Building compost bins out of pallets at PumpjackPiddlewick

When we first moved to France to look after a petite Chateau, there were a few obvious projects that attracted our attention. The vegetable garden, which had gone to seed. And, the compost bins. Or rather the compost heap. Literally. It was a heap.

As we wanted compost for the garden, and the current compost was not composting effectively, this became a priority.  David (a.k.a. Pumpjack, and the creative mad scientist in our ensemble) is not one to let items go to waste. He is the king of recycling old into new projects.  So he designed a 3-tiered compost system based in the original space.

Re-using corrugated sheets, he set them in place around the existing heap. Then he divided the space into 3 compost bins, each the width of the garden’s mini-hauler (‘voiturette’ in French). This way we could back it in, lift the back and the contents simply would slide into the allotted space. Well, in theory.

But first we had to deal with the heap. This in itself was quite the task as green grass cuttings had been mixed in creating a slick slurry of very heavy wet matter amongst the lighter compost. It took several days, but finally we shifted it out of the way.

We put in posts for the basic structure and then bent the corrugated sheets into place, which was a strength exercise in itself requiring our combined weight to bend the metal. These then were fastened in to create a C shape. We created each of the bins this way, adding on slotted in boards to the open side to keep the compost within. We could add boards as the bin filled, or take away as we emptied.

A large sheet of plastic was the only item we purchased for this project (not counting screws and nails). We cut it into 3 pieces, one for each of the compost bins. We attached the plastic by batten at the back and wrapped around a wooden rod at the front, creating a sort of handle. This not only made it easier to lift and move the plastic but also weighed it down at the front, creating a more extensive cover of the compost.

Covering the compost with a strong dark plastic had a dual purpose; the plastic assists in heating up the organic matter and thus compost it faster, and also it would act as a deterrent to the roving chickens who liked nothing better than to get stuck in for a good forage for bugs.

We sectioned the existing heap into older compost and newer and filled the bins accordingly. The first bin had the oldest compost, since it was destined for the garden in spring time. The middle bin would be ready for use then 6 months later, and the 3rd bin we would add to from that point, and it would be ready in a year’s time. 

The cycle would work itself around on a  6 month basis, with each bin being ready to use 6 month’s after the previous, and all having composted for a year, giving us good rich organic matter for the garden.

Building compost bins out of bits and bobs at PumpjackPiddlewick
Our first compost bins. Read more about our Gardening Findings

Building Compost Bins – Take Two

Fast forward a few years and we moved to our own home with our own, but very overgrown, garden. Digging out, cutting back and restoring the garden is a long term project. And like the Chateau we started with a compost heap. Mainly because we couldn’t get into the area at first that we wanted to build our own compost bins.

But finally, all duly cleared and vegetable garden growing, it was time to build those bins. We don’t have the same amount of space, so only two bins have gone in. We have added though a circular weed bin, using an old piece of decorative wire fencing. It’s our place to dump weeds to dry out before adding to the compost.

As the previous design worked so well, we made a very similar version for the new compost bins. We didn’t have any corrugated metal sheets to re-use. But we did have pallets.

Next on the list is a leaf mould bin. But first we have to figure out where in the garden it could go.

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  1. I’ve never got composting to work. We put in a good mix of twiggy stuff and grass cuttings but it never seems to break down. I’m now thinking we should give it a lid of heavy black plastic, but how does the rain get in? Doesn’t the heap stay too dry?

    1. Author

      We don’t put in much twiggy stuff (eg wood) as it almost never breaks down, but weeds, cuttings, leaves, etc. all go in. The plastic helps heat it up, so breaks down quicker. It’s a good solid, quite heavy plastic. And the idea is for rain not to get in. Again it breaks down quicker, and doesn’t rot if it can stay reasonably dry. Dry is good, thoug as it breaks down, and the worms get involved it isn’t really ‘dry’, more moist-ish. Does that help?

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