How to Build a Wooden Compost Bin With Pallets
How to easily build a wooden compost bin using upcycled pallets. It’s the ideal size for converting garden waste into compost and costs very little to build. This pallet compost bin project only takes ten minutes to construct and includes a full video.
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It doesn’t matter if you have a vegetable garden or just a big grassy lawn, you will eventually have heaps of green waste. Grass clippings, weeds, pruned raspberry canes, crops that have gone to seed, you name it. Some of us might pile it all up and hope for the best, and others cart it off to be disposed of. All of this waste can make fabulous homemade compost, though.
I’ve just taken on another plot at my allotment and have had to clear a lot of weeds and brambles. I don’t have a whole lot of time to build a fancy compost bin which is why I’ve used pallets to create a simple one. It takes about ten minutes to build if your land is flat. If it’s on a slope like mine, it can take a bit more time if you want to have it level. Once it’s up, it’s sturdy and will hold the perfect amount of garden waste for aerobic composting.
Plastic Compost Bins Exclude Air
To be truly effective, a compost pile needs to be a certain size and get enough air inside the mix. That’s why the plastic compost bins sold in many garden centers don’t cut it for aerobic composting. Everything inside a plastic bin will break down but over a much longer time than a heap that’s larger and better aerated. I have a plastic compost bin, though, and it’s both great for small gardens and easy composting. It takes about a year for the compost inside to be finished, though.
For quicker compost, you need heat and oxygen, and for that to happen, the heap needs to be much larger. Turning compost and/or piling it so oxygen can get inside the heap also speeds up the composting process. Both of these aspects are addressed in a homemade pallet compost bin.
Wooden Compost Bin Size
For a compost pile to create the right environment for microbes, it should be between 3-5 square feet. Any smaller and it won’t be large enough to hold the heat needed, any larger and the bulk of it will stop air from getting to the center. Although pallets come in various sizes, they generally have one side at least three feet wide. Many of them have a longer side that’s four feet. This size is perfect for building a quick-and-easy compost bin that can be tucked into a discreet corner of the garden.
Smart Gardening Ideas
Using Pallets for Garden Projects
For this project, you will need four wooden pallets that have been heat-treated rather than chemically treated. Pallets are wooden structures used to ship goods from region to region and from country to country. To help stop the spread of invasive species, such as insects, they need to be treated.
Look for the stamp that’s on the side of every pallet. There will be a lot of symbols, letters, and numbers but what you’re looking for is ‘HT.’ If you see this, it means that the wood has been heat-treated to kill microbes and insects. If you see the symbol ‘MB,’ it means that the pallet was treated with methyl bromide, a chemical insecticide. You shouldn’t use chemically treated pallets for pallet garden projects.
Siting a Pallet Compost Bin
When you’re thinking about where to put a pallet compost bin, the ideal place is sheltered from the wind, on level ground, with partial sun, and not directly under trees. Trees can shade the pile too much, and their roots can begin growing into your pile. My garden is on a south-facing slope which isn’t the best place to put a pallet compost pile. It will have to do for me, though.
It will likely be fine if you place your pile in a more challenging position (like me), but you’ll need to keep a closer eye on it. The material inside shouldn’t get too dry or too wet. It also shouldn’t be placed where it will get too hot or too cold for whichever stage of composting it’s in. Using some sort of cover, such as plastic sheeting or boards, over the tops of the pallet compost bin can protect the contents from wind, sun, and too much rain.
Build a Wooden Compost Bin
It’s as easy as pie to make a pallet compost bin, but if you need help, watch the video above. If you’re on a flat surface, stand two pallets up so that their longer side is their width rather than their height. Overlap them at one end and use foot-long zip ties or baling twine to bind them together. Natural fibers like garden string will break down over time, so it’s best to use synthetic material. I’ve also used screws for a stronger connection, but it’s unnecessary. Strong synthetic twine or similar works a treat. Connect the pallets together at both the top and bottom for extra stability.
Next, add the third pallet and bind it too. These three pallets are for the sides and back to your compost bin. The fourth pallet is your gate and must be removed from time to time as you move compost from one bin into the next. Keep this in mind as you tie it on too. With mine, I went for baling twine again since I have plenty to spare and can cut the twine and replace it as need be. It really is as easy as that to create a simple wooden compost bin.
Building a Wooden Compost Bin on a Slope
If you’ve got no choice but to build your compost bin on a slope, it might be best to level the ground first. That way, the pallet compost bins are more stable, and the weight of the compost inside doesn’t push disproportionately on one side. You could alternatively dig the pallets into the ground instead of leveling it, but the wood may rot more quickly. It’s up to you, though.
For the pallet compost bin at my allotment garden, I dug trenches for each pallet so that they all sit level relative to one another. This creates more stability and also makes the bin a little less obtrusive in the landscape. One great thing about pallet compost bins is that the slats in the sides allow oxygen in. They also create an opening for weeds and weed seeds to settle inside. That’s why I now cover the inner walls with a sheet of air-permeable but weed-resistant material. I’ve used both synthetic weed fabric and biodegradable cornstarch weed fabric. Both work great and are easily attached to the pallets with thumbtacks.
