QUESTION: Can I compost in a bucket? I don’t have a compost bin, but I do have some five gallon buckets sitting around.
ANSWER: For optimal composting, you’ll want a bigger container than a five gallon bucket. You want to have enough varied materials that the composting process can work, so you’ll have better luck with something at least as big as a large trash can. However, it is possible to make it work if that’s your only current option.
Compost is essential to renewing soil with nutrients that are vital to healthy plant growth. Even if you only have a few potted plants or a small flower bed, you can benefit greatly from making your own compost. All you need is a five gallon bucket and a small container with a lid (like a coffee canister) to collect your kitchen scraps in. With a little bit of patience and effort, you can make your own nutrient-rich soil amendment at home.
Many people have five gallon buckets from their local hardware store or that perhaps from a local restaurant or bakery that was using it for food ingredients. If your bucket was used to store chemicals, do not use it. Wash it out well to get rid of any residuals such as salt or sugar, which could harm your plants.
Drill plenty of holes around the outside of your bucket to promote good air circulation and to allow the water to drain out easily. Oxygen and moisture are essential components to good compost, but excess oxygen and moisture can cause issues, so you want plenty of small holes. Large holes are a problem, as you don’t want the dirt to spill out, so use a ¼ inch drill bit when drilling holes into your bucket.
Now that your container is prepared for composting, layer in organic material. Start with small broken twigs to help promote good airflow. Then add alternating layers of fresh green organic matter, such as grass, plant clippings, or vegetable scraps, and dry brown organic matter, such as dry leaves or straw.
Having a good balance of green and brown materials will help keep moisture levels at a good balance. The most common issue that composters face is not adding in enough brown materials to help break down their kitchen scraps. A compost pile with too much green stuff and not enough brown stuff will have poor air circulation and too much moisture. Without sufficient air circulation, your compost will become smelly and gooey, so make sure to add in plenty of brown material to balance out the green materials that you are trying to decompose.
For each layer of green and brown that you put into the pile, add in a handful of ordinary dirt from outside. Don’t use potting soil, but dig up some dirt from the ground so that you get all the beneficial microorganisms into your compost pile to help break down all of the organic matter inside. When the bucket is about one third full, add a few sprinkles of water. Don’t overdo it with the water, as it is better to keep your compost too dry than too wet. Ideally, the compost should be moist to the touch, but never soggy. Add in more layers, dirt and water until your bucket is about two thirds full, leaving the top third empty to allow space for air.
Set the bucket in a warm, sunny location, as heat will help your compost decompose faster. Don’t allow the compost to get too hot though, as excessive heat can kill the microorganisms that are helping your compost break down. A few times each week, shake or roll the bucket around a little bit to help turn and aerate the compost mixture. This will help accelerate the decomposition process and help to mix up the contents so that the food scraps don’t form into pockets. In about two months, you should have a nice amount of nutrient rich compost to add to your garden beds.