your compost is finished.  The downside is that it only provides moderate animal/weather protection (although we didn’t have problems) and it loses more heat than a container with solid sides.


  • 10-12 feet of 1″ chicken wire, 36″ tall
  • (4) four foot posts or stakes – can be metal or wood
  • (4) wire ties or clips
  • Hammer
  • Gloves
  • Optional – Fold back the first couple inches of the chicken wire on both ends to create a clean edge that won’t snag you.
  • Roll the chicken wire into a circle and secure the ends together with wire ties, clips or whatever you decide on.
  • Place it in location and pound your stakes into the ground just inside the perimeter so they provide support for the sides.
  • Then just start adding compost materials.
Note: If you plan on frequently turning your pile, consider tying the chicken wire together with something easily removable.  That way when you turn the pile you just unlatch the wire, pull the enclosure off, set it up right next door and shovel your compost back into the now empty enclosure.

Option #3 – Plastic container method:

This is the final method we tried and it’s a good choice if you have animal problems or very cold weather.  Garden centers sell commercial plastic bins specifically for compost or you can make your own out of a large garbage can.  Whatever you choose, try to make sure it holds at least 1 cubic yard (the magic minimum in composting).  We decided on an old plastic olive barrel.  The container can be used as is or can have ventilation holes drilled for better aeration.


  • A large plastic container with a lid – ideally it would hold at least 1 cubic yard, have rounded sides and a tightly fitting lid


  • Drill
  • Some people keep their container as is and just start throwing in material.  This provides the most protection and it’s easy to turn the contents by rolling the container around for a couple minutes (provided your lid fits tightly).  However, the lack of oxygen makes it really nasty and smelly.
  • Most people opt to drill holes throughout the container (on the sides and bottom) to help aerate the contents.  Start with a dozen or so holes and add more if it starts smelling rotten – good airflow helps keep smells under control.  You can still roll the container around to turn the contents, but be careful if the insides are overly wet because it can leak.  This still provides a lot of protection with better airflow.
  • Optional – some people really want worms and other beneficial critters to have access to their compost.  Therefore they saw off the bottom of the can with a coping saw or jigsaw and place the container directly on the soil.  The catch is that now the contents are harder to turn -once you remove the bottom, don’t try rolling the container around your yard:)

Note: I like this method for it’s protection from animals and it’s ability to retain heat.  However, it smelled worse and I found unscrewing the lid to be really annoying.  I know this sounds dumb, but often times I had kitchen scraps in hand, Luke on my hip and that darn lid was inconvenient enough to make me not want to use the thing.  That being said, a better lid and better ventilation would probably fix both problems.

Now if you’d like instructions on making compost click here:


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One Response to “Choosing a compost container”

  1. Sandip says:

    You can make a compost bin very ealisy out of wire mesh. Just make a circle out of it and tie the ends with wire ties. Or put 4 posts into the ground in a square and line three side with either wood spars or wire. You would not need a drill, but you would need a hammer if making wooden sides.Good LuckBeulah Was this answer helpful?

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