How to Make Compost
Building a compost pile is simple but has rules. You need a good mix of materials, not just a big mound of grass clippings, to make good garden compost. The most important concept is that you need to mix both ‘green’ and ‘brown’ materials together. If you have too much of either, you might have slow composting action or a sludgy mess rather than compost. To make speedy compost, collect all the materials you need for a full compost bin and stacked them into a pile on the same day. Make sure that it’s at least three feet tall and no more than five. If you don’t stack them all simultaneously, the compost pile won’t generate the heat needed to break down quickly.
- Green materials are high in nitrogen and include grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, fresh green garden waste and weeds, animal droppings (herbivores), seaweed, and tea bag leaves. Get rid of the tea bag, though, since most of them are a material made by mixing plastic and paper.
- Brown materials are high in carbon and include brown cardboard, newspaper (colored ones, too), leaves, dried grass, straw, hay, animal bedding, pruned raspberry canes, sticks and twigs, and pine cones.
- Avoid adding soil or sod to the pile. A little soil doesn’t hurt the compost, but compost is not made from soil. Compost results from organic materials breaking down as they’re eaten by microbes such as bacteria and fungi.
There are a few types of microbes that work at different temperatures to break compost down. The science of making compost is fascinating, and a compost pile’s temperature will tell you which micro-organisms are at work. As a general rule, your pile should start off warm (55-70ºF / 13-21ºC) and then get hotter as heat-loving microbes take over.
You can get your pile’s temperature with a long compost thermometer that can get down at least 20″. If your pile gets over 160ºF (70ºC), you need to take action to cool it down. Turning compost usually does the trick. Compost will gradually cool to an ambient temperature as the waste is converted into compost. It’s then that you’ll start seeing worms, bugs, and other insects. You’ll probably also see slugs and snails. It’s a good idea to remove these before you use your compost in the garden.
I don’t understand the part about the layers of greens & browns, you said 3 feet to 5 feet, that seems like a lot?
Compost piles are best made big. Green waste is typically green in color and includes grass clippings, leaves, and uncooked vegetable scraps. Brown waste is typically not green and includes dead leaves, small twigs, ripped-up cardboard, and straw/hay (browns do not include soil). You need to mix lots of browns and greens together to make good compost. Too much of either type piled together can lead to smells and a lack of composting action.
You did not give the ratio of brown to green ? I was once told it should be 1 to 35. 1 part green to 35 brown. What OS the ratio you are using?
Two parts brown to one part green is a standard mix. I don’t subscribe to trying to control the contents of my compost too much though. I just try to make sure that there’s a good layer of brown after green and it turns out great. Here’s the easiest way to make compost
On a composting FB group I saw someone making them out of plastic pallet bases that he had salvaged out of some skips on an industrial estate, being joined together with zip ties it was very easy to move to turn the pile, just cutting the 2 ties in one corner it was very easy to move and reset up as the pallets are light weight and don’t rot (recycling plastic in good way!).
Loved your video and was not aware of the two different codes on the wood pallets designating how they are treated. Will certainly be looking for that from now on. Currently I stack mine 3 high for each of my bee hives, plus a few other uses. On a side note, did not see the link you mentioned about the cute jump suit you are wearing. I’m always on the lookout for something comfortable to wear while working in garden outdoors, especially if it has good pockets!
I love the front bib pocket — the perfect place to put your keys, phone, whatever, while you’re working outside :)
Great video – very well explained and I’m going to build a compost pile later today! I’ve just moved house, have nowhere to out grass cuttings plus I already have pallets and didn’t know what to do with them!. I didn’t want to go and buy a whole load of extra equipment as shown on other sites, so twine or zip ties look a fab alternative. Thank you!
Iam having a hard time finding the horticultural grit you talk about, in the town I live in, in the U.S. Is there a different name that it would be called here? Or a product similar to it ?
Any kind of fine crushed rock should do. In what application did you want to use it? In potting mixture or to top the compost in containers?
Obvious question is where pallets can be obtained from? Skips, garden centre bins??
It depends on your area — mine come from industral sites or I’ll sometimes see them abandoned. In other places they’re so popular that you have to buy them.
What happens when it rains/snows? Do you cover it, or leave it exposed?
I have it covered with plastic — it keeps me control the compost from getting to wet or too dry.
I really hope you make a video on how to make and use compost tea . I really enjoy your video and blog !!
You have a nice presentation when your explaining what you are doing and what you need and showing us how you build it yourself . learning a lot from your video’s keep up the good job. Is there a odor from the compost because I live in a crowded area with house’s all around?i
It depends on what you put on your heap. They shouldn’t smell that bad but if you’re adding cooked food and manure there would be an aroma. I’d recommend you don’t add cooked food though — it will attract rats and other pests.
This is actually a dangerous idea. Pallets are usually coated with toxic chemicals as a preservative. I would remove this post.
Not all pallets are coated in Methyl bromide, the chemical you’re referring to. There’s more guidance on selecting the right pallets for home and garden projects in the piece.
She said you can use HT heat treated pallets versus NOT USING MB or chemically treated ones. More research on my part before I begin the project.