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