Making Dirt – Part 1

Note: This is part one of a two part article on compost.


Read part two – DIY vermicomposting worm farm – here.

I knew I was getting old the day I started to think that making my own garden dirt was cool.

Don’t get me wrong… I don’t think I’m old, and I don’t dislike the fact that I am getting older, actually I think it’s pretty cool. I just find it amusing the way our thinking changes as we age. The one wish I do have is that I knew what I know now when I was 16!

Kitchen Compost Buckets

Today I want to follow up on a promise I gave to several FiveCentNickel.com readers in my “Breaking Free From a Culture of Temptation” article a while back. I promised I would write a post detailing how I constructed a kitchen compost bucket for very little money. In the original article I mentioned how I was tempted to purchase a kitchen compost bin rather than make my own. Here is the snippet from the original article:

A store-bought kitchen composting bucket ($20) Here again, I made my own… and only spent $1.50! This will likely be the subject of a forthcoming post.


Both of these compost-related purchases were very tempting, and I really had to fight the urge to buy and instead choose the frugal road. Beyond saving money, I have more pride in these possessions — partly because I made/improved them, and partly because I know that I sacrificed my short-term wants for my greater goal.

Making my own bin was easy, cheap, and satisfying. Much more satisfying than buying one for $20, or worse yet buying one for $50! If you are not into making your own, you can purchase one of the two I was debating between. They are both high quality options that I would have gone with if I weren’t über frugal!

Store bought kitchen compost bins

  • The $56 option – a stainless steel kitchen compost bucket that employs a charcoal filter to eliminate smells.
  • The $20 option – this bucket is constructed of plastic and also employs a charcoal filter.

As I mention above, each of these are a solid option if your are not trying to play the role of Fruggie McFrugalpants. Prices posted were taken at the time of writing.

So What Did I Do?

I made my own of course!

My homemade, DIY kitchen compost bucket

  • The $1.50 option – an empty plastic coffee can with its very own built-in charcoal filter.

Here’s how I did it:

  • An old empty coffee can or similar free container with a resealable lid (I got a few from the office that were being tossed)
  • A package of charcoal filters from your local pet supply store – they sell them for kitty litter boxes (this eliminates the odor)
  • A drill with a 1/4″ bit
  • A hot glue gun (super/crazy glues should work fine too)

1.  Start with your parts and tools

2.  Drill 10+ holes in the lid with a 1/4″ drill bit

3.  Hot glue the charcoal filter to the lid

4.  Voila – the finished product

We store our DIY Kitchen Compost Bucket under our kitchen sink so food scraps can easily be added to it during food preparation. My wife is very particular about smells and was happy to find that no odor came from our homemade bin, thanks to the charcoal filterJust like with any other bin equipped with a charcoal filter, you will have to replace the filters every few months if you want it to remain effective.


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Comments

  1. Mom says

    Hey, a 35 pound kitty litter bucket works well for compost too. (After it is emptied of original contents, of course!) Could also be adapted with the filter. Has a built in hinged cover that seals. Cant wait to hear about the worm bin! :-)

  2. says

    Interesting idea here, I have been wanting to do some organic gardening and this looks like a great idea to help that. I would have probably just went out and bought some compost.

    Thanks for the good information.

    • says

      making your own compost has so many benefits, and this cheap and easy bucket to throw kitchen scraps in is a great way to get started! enjoy…

  3. ArtVandelay says

    @Matt How often do you empty the container i.e. when full or every few days, etc? How do you replace the charcoal filter….just rip it off? Did the filter fit without trimming?

    • says

      Mr. Vandelay…
      We empty it when it gets full (we NEVER smell it). To replace the filter – yep… just rip it off & glue a new one in its place. We have had ours for several months now and are still using the first filter. It started to get a little mold on it, but the mold disappears after you empty it and rinse it out. We will not replace it until we can “smell” the bucket.

      • Michelle says

        Matt,

        That’s a great idea for when the weather turns bad & running the kitchen accumulation outdoors to the big tumbler becomes dreadful. I’m gonna try it.
        In the meantime, what do you suggest (other than a large garbage can & heavy-duty shredder) to collect the various cardboard boxes? We have a family of 5 and cereal boxes, frozen meal boxes, etc accumulate quickly & become a tedious chore to tear down to prevent a tower from forming on the counter.

        • Cynthia says

          I cut cereal boxes into strips and put them through the paper shredder, then into the compost! They make a great form of “brown” material. This is fine is you’re putting it in flower beds or other locations where non-edibles are grown. If you’re using the compost in vegetable or fruit growing areas, you should probably omit any printed material as you don’t know what’s in the ink.

          That said, I love putting shredded paper, paper towel rolls, etc. into the compost.

