Monday, June 13, 2011

Three Bin Composter from Recycled Pallets

This weekend I finally got around to finishing the three bin composter we started last year. I'm very pleased with how it turned out!  The new bins are set near our fence line (but not too near!) and behind our garage. They are easily accessible but can't be seen from the parts of the yard near the house.
The finished compost bins
To make a one bin composter you would need four pallets. Each additional bin needs three more pallets. It is easy to build them one at a time and add on as you locate additional pallets. I built the bins out of some old pallets we got from some friends. They were leftovers from a building project. We were lucky to be able to acquire so many all at once. I still have two left which will most likely be used as a platform to raise up our rain barrel system.

To make a three bin system you need 10 pallets and a way of fastening them together. I used 12 L-brackets, 6 strap hinges, and 3 eye hooks. If you don't want to purchase hardware, you could also fasten the bins together with twine, wire, bungee cords....anything really. Ours were held together with bungee cords until I had a chance to buy and install the hardware. Obviously, installing hardware becomes more difficult if a bin is filled, so you will want to keep that in mind as you proceed.

Basically, you take the pallets and form a U shape out of three of them. Along the back corners, the bins are held together with the L-brackets (or whatever fastener you've chosen). I used an L-bracket at the top and then halfway down the pallet. Three brackets would probably be stronger, but I'm cheap and two seem to be holding just fine. 
Here you get a closer look at how the bins are put together. 
I wanted to be able to easily open the bins to turn them and take finished compost out. So, I used two hinges and a hook eye closure to make the front panel. Again, this could also be done with twine, wire, or bungee cords if you prefer. 
Here you can see how the bins open and close.
With the rains we've been getting, the new compost pile has really gotten "cooking." We had two bins nearly filled early this spring and they have already dropped about a foot in height. When I get a chance, I'll probably turn both full bins into the empty one. This will give me a chance to consolidate bins and harvest compost. When fall arrives, I plan on dedicating one bin to shredded leaves. Having them separate will allow me to mix them into the other bins as we add kitchen and garden waste. It will also give me a dedicated place so that I can use those shredded leaves for mulch when I need to.

So far, I like this method much better than either of the two composting methods I've used previously. Our first compost "bin" was simply an open pile heaped in an out of the way corner of the yard. This worked -- pretty well in fact! -- but it's a pretty slow method, the pile tends to sprawl out as it gets bigger, and if you are in a dense (sub)urban setting, it's probably not the most neighborly.

Our second method was one of those plastic commercial composters. While some people have good success with these, I was never happy with it. I found it expensive, difficult to turn, and too small to manage all of the kitchen, yard, and garden waste we produce.

If you're looking for a quick, easy, and cheap way to construct a compost bin, this is a good way to get started!


Anonymous said...

I just aquired 6 pallets to make a 2 bin setup. Glad to hear it works well!

Anonymous said...

These look really good. Better than any of the ones I banged together. Did I give you a pitchfork before leaving the Midwest? (BTW This is from the original "Anonymous.")

Anonymous said...

I made these when we first moved to our new house 5 years ago and it got termites!

Becky said...

my husband is concerned about it getting hot enough to catch the wood on fire...any possibility of this happening? we once had a compost pile actually catch on fire and burn...

esp said...

Anonymous, sorry to hear about your termites. I've never seen any in this area, which is not to say they aren't around! I suppose better in the compost bin than the house!

Becky, my compost stays damp enough that I can't imagine it catching fire. I've never heard of anyone around here having a problem like that! Where was your bin located?

Tobias said...


Anonymous said...

I built one bin fr four pallets a few yrs ago. just did it on a whim. i used weedstop fabric on the sides to prevent most of the good stuff from falling out of the bin. i like the hinged fronts you use. thx

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info, I, too am CHEAP, have about 20 half pallets that my work just tosses ( the full size ones goe back to warehouse) made an impromptu compost bin, but over flowing already, will work on a setup like yours only probably several because of the half sizes I have, thanks again