How to Build a Cheap Wire Compost Bin
Learn how to compost the slow, cheap and easy way.
Fifteen dollars in materials and a handful of paper clips are all you need to make a sturdy, functional compost bin that holds almost a cubic yard of material. This will make one wire bin, about 3 feet in diameter and 4 feet high. Wire compost bins will not produce compost as quickly as solid-sided bins that allow frequent turning and they are untidy looking. However, "cheap and easy" is an acceptable gardening motto.
You will need about 8x4 feet of space for the assembled bin to allow room to rake around it and room to remove the compost later.
Compost Bin Materials: You need two sheets of "remesh" — the welded wire mesh sold for reinforcing concrete slabs. If you know you want several bins, it's cheaper to buy a roll of remesh. Each bin takes about 12 feet of mesh.
You also need a dozen or so sturdy wire fasteners to hold the remesh together. You can use hog rings, paper clips, electrical wire, or anything that won't rust or deteriorate while outside. Plastic cable ties, rope and wire bag ties do not work.
Compost Bin Construction: Overlap the short side of the sheets by two meshes and fasten them with at least three fasteners down each edge to hold the sheets flat. Top, middle and bottom should suffice. Bring the free ends together to make the circle, overlap them by a couple of meshes and fasten them along both edges.
Rake a spot clear and place your new compost bin on it. You will need to clean around it occasionally, so place it at least one rake-width from the closest fence or building. Place the bin to ensure you can easily reach one set of fasteners for removing the wire mesh after the compost is done.
Filling the Compost Bin: Do not put a layer of sticks and twigs on the bottom of the bin hoping to improve air circulation. The sticks will not decompose. All they will do is make it harder to empty the bin. The wire mesh will allow plenty of air in as long as you don't fill the bin with pure grass clippings.
Pile your materials into the bin as you collect them. You might be able to fill a bin with fallen leaves in one weekend, or it might take several months to fill it with a mix of kitchen waste and weeds.
The only restriction on what you throw in the bin is that it can't be too "green." If you compost grass clippings or large amounts of fresh vegetables, be sure to put layers of "brown" material like dried leaves, wood chips or other dry material between thin layers of the "green" material.
Water is the controlling factor in the composting process, so keep the material moist. Water your bin once a week or so by placing a small sprinkler head on top of it and watering the top of the material for 15 to 30 minutes. As long as the material is damp a few inches down, it's wet enough.
If debris falls out through the mesh, rake it up and throw it back in. The quail like to tunnel into the bins to make nests, the curved-bill thrasher digs holes in the sides looking for bugs and lizards may even get in there — just clean up after them.
Caring for the Compost Bin: How do you turn the material in the bin? You don't. Keep the material moist and the center of the bin will compost itself. You can tell it's composting when the center of the cylinder sinks, the material is warmer than air temperature if you dig six or eight inches down, and the material is turning dark and crumbly.
The outer part of the cylinder will not become compost, as it stays fairly dry to insulate the inner part and conserve moisture.
Disassembling the Compost Bin: After six months to a year or so, your compost will be ready to use. Water the bin well and spray the sides to minimize billows of dust and mold spores. Cut the wire fasteners (not the mesh, the fasteners) on one side of the bin and pry the mesh loose from the cylinder of compost. You can leave the cylinders like this for months until you need the compost. They might lean or even fall over, but compost doesn't have an expiration date.
Re-make the bin by fastening the free ends together and set it next to the cylinder. Any material that needs more time will be dumped into the empty bin for a second chance at becoming compost.
The outer six to nine inches of the top and sides will be mostly undecomposed material. The center of the cylinder should be dark, crumbly finished compost. With a spading fork, remove the top of the cylinder and the uncomposted material from part of one side. It usually peels off like a crust. Dump this material into the new bin. Remove the dark composted material from the center of the cylinder, sift it to remove any big chunks that need more time and use the finished compost on your garden.