Build Your Own Soil Supplier

Construct a compost bin to create your own gardening soil.

When it comes to maintaining an ecologically sound garden, nothing beats compost. A mixture of decayed organic matter that’s high in nutrients, compost is one of nature’s best mulches and soil amendments. Garden centers sell high-quality compost for as much as $100 a cubic yard, but why pay for it when you can make it for free? To make compost, you’ll need a bin to serve as a receptacle for the organic ingredients as they decompose. Rather than settle for an ugly, nailed-together contraption of chicken wire and garden stakes that detracts from the natural beauty of your garden, you can build an attractive bin that complements your landscape. After a day’s labor with a few basic power tools such as a drill and a circular saw, you’ll be the envy of your neighborhood gardening enthusiasts.

Build the panels
Start construction by cutting the 4x8 lattice sheets and the 1x2 lattice support strips to the sizes indicated in the cutting list (see the PDF below); then use 2-in. stainless steel ring-shank nails to fasten the support strips to the top and bottom ends of the lattice sections (photo 1, opposite). If you choose to use cedar lattice and lumber (which is an ideal material because of its rot resistance) as I did, drill pilot holes before driving any screws or nails whenever possible, as cedar has a tendency to split.

The lattice support strips serve two purposes: They provide lateral stability to the lattice sections and a mounting point for fastening the lattice to the 2x4 framework.

Use 4-in. coated deck screws to toescrew the 2x4 frames together. Countersink the heads so that the assembled frames can sit flush against the 6x6 posts.

To fasten the lattice panels to the frames, drive 2-in. stainless steel screws through the lattice support strips and into the inner faces of the 2x4 rails.

After making repeated passes with a circular saw, use a hammer and chisel to remove the waste from within the front gate channels.

Cut the 2x4 rails and stiles for the front-gate, top-lid, side-panel and back-panel frames to length. Temporarily clamp the individual pieces together as shown in the illustration and toescrew the rails and stiles together using 4-in. coated deck screws (photo 2); then use 2-in. stainless steel wood screws to fasten the assembled lattice panels to the inner faces of the 2x4 frames (photo 3). Finally, use staples to attach galvanized or stainless steel screening to the inside of the panels (see “Dealing With Decomposition,” below).

Craft the posts
After cutting the 6x6 posts to length, you’ll need to create the 1-3/4-in.-wide x 2-in.-deep channels for the front sliding gate. Start by setting the cut depth of your circular saw to 2 in. Make repeated passes spaced 1/8 in. apart down the face of the posts until you’ve spanned the required 1-3/4-in. width; then use a hammer and a sharp chisel to clean out the waste (photo 4). If you have a table saw, the process is even easier: Simply set the blade height to 2 in., make the first pass and readjust the fence by 1/8 in.; then make repeated passes until the channel is clear.

Assemble the parts
Fasten the three sides together with 10-in. lag screws (photo 5). Use a 1/2-in.-dia. spade bit to drill pilot holes through the posts and into the 2x4 frames; then drive the lag screws into place so that their heads are flush with the posts. Toescrew the stretchers in place across the top and bottom of the front opening. Attach 2x6 strengtheners flush with the tops of the bin’s sides. Screw the 2x4 lid supports 1-1/2 in. down from the top edges of the sides (photo 6); then set the lid on top of the supports and attach the hinges. Drill a 3/4-in.-dia. hole through the front post and into the front gate channel for the 5/8-in.-dia. gate prop. Drop the front gate into its channels, screw the decorative wooden balls onto the tops of each of the four posts (photo 7), fasten the lid and front-gate handles and you’ll be ready to start creating your own free, recycled top-grade planting material.

To hold the three sides together, first drill pilot holes and then drive 10-in. lag screws through the 6x6 posts and into the 2x4 frames.

Fasten the lid supports to the inside faces of the compost bin’s sides; then set the lid on the supports and fasten it to the back with hinges.

After drilling a pilot hole in the center of each of the 6x6 posts, attach the finials.

Dealing with Decomposition
One of my co-workers has a compost bin that’s less than 10 years old and the screening has already rusted through. To prevent that from happening to yours, use galvanized or stainless steel screening. It’s more expensive, but it will hold up to the harsh nature of the decomposing compost far better than standard screen material. And don’t make the mistake of attaching the screening with ordinary steel staples, as they will quickly rust. Instead, use Monel staples, which are about 66 percent nickel and 33 percent copper.