How to make compost in a garbage can

How to make compost in a garbage can

Home composting

Compost is a wonderful ingredient to give plants and trees a boost. It retains water, protects against temperature extremes, helps fight weeds, and feeds plants at the speed they can use the nourishment. Nearly every household produces the items to make great compost. Normally, these go to the dump even if they have yards and house plants.

A big reason for this is though many people know the benefits of compost, they tend to get locked in to the idea of a large or hot pile, and feel they don’t have room for a large compost pile. Help is here. You can make compost in a plastic garbage can! It simply takes a little longer.


Step 1

Preparing the garbage can

Without drainage, the pile will end up with too much water on the bottom, leading to a stench, while the top may be bone dry. To combat this, drill 3/4 inch holes in the bottom and sides of the plastic can, about every 4 squar inches as shown in the picture, before you add any ingredients. This allows air in and moisture out.

Since this produces a cool pile, the garbage can is able to be placed on the ground outside the back door, where it doesn’t take up much room, doesn’t look bad, if properly done it won’t stink, it saves on garbage hauling costs as will be seen, and it encourages worms to enter the mix.

Earthworms are a good thing. The compost in a garbage can won’t work as fast as a full pile, but it doesn’t generate so much heat that it will kill worms. On the other hand, worms will help break down the ingredients in the pile faster. If you have a person in the home that likes to bait fish, this also has the added advantage of giving a ready supply of worms for fishing.

The preparation of the can takes little time or effort, and you are ready to go.

Note that the picture shows a close up of a drilled can, already filled with finished compost, which is why it looks dirty.

Step 2

Adding the ingredients

The key to any successful compost pile is the ingredients that go into it. The solid rule is no meat or oil, as these will just rot and smell bad, encouraging vermin. An exception is rinsed egg shells, as these can add calcium to the finished compost.

Onions and garlic shucks are also not great to add to the barrel, as these contain ingredients that often repel helpful insects and worms. So what can you add?

The list is huge: carrot and potato peelings, fruit trimmings (minus the seeds when possible as the pile won’t generate enough heat to kill the seeds), moldy jelly, used coffee grounds and tea bags, grass clipings, houseplant leaves, lawn leaves, manures like rabbit, hamster, horse, sheep, or cattle — avoid cat and dog manure as these can contain harmful bacteria that won’t be killed in the pile, rotted fruit, or bad vegetables. The finer they are chopped, sliced, or diced, the faster they will break down.

Even stale cornmeal and rolled oats can be added to the pile. The more variation there is, the better the end product will be.

For every three inches (about two and a half centimeters) of vegetable, try to add an inch of soil. The soil contains the bacteria that do most of the breakdown. Try not to fill a can more than half full in the first steps, as you will be adding more matter. If you need to, start another garbage can composter.

Step 3

Moisture, air, and mixing

The garbage can composter needs to be kept moist, but not wet. With the holes, excess moisture will run out, but this will also leach out a lot of the nutrients the bacteria, worms, and insects need to survive. If you can take a handful of the working compost, squeeze it, and it drips water, it is too wet.

Mixing and air go together. The compost pile needs to have air to prevent stink and to allow the ingredients to break down as well and as fast as possible. Mixing is one way that this can be accomplished.

The can contents can be periodically stirred to achieve these results, for instance, once every couple weeks and less during colder months. As the can fills up, this becomes more difficult, and many people opt to having a second prepared garbage can, so the first one can be poured into the second.

If you and your family produce a lot of vegetable matter, it is a good idea to have multiple barrels in any event. Over filling any of the cans makes it more difficult to ensure adequate moisture and air to the pile.

Step 4

Finished compost

Since composting with a garbage can produces a cool pile, it is just a little more difficult to tell when the compost is finished than with a large pile. Compost that is done should look like rich soil, with occasional bits of larger vegetable matter mixed in. The extra particles continue to break down at a much slower rate, which in turn continues to feed the plants it is used around, for some time.

This magic substance should also have the aroma of fresh loamy soil. If there is no smell at all, it can still be used, but this indicates that it worked too long. If there is a sour smell or the smell of ammonia, the pile has been kept too moist and should dry out a bit before using the compost.

Finished compost can be used immediately around plants, shrubs, and trees, or tilled into the garden. It can also be bagged, though note that it will gradually dry out, so it will take longer before it begins to benefit the plants.

While green compost that hasn’t broken down can burn plants and roots, particularly if it contains manure, finished compost is ready for the plants to use. Putting it around plants and watering immediately takes nutrients down to the roots, where the plants can use them. No chemicals even need to be involved.

You will Need
• A plastic 33-gallon garbage can
• A drill to create holes in the can
• A small amount of dirt
• Vegetable and fruit parings, leaves, or other vegetable matter
• Water
• Time

Tips & Warnings
• Do not include oils of any sort, or any meats, in the compost
• Egg shells can be composted, but should be well rinsed to prevent odor
• Do not use cat or dog manure in this compost method. A garbage can composter doesn’t generate enough heat to kill harmful bacteria and organisms.
• Don’t use onion or garlic shucks or leaves. These contain natural anti-bacterial agents that slow down the break up of the ingredients.
• Keep the compost damp but not wet.
• Compost needs to be stirred occasionally, so air can get to all parts of it. This usually only needs to be done once or twice a week.


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