How to Compost in Garbage Pails


Compost provides organic material and nutrients to soil. It helps build up new garden beds, provides better soil quality to established beds and can be used as a key ingredient in homemade potting soil. There is no need to purchase expensive bags of compost from the garden center. You can make a manageable, self-contained compost bin from a metal or plastic garbage pail. The pail can be kept outdoors or in a garage if you don't have any suitable yard space for it.

Step 1

Drill three rows of 1-inch diameter holes around the sides of the garbage can. Space the holes 6 inches apart, and space the rows equally apart. Drill six 1-inch holes in the bottom of the pail, spacing them evenly apart.

Step 2

Fill the bottom of the pail with a 3-inch layer of straw or sawdust. This layer aids in drainage so the compost doesn't become overly soggy.

Step 3

Place two cinder blocks or large bricks on the site where you are placing the compost bin. Set the pail on top of these blocks. Elevating the pail allows free drainage. In a garage, set the blocks on top of a water heater drip pan so any draining liquid doesn't stain the garage floor.

Step 4

Place a 5-inch layer of green organic material, such as green leaves and plant matter or grass clippings, in the container. Place brown plant material, such as dried leaves or sawdust, on top of the green material. Top these two layers with 1-inch of garden soil then mix the three layers together with a garden fork. Repeat these layers until the pail is filled.

Step 5

Sprinkle 1 cup of 10-10-10 analysis fertilizer on top of the compost. Mix the contents of the pile again with the garden fork.

Step 6

Sprinkle water onto the compost until it is as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Place the lid on the can.

Step 7

Turn the pile with the garden fork every four to six weeks. Add additional water as necessary to maintain the sponge-like moisture levels. Compost is ready to use when all the organic material has broken down to a soil-like substance. This takes between two and six months, depending on the materials in the pail, how often its turned and the temperature.

Tips and Warnings

  • A compost pile heats up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher at its peak. Metal cans may become hot to the touch.

Things You'll Need

  • Garbage pail
  • Drill
  • Cinder blocks
  • Hot water heater tray
  • Straw
  • Plant material
  • Soil
  • Fertilizer
  • Garden fork


  • University of Kentucky Extension: Constructing A Garbage Can Compost Bin
  • University of Illinois Extension: Building Your Compost Pile
Keywords: garbage pail composting, homemade compost bin, soil amendments

About this Author

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Dollar Stretcher." Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.