        • says

          The filters are a 5″ diameter. They fit perfectly in that coffee lid as purchased – I did not have to cut them. I bought them at Pet Supplies Plus.

  4. Jean says

    Hi Matt – I made one of these kitchen compost buckets from a small white bucket (larger than a coffee can). It works very well, no smell at all. It sits on the floor next to the trash can and amazingly, my family actually uses it without even being asked! Thanks for the DIY instructions! I see a worm bin in my future…

  5. says

    I have all DIY tools to make my own and so cheap kitchen compost bucket except the hot glue gun, I will purchase it for sure cuz in future I can save many dollars and can make a bucket for each room separately as cost is too much low, will suggest my friends to view this post to save the money.

  6. Darla says

    We just use an old half gallon ice cream bucket with no filter. It is twice the size of your coffee can which seems small for us. Smells are no problem due to high amount of coffee grounds maybe, real cheap filter. I have always been attracted to those pretty ones in catalogs and online but never caved in because you cannot beat free.

    • Melynda says

      This is what I have on hand also but I do not have coffee grounds….I use instant since I a lone drinker of the juice! lol Guess I’ll buy the charcoal filters. Can’t wait to start my frugal bin!!!

  7. says

    great diy! i am thinking of making a compost as well. i am going to go home and look for a plastic bin with a tight lid. thanks for the excellent idea!

  8. Al says

    Just wanted to thank you for the inspiration. I found an asparagus steamer pot at Goodwill and a lid with a steam vent valve that fit the pot just right. No drilling needed! In and out in $5 and it looks darn close to the $56 number. *pats self on back*

  9. Shirley says

    If you use a container lid that’s larger than the filter, does that really matter as long as you only drill enough holes to fit the filter size?

    • diyNatural says

      Um, you are likely to have better results if the lid fits securely on the container, but you can give it a shot.

    • brad says

      I was wondering about this as well. I Think diyNatural misunderstood your question. I think you’re talking about a container with a lid that fits securely but is larger than the filter. In which case you would ither have to drill many holes and use multiple filters, OR only drill enough holes to cover one filter. I can’t think of any reason why the latter wouldn’t work just fine.

  10. beatrice says

    I love this idea of a compost pail. what other containers can be used i wonder other then plastic. I have wanted to compost for a long time but it just seemed to much to pay for a compost bin, outside lawn compost or even water barrels.why is anything to help better our environment always cost more?

    • says

      Beatrice – You don’t have to spend alot of money on an outdoor compost pile. I use the “open pile” method screened by some azaleas and it works just fine: decide where your pile will be; dig up the soil/dirt where you are going to place the pile; lay down a nice bed of twigs or small sticks and start adding your chicken scraps and yard waste. Don’t bother with a “starter” or compost enhancer; just toss some dirt on the pile from time to time. You can water it and turn it, but even if you don’t do these things, you will get wonderful compost in several months or a year. Just remember to add green waste (lawn clippings, plant cuttings, kitchen waste) and brown waste (shredded newspaper, shredded leaves). If my pile gets too “wet”, I just shred up some newspaper and mix it in.

      Good luck!

  11. Deanna C says

    I am loving this. Just found it and plan to make a lot of homemade products from now on. Have been working at going natural already. I do want to remind everyone that you should NEVER, NEVER put any meat products in the compost pile! Only things like peels, rinds, shells, etc.

  12. Jim says

    I’m just getting started with composting. Last summer I was using a similar coffee can to collect used coffee grounds. If I waited too long (maybe 2 or 3 days) before taking the coffee grounds out, I noticed a white substance (mold?) growing on the damp grounds. Will that substance have any bad affect on the compost?

  13. Laurie Nasca says

    Do you have a problem with fruit flies with your homemade compost pail? Unfortunately, I, too, just paid for a plastic bin…

    • says

      No, in the years we’ve been using our compost pail we have never had fruit flies in it. Ours is always covered and the flies cannot get through the charcoal filter – neither can the smells. If you have flies you need to dump the contents of your bucket outside, wash the bucket thoroughly, then start over… just make sure that it is sealed tightly and that you don’t leave the lid off when using it. Put the scraps in a bowl until you’re done cooking, then put them into the compost pail all at once.

  14. Maureen says

    The one you have listed for $56, I got at a store called World Market here in Ohio for $30. Same size, I believe. I know you can put coffee grounds in your composter but what about the filters? I’ve read that they should be unbleached but the only filters I can find are white so I’m assuming they are bleached (?). Guess I need to find one of those reusable filters to fit my coffeemaker. I think I read somewhere that you should put shredded newspaper in the composter too…not sure if there was a specific reason.

    • says

      Some people are really picky about their compost, only putting in “organic” scraps, others put in anything… including bleached coffee filters – use whatever you’re comfortable with. Also, you should buy a reusable coffee filter… we have one and love it. Anytime you can get something reusable over something disposable – do it.

