Cappers Farmer Blogs > Homespun Life in the City

Frugality in the Garden With a DIY Compost Bin

Erin SheehanI’m pretty sure Grandma and Grandpa never heard the word “repurpose” but the idea behind repurposing was certainly central to their way of life. Having lived through the Great Depression, the phrase, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was a household aphorism.

I learned my first lesson in repurposing visiting my grandparents as a very small child. Their dining room held a small bookshelf filled with empty metal spice tins.

Spice tins

Playing with those small, old boxes occupied me for hours on end. I still remember how good they smelled. Looking back, I sure am glad they thought to not throw those away and instead let me use them as a toy.

Here we are nearly 40 years later: It’s time to bring frugality back in style! When Jim and I think we “need” something, rather than heading down to the big box store for a shiny new object, we’d rather first try to cob something up right at home.

For the first few years at our little homestead we had a compost pile: no bin, no structure, just an area on the ground along a fence line. When that area started to look more than a little scraggly, Jim did some research. Well, wouldn’t you know, even something as basic as composting has been commodified. Williams-Sonoma sells a “compost tumbler” for $249.95. Plus tax and shipping, of course. What would Grandpa think of that? As it happens, our chest freezer and backyard fencing were delivered a couple years back on wooden pallets. Not knowing what we’d use them for, we held on to those pallets, and wouldn’t you know, Jim found a perfect use for them: DIY compost bin!


Jim took three pallets and anchored them to the ground using wood scraps. To fashion a front door he used two 2x6s with enough space between them and the pallet to slide a handful of boards (scrap) that he cut to size. To use the door, we slide the boards in and out. The bin works like a charm. It holds plenty and it’s right next to our garden for quick access. An easy project that didn’t cost us a dime, let alone $249.95!


It even grows volunteer tomatoes and squash come June. I’d like to think Grandma and Grandpa would be proud. 

2/28/2014 8:35:39 PM

My husband and I did the same using about 14 pallets we had collected from various places. It's a nice long composter with one end that opens like a door. There's a blog called old world garden that has some real nice ideas for making furniture with pallets.

2/24/2014 8:56:58 AM

Thanks for the comment, Jo. Composting is great, isn't it? It's so cool to see waste turn to dirt. Our bin is open and makes great living space for critters, it appears. The neighborhood cat loves to hunt by sitting on the edge of the bin and waiting for the inevitable rodent to make an appearance in the compost pile!

2/22/2014 8:45:53 AM

I bought all three of my compost bins, but second hand off kijiji (Canadian style Craigslist) for about $20 each. They are the plastic ones with tight fitting lids, as I live in the country, and critters abound. I even got a pitchfork for a birthday present one year, but don't tend to turn it, as we have PHENOMENAL roadside compost service here (for everything from kitty litter to meat and oils) so I only really put my orange rinds and apple cores in there. I LOVE having it though. I do plan to garden again... some day. ;)