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from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

A Recycled Compost Bin

In honor of Earth Day, I’m turning an old compost bin into a new potato bin.

The three-bay bin at the north end of my vegetable garden, with the new bin behind it off to the right.

The three-bay bin at the north end of my vegetable garden, with the new bin behind it off to the right.

I’ve had a three-bay, homemade compost bin for about 15 years. Here’s how they’re supposed to work: Once the first bin is full of yard and kitchen scraps, you move the material into the middle bin to cook. Then you gradually refill the first bin with fresh material. When the middle bin has decomposed, you move that material into the third bin to finish, and then transfer what’s now in the first bin to the middle one. The process of moving the material from one bin to the next, gets it aerated and mixed. In theory, you always have some finished compost waiting in that last bin.

I’m sure this is a great system, but I’ll never know for sure. In the dozen years I had it, I never once moved material from one bin to another. Everything just got tossed into the first bin. Once it was full, which usually took about a year, I’d push the stuff on top aside and remove the finished stuff from the bottom.

Here is the almost-emptied three-bay bin. The section on the left is almost ready for planting potatoes. Once I move the leaves from the other two bins, they'll be ready, too. In late summer, after I've harvested the potatoes, I'll use the area like a big coldframe.

Here is the almost-emptied three-bay bin. The section on the left is almost ready for planting potatoes. Once I move the leaves from the other two bins, they’ll be ready, too. In late summer, after I’ve harvested the potatoes, I’ll use the area like a big coldframe.

The second bin was usually filled with leaves, which I use for mulching and mixing in with the kitchen scraps in the first bin. The third bin usually contained a tangle of tomato cages, bamboo poles, wooden stakes and wire hoops.

This system could have continued for years, but this spring, I decided that I want to try growing potatoes again. Unfortunately, every inch of my vegetable garden is already spoken for.

A few weeks ago, while wandering around the yard waiting for the ground to thaw, my eyes fell upon those poorly utilized compost bins. If I emptied them, I could plant potatoes inside the bins and then use the same area as a coldframe during late fall and winter.

earth-day-recycled-composter

My Earth Day compost bin. This is day one. Looks like I’ll need to staple some hardware cloth across that front edge to keep things inside.

This meant I needed a different place for compost. With austerity in mind, and wanting to repurpose used materials rather than buy new, I pitched the idea of a new bin made out of wooden pallets. The photo above shows the result.

This new bin will hold about 35 cubic feet, so it will easily accommodate everything I can put into it from now until the snow flies. At that point, I’ll leave it sit for the winter and put a smaller enclosed bin, such as our Deluxe Pyramid Composter, closer to the house so it’s easy to get to during the winter months (when taking the compost out often means wading through 2 or 3 feet of snow).

If you don’t have access to used pallets and someone who is handy with a hammer, check out our wide variety of compost bins.

-Kathy LaLiberte, Director of Gardening, Gardener’s Supply

9 Comments

  1. April 20, 2009    

    I have a three bin system, too, and work it in much the same way as you do, though I usually end up with all 3 bins full. I use wire bins that i purchased from Gardeners’ Supply and then “hide it” from general view with some bamboo fencing, also from Gardeners’ Supply.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  2. April 21, 2009    

    Hi Carol,
    I would have continued merrily along using the extra bins for storage if I hadn’t needed the growing space for my gourmet planting of yellow, purple and red potatoes (!)
    If you look closely at the picture of my new wooden composter, you can see there’s a wire bin peeking out from the side. Just like you, that’s where I’m storing my leaves. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Sam
    April 21, 2009    

    It looks great.

    Having a temporary composter near the house in the winter sounds like a good idea, I also often have to wade through deep snow to our own composter and I think I will look into investing in a smaller bin as well.

  4. B
    April 28, 2009    

    Kathy
    I always enjoy reading what you write! You have a wonderful calming effect after siting at my desk all day working on computers. Can’t wait to get home and get my hands back in the soil again. We tend to garden in parallel, hundreds of miles apart. All of your great gardening advice is much appreciated
    Happy Springtime!
    Bob in NC

  5. April 28, 2009    

    Hi Bob,
    Always such a treat to find out there are gardeners out there actually reading (and even enjoying!) what we write. Thanks a lot for leaving a comment.
    Spring is glorious up here. I have trout lilies, bloodroot (single and double), Dutchman’s breeches, trilliums, primroses and hellebores all blooming in my shade garden right now. The first asparagus should be ready to harvest by the end of the week. Hope spring is equally delicious down there!

  6. July 15, 2009    

    Great post. Thanx for sharing this valuable info

  7. January 1, 2010    

    I also use 3 wire bin system I purchased from Gardener’s Supply, but because of my age it got harder and harder to turn the stuff. So I bought a big tumbler type from Gardeners’ that we add stuff to as it becomes available and when it is half full we stop adding material and give it extra turns and additional helpful bacteria to get it composed composed in about 3 weeks, then transfer it to the #1 wire bin which is beside it and start a new batch in the tumbler.
    In the wire bin it is much too hard to turn (I am OLD) so I discovered if I take my Gardner’s Claw I can turn it in seconds.
    And like you, that second bin is used for shredded leaves (bought my Shredder from Gardeners’ Supply too) and what about the third wire bin–why, growing potatoes, of course! I also have a red worm vermicomposter set up that I bought from Gardeners’ Supply, and I add trays of worm compost to my potatos in the wire bin periodically.
    Where there is a will there is a way. Where there is an extra bin, there is potatoes!
    Happiness is to know…

  8. March 4, 2010    

    I keep an empty garbage can in the garage specifically to store compost materials when the weather is too bad to go out to the compost bin. Since the garage is warmer than the outdoors, the materials can start breaking down a little before they go out to the bin to freeze for the rest of winter.

    I’ve used Garden Supply’s wire bins too. I put surplus landscape fabric across the top to hold in moisture. Those wire bins really did the job with little work.

  9. May 20, 2011    

    another use for those bamboo poles instead of compost it to build the bins you use with bamboo =) free and high quality.. super easy to do without nails etc just lace the bamboo through the post =)

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