    • says

      This container isn’t for making compost, it’s for holding scraps temporarily in the kitchen until full, then moving to compost pile.

    • says

      That is what my grandma used to do. Using the setup in this article keeps the smells at bay and can be cleaned and reused for years and years.

  15. Jessica says

    This is awesome! Was just looking again online to purchase a compost bucket. Came across your directions. Have been using a pale w/ lid outside the kitchen door. Now I’ll have to improve the pail w/lid with your steps listed!

  16. Loonette says

    Great idea! I’ve been wanting a kitchen compost pail but couldn’t part with the money. Usually I just collect the scraps in a bowl and toss in the outdoor compost. Hate going out there when it is so dark though. This is so quick and easy and beats paying $50 plus dollars!

  17. CLee says

    What a great idea! Currently, i just have a mixing bowl on the counter lined with a compostable liner, but fruit flies and stink are becoming issues with the weather warming up. Do you glue the filter onto the top of the lid or bottom? Is the filter safe for little kids’ hands? Would this work with an ice cream bucket as well? Thank you in advance!

  18. John says

    We have the $20 bucket, and despite the comments, we noticed the smell, so I rigged a sponge holder to pt a charcoal filter in. But then mold attacked. IS that because I don’t have air vents? Should I drill holes in my lid (given that I’ve already got the thing) or should I just ignore the mold? You say you kept the same filter for months, but I’m only getting a week out of them…

    • says

      I drilled holes in my top, but it was a free plastic coffee can lid. I am actually on only our 2nd filter in years. Sometimes it gets a little moldy but then I just empty the container, wash it, and dry it out… mold disappears.

  19. Torri says

    I love this! I have been trying to figure out a compost solution that was diy and I really wasn’t pleased with the thought of shaking and the messiness of a regular compost. this seems so great and my 3 and 4 yr old are obsessed with worms anyway. finding 2 worms in the ground can occupy them for an hour, although can sometimes be hazardous for the worms, haha! This kitchen bucket is just the icing on the cake!
    I was wondering, If I was willing to spend an extra few dollars on the vermi-bin and make the bottom a shallow container instead of a lid, would there be any harm in that? I am VERY accident prone and emptying the “tea” out of that lid seems precarious.
    Lastly, I wanted to say thanks to you and your wife. This site is one of the best I have found for me, because I have a family of four and just started gardening this year. All of my gardening research has sort of sent me on this quest of becoming more self sustainable. What’s funny is it’s made me the accidental environmentalist. I have gotten so many great ideas from your site! I can’t wait until Christmas, when I can give gift sets of the vanilla extract bottles and I am adding some of my homemade dried herbs in the victorian square bottles from that bottle website!

    • says

      We really appreciate the kind words of encouragement Torri. Yeah, feel free to construct whatever you need for a lid… whatever makes it easiest for you and still works. God bless.

  20. Molly says

    I just finished this super-easy project. Stong onions and other veggie scraps are completely odor-free in this container on my kitchen counter. Thank you for posting such an economical alternative to the fancy kitchen compost pails available on the market.

  21. cristian says

    hi matt, your avatar picture is like iguazú falls on argentine?, i love iguazú fall’s i grow up closer to them, i am happy to se people showing this amazing place. bye

  22. Emily says

    Hey i have a similar bin, and I’ve gotten to the point where I need to replace my filter. Can I compost the first filter or does it need to be thrown out?

  23. says

    Do I just empty the contents when the bucket is full? I don’t have a worm bed. I’m mostly just interested in not sending all of this food waste to the dump.

  24. thomas says

    I just went to Goodwill and bought a really nice cookie jar, that matches my kitchen decor, for half a buck. It sits right on my countertop, not under the sink!

  25. Carla Poorman says

    My husband &I have been gardening for all of oue married life and love the goodies at picking time!!! We’ve just in the last few years been composting. This homemade kitchen composter is jsut what we need to make sause we just puut all table scraps into an old icecream container and “Boy!” does it smell after afew days. SUPER IDEA!! Now I’m saying to myself, “Why didn’t I tink of that?” GEEZE! So now, I’m gonna be makein us one of them there thingies!!!!!!lol
    Luv You Guys,
    Carla

  26. Maralyn Moran says

    Great idea for UNDER the sink, but for those who keep compost container beside sink, it possibly works. I used a child’s metal beach bucket (Goodwill) and found a coffee can lid that fit it. Also found a plastic jar lid to sit the bucket in so I didn’t have to worry about a ‘rust ring’ from cheap bucket. (BTW …it all is red and looks nice on the counter top.)

    Am thinking of looking for a new plastic beach bucket….

