DIY Compost Pens
One of composting’s many benefits is that it improves the soil in your yard. Worms and other beneficial organisms that are drawn to compost ingredients tunnel through the soil, improving drainage and aeration. If the pile is exposed to rain or watered heavily, some nutrients leach into the soil below the bin.
To maximize your compost pile’s contribution to the garden, consider building a temporary compost pen in an unplanted bed to improve the soil. In addition to improving the soil quality in the fallow ground below, the finished compost can be worked into the immediate area as soon as it’s finished rather than carted across the landscape. Compost pens are more easily assembled than permanent bins, and they can be taken apart and moved after composting is finished.
There are many designs for building compost pens available in manuals and online, but the two most popular methods are to make pens from wire mesh or repurposed shipping pallets. We’ll outline the benefits and drawbacks of both these techniques and include plans for our favorite systems below.
Wire Mesh Compost Pens
Metal bins are lightweight and easy to move around the yard. The simplest designs only require rolling a length of chicken wire or hardware cloth into a cylinder and attaching the ends with clips or ties. Just place one of the open ends in the garden bed and add your compost ingredients from the top. If you live in a windy area, or if you’re worried about a pet knocking the pen over, consider adding wooden, metal or plastic stakes. Wire mesh will eventually rust, so look for galvanized or vinyl-coated products.
Repurposed Pallet Pens
Pallet pens are heavier than mesh pens. Although this makes them difficult to move between composting locations, this also means they’re less likely to get knocked over without staking. To create a pallet compost bin, look for four pallets that are roughly the same size. Form a square or rectangular pen, and attach the corners with ties. Pallet wood tends to be very hard, and it can be difficult to drive nails or screws through the planks. If you want to be able to move the pen to another location when the compost is finished, look for plans that call for clothesline, wire or rope ties rather than nails or screws.
Shipping pallets are gaining popularity for use in a variety of DIY projects. These sturdy wooden pallets can be found for free or very inexpensively in most areas. As with any pallet project, it’s important to consider what the pallet was used for before it came to your garden. Any product that may have leaked onto or been used to treat the wood could leach into your compost. Some harmful products could even be absorbed by fruit and vegetable plants. Heat-treated pallets are generally free of harmful chemicals; look for pallet wood stamped with “HT” to be sure.