Let’s Build A Compost Bin!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the compost bins at the Priory (see “Composting the Priory“) and was inundated with one request for more information on how I built them.  So, for what my carpentry skills might be worth, here we go.


A couple of years ago, I picked up a copy of Geoff Hamilton’s ‘Cottage Gardens’ in a charity shop.  And within this lovely book, I saw his design for a rose arch and decided that I would build one in our garden.
Here it is (after a rust infested R. Iceberg was removed from the right hand side).  The success of my rose arch gave me the confidence to build two wood stores, a couple of simple garden benches and compost bins.  The ‘bins were very loosely designed around the concept of the rose arch.  Four posts (7cm x 7cm) are sunk into the ground and boards simply nailed to the posts to make a three-sided box.
Add two more posts within the box for each additional bin.  Make as many as you can and more than you think you might need.

The boards I used were 15cm wide and 4.8m long: the length actually determined the width of the bins – I simply divided the length of one board by three which gave me three bins, each 1.6m wide.  A board cut in half gave me the depth of the bins: 2.4m.  Six boards nailed to the posts made bins 90cm high.  You may, as I did, over-engineer the fixing of the posts into the ground and use post spikes.  These are long spikes that you first hammer into the ground, with a square bracket at the top that holds the posts.  BUT they are a pig to use.  They invariably twist as they go into the ground and as they must stay square, this is a real pain.  Also it is very hard work sinking them into the ground.  So don’t use spikes.  Do as I did at the Old Forge and just dig a hole two feet deep for each post and then back-fill with hardcore and postcrete (a ready-made concrete mix).

The Priory Bins

The bins I’ve made for both the Old Forge and the Priory are very big but that is because they must accommodate a ride-on mower and trailer.   Make yours to a size that suits; in my own garden, the bins are 1.5m wide but only 1m deep.

Back view of the Priory bins

I planned to build two sets of three bins at the Priory and realised that if I spaced them correctly, I could have a seventh bin formed from the gap between the two.

Finally, screw or nail a batten to the front edge of each post at the front of the bins (the red piece of wood above) and to that, attach a vertical length of planking equal to the height of the bins.

Here’s a close up of that arrangement with one of the front boards shifted slightly out of position.

You can then cut six planks to slide down the front of each bin.  Strictly speaking you don’t need to do this but it does increase the amount of compost each bin will hold without spilling out of the front. Site your bins in the open, not under trees: you want rain to fall on them.  Build them on level ground if you can – it’s far easier than building them on a slope.  And should you cover the compost?  I do.  It keeps in moisture and warmth; and keeps out weed seeds.

And that’s it.  If anything’s not clear – please say.

I love my compost bins.

17 thoughts on “Let’s Build A Compost Bin!

  1. Hello, I read that you leave your bins in the open so rain will fall on them. The next sentence I believe says that you cover your compost. Just wondering, do you remove the cover before every rain, or what is your method? I’m building similar bins and any insight is much appreciated! Thank you!


    • Hi Ted, I used a membrane that allows rainwater to penetrate – so use something similar or old woollen carpet or cardboard. Anything to keep the heat in whilst allowing water to pass through. It’s not strictly necessary but covering your heaps does concentrate the heat. Good luck. Best, Dave


  2. Thanks Janet, mightily pleased to have impressed you. If you end up in a big enough new garden just 'lose' the plastic bins in the move and then feign annoyance and bewilderment as to where they might have gone. Simple, if sneaky.



  3. OK, I am officially impressed. Robust and attractive. The bins, that is, sorry… Will hope that I have cause to search out these instructions when I find that somehow, miraculously, we move to a house with enough space for these. We had them on Anglesey and they worked brilliantly. Of course I have now amassed a fine collection of 5 plastic compost bins, which means I may have trouble persuading the rest of the household that I need new smart wooden ones instead. But that is tomorrow's problem…


  4. Thanks Stacy, though I realise the scale may be a little inconvenient for you – were you looking to make some. Keeping the vertical posts vertical, while working alone, was a little trying.

    Hi Janet, I did make wire-netting leaf bins when I first started at the Priory but found it was easier to turn the mould and get at them in these big wooden bins. I'm so very jealous of you having an under-gardener. There's posh!



  5. We (and I'm talking like a Royal here) built our bins from the old fence, in a corner and under the trees. I could do with them bigger and not under the trees! There's only two and a leaf mould container. Shame one is starting to sag due to the pressure of the compost. Great post. I shall refer the under gardener to it for tips.


  6. By the way, Dave, this really was an incredibly useful and clear post. If I were looking to make a compost bin, this info is exactly what I would want. It looks like the hardest part would be getting the vertical posts plumb and level.


  7. Pallets work, Helen. My first ever compost bins were made out of them. The only problem was compost falling through the gaps but hardly calamitous. Do get him to build you an arch. We used to attach our retractable washing line to it as well – handy!

    Hi Wellywoman (what a name – I shall have to say it again, Wellywoman. Very satisfying), my first garden was a paved back yard and the only 'compost' bin was a very small wormery. You have what you need, don't you? Welcome, by the way.

    Hey Mr Faisal, that does sound very tiring. Hope you're quietly recuperating today. Been emptying our loft today (prior to it being insulated) and came across my King Penguins. Thought of you.

    Hi GS, a pallet and bungee cord kind of person is the very best sort. Good on you. And thanks.

    Jane, you are SO right. You should've seen the STATE of my nails after finishing the bins. Shocking.



  8. Wow Dave, very impressive. But I'm more of a pallet and bungee cord kind of person like the patientgardener's “joiner son.” Wish I had an iota of your ability to put things together. 🙂


  9. Hi Boys, having watched your own engineering project take shape, I hardly feel qualified to give advice on making anything. I did mean to comment on that cementing marathon but was too exhausted just reading about it.

    Hi Faisal, sorry. Obviously not made it very clear. I work at the Old Forge (not my garden) one day a week and the Priory four days. Can't spare any energy it grieves me to say but always onwards and upwards, always.

    Got me scared now, Stacy. I shall fix some finials forthwith.


  10. Dear Dave, I don't want a nuclear reactor, but I wouldn't mind some of your energy. Can you pop it in a bag, and fling it downunder?
    Until now – I looked at an older post of yours – I hadn't seen any photos of your own garden ( the 'Old Forge'? ); I would imagine that you'll be ripping up that couch grass as soon as you can schedule it, and doing something pretty terrific. That will be just as interesting, to me, as what you do at The Priory ( where you seem to have enormous scope ). Your own garden seems to have great creative potential.
    I, for one, have very limited handyman skills, so won't be building any compost bins anytime soon. I do, though, face a sea of couch grass…it's a bit of an inhibitor.
    Onwards and upwards Mr Anxious.


  11. Inspired by the great (and much missed) Geoff Hamilton, no wonder you came up with a lovely rose arch 🙂

    Thanks for the handy guide on building a compost bin, wish we had the space for something as big as the one on your photos but we have to make do with a much smaller one (possibly a winter project).

    I won't be surprised if I see you blogging about building a shed or a garage next time 🙂


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