  27. Jennifer says

    I stumbled upon your article here and am inspired. Can I use a metal coffee can or will the metal leach into the compost? Also, do I need to stir it up while it is in the can before I use it in the garden, or just dump and spread in the garden when it is full? Thanks. New to composting. :)

    • says

      Hi Jennifer, metal cans will be fine, as long as they dont’ rust. No need to stir, just dump it in. Glad you found us, God bless.

  28. Jennifer says

    Thanks Matt. Very helpful. DH has saved some cans for me for organization purposes (nothing like a ton of crayons in a coffee can to bring back memories of my childhood) and we actually have about 6 now which is a little much. This will be a good repurposing of one, especially with little ones around who don’t eat the skins of apples and eat a ton of other fruits with peels. Egg shells are ok too right?

    Sorry for all the questions and thanks for bearing with me. :)

  29. Marie says

    Thanks for the easy DIY project. This was just what I was looking for. I never would have known to check out the pet store for the carbon filters. I used a 5 quart ice cream container that has a handle. So far so good.

  30. Deb says

    I keep my kitchen waste in a large Tupperware container in the fridge. If I get pressed for fridge space the coffee container idea will be an option.

  31. says

    Thanks for the great idea. However, I went to four different pet stores and Walmart over the weekend looking for the charcoal filters and the prices were between $5-7 for a 2-pack of filters. Still cheaper than buying a kitchen compost bucket, though.

    • Donna says

      try looking in the section of the store where they sell portable air filters or search on amazon. I found a “universal replacement activated carbon pre-filter” that you can cut to size for $1.50

  32. Deborah says

    The next step is the plastic bucket compost bin in the yard- so easy to make and no smell if you keep the green/brown ratio right.

  33. cassie wadley says

    I have been using my coffee can composter for a couple of months now and have been mostly pleased. The charcol filter kept coming off, the hot glue wasn’t durable enough, but not a problem, because when I ditched the filter there weren’t any unpleasant smells that anyone in our family could discern (we keep it under the kitchen sink in a cabinet). However, we were suddenly besot by gnats, like fruit flies. I never saw any come out of the bin when I took the lid off, so I didn’t think they were coming from there…wrong, they were. The last time I emptied it there were little larvae all wriggling about. Sooo, the moral to my story is, try one of two things, refridgerate or keep two bins and alternate, letting one be rinsed thouroughly and sit in the sun while the other is in use. Which I will probably choose the latter since our fridge is always packed. Other than those small inconviences, it’s great and I’m always amazed at how quickly it fills up (meaning I realize how much we threw away for no reason) And to boot, my outside compost in working out nicely with fresh additions, I just like to keep those little wigglers outside where they belong, lol!

  34. Jennifer says

    This may be a stupid question: Once it is full, do you go and dump into larger, outdoor compost bin or do you just dump it into the garden and mix it into the soil? I am really interested in starting a large compost bin but haven’t yet. However, I have started using a small, counter top one like yours but with no filter. But I’m wondering if it’s all for not if I don’t have a larger bin to add it to, ya know?

    Thanks.

    • says

      I’ve been using mine for almost two months now. I empty mine into a larger compost bin outdoors. I’ve seen online where you can dig a hole in your garden and bury it. I’ve been using my indoor bin for about two months now and there is no smell whatsoever. Each time after I empty it, I rinse it out.

    • Cynthia says

      I have a 6″ deep layer of pine straw in my beds. I keep the compost in the kitchen for a few days then pull back an area of pine straw and dump the compost on stop of the soil. Maybe not the best use, but it turns into top soil after a few months, improving the beds, and keeps my garbage at home!

  35. John says

    I built this two but instead of glue the filter I used 1 inch fasteners you could use smaller. But these I had on hand. So the filter can be changed every so often. Just push then fasteners through the filter and bend them back. It works great.

  36. Leah says

    Hi. I am just learning about composting and gardening. I live in an apartment. I am attempting to grow plants on my porch. I mentioned to my mom that I wanted to collect scraps for composting. I planned to give her the scraps for her garden. Can i use some for my porch plants? She gave me a plastic diaper container. Will this work? I am unable to drill holes, will that be a problem?

  37. Nicole says

    Sorry I am new to this but I don’t understand what I would do with my kitchen compost?

  38. Lenita says

    I have a stainless container with holes in the lid and the filter that fits in the lid. My compost grows mold and now with warm weather is starting to “sweat”. How do I stop both? I wish I found your site before I bought the container.

  39. Akira Konya says

    That’s pretty sweet… I live in an apartment and I don’t have a yard; only a small little dirt median out in the parking lot area. I always thought I couldn’t compost anything because I couldn’t dig a compost pit or build one of those wooden boxes, but this could totally work for me! I actually go through these 5 pound plastic jugs of protein powder all the time (the containers are probably 2 gallons or so) so I have empties everywhere and I’ve been looking for some way to use them… Thanks!