diy milk crate composter

A couple years ago, we bought one of those fancy (and expensive!) tumbling composters at one of the big box home improvement stores. While we are happy overall with the purchase, we also have a few complaints: 1) It’s an awfully big barrel. That means if you want the material to fully compost, you have to put only so much in it and then let it do its thing. You’d need another one to add new stuff to while the first one was composting. 2) It needs to be turned every couple days. That’s not a huge deal, but it can be a bit heavy and cumbersome to turn. 3) Despite the hefty price tag, they don’t hold up well to the elements. They have lots of springs, hardware, and tiny moving parts. Add rain, wind, and snow to those parts, and they just don’t last.

Usher in the DIY milk crate composter. If you look at my three complaints above, I’ll tell you why I love this one! 1) Each crate will be composting material in different stages. That means while two crates are busy doing their thing, you can add to the third. By the time all three are full, the first crate you filled should be ready to use. 2) You never have to spin these guys. When the the top crate is full, you just shift it down and cycle to a different crate. 3) The crates have no moving parts and are cheap (or FREE if you already had them lying around like we did), so you don’t have to worry about the effects of the elements. Ok, enough talking about it, let’s get making!

Materials Needed:

  • Three milk crates
  • Landscape fabric or other mesh or screen material (to keep the material from spilling out the sides while still allowing for airflow)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Wood for lid (we used 2x4s and 1x2s)
  • Nail gun and nails or drill and screws and/or wood glue (for the lid)
  • Old newspaper (to line the bottoms of the crates)

Make It:

  1. Cut landscape fabric to fit all sides of each crate up to the handles (12 pieces total).
  2. Use the hot glue gun to attach the fabric to the inside of the crates.
  3. Measure the top of your crate, and cut 2x4s to the appropriate length to cover. (We ended up using four pieces of 2×4, so the lid would hang over the edges of the crate a bit.)
  4. Cut two pieces of 1×2 to run the opposite direction on the underside of the 2x4s. Keep them short enough fit down into the crate. (These are optional but will help with stability of the lid and with keeping it on the crate.)
  5. Nail and/or glue 2x4s together.
  6. Nail and/or glue 1x2s to the bottom of your 2×4 lid.

Use It:

  1. Level an area of ground in your garden or other outdoor area 3-4 inches wider than the crates.
  2. Stack the crates on the ground. Check for levelness, and adjust your ground as needed.
  3. Place 2-4 layers of newspaper on the bottom of the top crate, and begin filling with your compostable waste.
  4. When the top crate is full to just below the handles, shift it down to the middle space.
  5. Place newspaper in the bottom of the new top crate before filling.
  6. Continue shifting crates down as the top crate fills.
  7. By the time your third crate is full on the top, you should be ready to use the material in the bottom crate (depending on how much you’re putting into the composter, of course).