There’s a common misconception that composting requires lots of space and materials, yet composting can easily be accomplished in a 5-gallon bucket you can find at the local hardware store for a few dollars.
Let’s break down two different composting methods that can be accomplished in a 5-gallon bucket.
What Should I Add to My Compost Pile?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s start with a couple of basics.
Often, you will hear people talk about composting in terms of “green” and “brown” materials.
So, what does this mean?
- Add nitrogen to the soil
- Break down quickly
- Contain moisture
Examples of green items would include:
- Vegetable and fruit scraps
- Lawn trimmings
- Coffee grounds
- Add carbon to the soil
- Break down slowly
- Have a dry texture
Examples of brown items would include:
- Fallen leaves
- Wood chips
- Paper products
You will want to have an equal amount of green and brown materials for your compost pile. The wider the variety of materials you add, the more nutrient-diverse the final product will be.
5-Gallon Bucket Composting
The simplest method of bucket composting requires little more than a bucket with a lid and compostable materials.
Our favorite 5-gallon composting buckets:Amazon product
How to Make a Compost Bin From a 5-Gallon Bucket
- Drill drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket and vent holes in the lid.
- Begin with a layer of brown materials in the bottom. Many recommend sticks and twigs for the first layer as it helps with drainage.
- Next, add a layer of green materials. Alternate brown and green layers until the bucket is full.
- Add water until your mixture is as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
- Once your bucket is full, put the lid on and place it in a sunny location. The heat from the sun will boost bacterial activity. *Bonus points if you paint your bucket black to soak up more sun!*
- Stir the contents of your bucket twice a week. If you have a trustworthy lid, you can accomplish this by rolling your bucket on its side.
- Each time you mix the contents of your bucket, check to see if more water is needed.
Congratulations! You’re on the road to free compost!
It is important to note that what you’ve created is called a “cold” compost pile.
Because the pile lacks sufficient mass to reach a temperature of 140°F (60°C), any weed seeds or harmful bacteria that may be present will not be destroyed.
As such, you will want to avoid adding weeds with seeds, animal products, or dog/cat waste to your compost.
Ways to Speed Decomposition
A full-sized compost pile gets hot.
The benefit of all this heat is that tougher materials like tree branches and eggshells can be broken down with relative ease. When you are working with smaller volumes in your 5-gallon bucket, you are at a bit of a disadvantage.
Brown items are especially slow to break down, so it is highly recommended that you choose your browns carefully.
For example, opt for paper products that will break down quickly over tree trimmings that could take months.
Chop up brown items as much as possible before adding them to your compost heap. A paper shredder can be a quick way to process paper products.
Under ideal circumstances, it should take six to eight weeks before you see finished compost.
Vermicomposting/Worm Farming in a 5-Gallon Bucket
How to Make Your Own Vermicompost System Using 5-Gallon Buckets
You will need:
- Two 5-gallon buckets (Amazon has a great set of 3 food-safe 5-gallon buckets!)
- A lid
- A drill (see our best drills under $50 and best drills under $100!)
- Mesh (Mosquito netting, old screens, cheesecloth—Get creative!)
How to do it:
- Drill air holes in the lid and drainage holes in the bottom of one of the buckets.
- Use mesh to cover the holes so that the worms can’t escape. Glue or duct tape can be used to adhere the mesh to the lid.
- Nestle the bucket with the holes inside the other bucket. Ta-da! That’s it.
Now you have an upper bucket where you will keep your compost and worms (Red wrigglers are best – here’s where to buy them) and a lower bucket where “worm tea” will accumulate.
This worm liquid can be mixed with water and used to fertilize plants. This is a great way to improve your soil naturally!
Here’s our list of squirmy favorites:Amazon product
To use your worm bin, you’ll need to provide some shredded paper as bedding and fruit and vegetable scraps to feed your worms.
For more information about how to care for your worms, you can refer to the “Worm Farming” section of “The Beginner’s Guide to Composting – Surprisingly Simple Super Soil.”
So, next time you’re at the hardware store, pick up one of those 5-gallon buckets for a few dollars, and transform it into a tool that will turn your kitchen waste into high-quality compost for your garden.
It’s easy, affordable, and eco-friendly.