Makin’ Dirt

Composting is a great way to make dirt naturally and is an unseen but essential practice in organic gardening. Even while trying to garden in an environmentally-friendly manner, it is often easy to be lured into buying the latest must-have tool. For two years I have been using a plastic bin provided by my county after I took a class on composting. The bin was sufficient, but I found it hard to use because it was small and I couldn’t easily turn the pile without removing the entire bin.  In the last six months, I was not able to get anything out because the contents were compacted and there was little aeration. After looking into various options I decided I wanted a multiple bin system. Although I really wanted three bins, space limitations and the disproportionate size of the bin to my yard made me select a two bin system. This would allow two bins to make compost in varying stages at a time, or one working bin and a second to hold finished compost.

While at first we had thought we’d build our own, the reality of building a bin and purchasing the materials and cedar wood we had decided on was that we’d spend almost as much as if we bought a bin ready to assemble. I searched online and found a bin made by Master Garden Products that met most of my requirements. I was happy to find a statement on their website declaring “Trees are selectively harvested, with no clear cutting, and more trees are planted than we harvest.”  The two bins measured 36x36x36 each, and the separating wall between the two bins was removable as were the fronts, to provide easy access. This seemed perfect!

Two bin compost system

When the bin arrived I was immediately impressed with the quality and look of the panels. However I noticed one thing was missing… directions. I was able to get most of the bin together without mishap but was confounded by four leftover boards. My husband and I tried different placements but couldn’t seem to make them fit. We called the company for help but they didn’t have an electronic copy of the instructions to email. Several phone calls later we had them fax a copy (after we dusted off the fax machine and hooked it up) and we were able to add the support beams correctly.

Finally, all we had to do was add the roof to the unit. Each bin had a roof that opened and closed independently. The first attached easily but the second had a problem; the hinges didn’t work! At this point I was very frustrated. I had just spent several hours putting together this bin that was very easy to assemble, but because of the lack of directions and errors on the company’s fault a half hour’s work had stretched considerably. I finally gave up thinking we would have to call the company back to have them send new hinges, my wonderful husband was able to figure out that he could reverse one part and make the hinge fit.


The finished bin was very nice but I did notice some room for improvement. The edges of the roofs panels on the left and right bins were finished differently. One panel curved over the side, while the other did not. Although a minor difference, the curved edge allows better runoff of water to ensure longevity of the roof structure. Also, the bins could have used additional support beams. The four beams provided were not sufficient to brace the top and bottom of both sides. We had to stagger them so one bin was supported on the top and the other on the bottom. I think the bin would have been better constructed with two additional beams so each unit was supported in the middle at both the top and the bottom. Additionally, the front is taller than the back allowing water to drain off the back. This may work for most placements, but because our bin is only inches from our house the water drains against our foundation. I believe our grading is sufficient to keep the house dry, but had the front been the smaller end I would not have a concern.

A few days after completing the bin, Chuck and I started our “modifications.” First, I wanted the bin lined with hardware cloth inside the lattice. The holes looked large enough to allow an enterprising skunk to enter the bin (we have an enterprising skunk in residence, according to my nose). In addition, I really wanted a screen to allow me to sift my compost and to take out rocks and uncomposted items. We took a trip to several hardware stores to assemble the materials and began to put the finishing touches on the bins. The hardware cloth did the trick and the bins seem impenetrable.

I was ready to move the contents of my old compost bin. I removed the plastic housing from the old pile, pulling out the semi-composted material to move to the screen that fit over the left bin. Anything that  could be sifted through the screen fell into the left bin and almost everything else was put on the right side.

I now have a nearly full bin of material composting and a second bin with about six cubic feet of really nice organic earth. I love that I can again take organic material from the kitchen or garden and in time create great dirt out of it to support my garden! I look forward to using my dirt, instead of opening a bag of purchased soil.