DIY Diva: My Grossest Project Yet


Gross garbage... uh... compost.

Heyo – the DIY Diva here with my grossest, most disgusting project yet.  Today I’m going to talk today about building my very own composting bin.

I just moved to an apartment in Oakland which has a huge backyard.  My housemates and I have discussed starting a sort-of urban farm back there.  Right now we just have dirt, two fig trees and a lemon tree.  Maybe some dog poop.  After reading Chloe’s post about FREE gardening in Berkeley, I decided to get online and find out if Oakland had FREE gardening resources so we could start our own.

I found City Slicker Farms, which indeed offers FREE seed and tool sharing, in addition to providing a place where you can come to off-load some of the excess produce you produce in your backyard farm.  (You can even trade it for other peoples’ excess produce of what you may not grow, but want, for FREE!)

This excited me very much.  I went right out to the local hardware store in the Laurel District (where I live) and spent about $20 on potting soil, seeds and little peet moss planters I could start some herbs in and just directly plant into the ground once they started.  I also bought a trowel.

I know, I know – broke asses don’t buy shit – but, I won $20 on a scratcher and I figured it was either that or a bottle of wine and some cigarettes.  The gardening supplies seemed a healthier choice.  And, I wanted to start right then, not wait until I had a chance to go into the City Slickers Urban Farm center.  I figured that I would make up for it by producing beautiful produce by the bushel.

When I got home I planted four little pots of basil seeds (that’s my favorite legal herb) and put them into the window.  They sprouted two days ago.  I also started collecting seeds from the produce we were buying like a mad woman.  I have started sprouting avocados in glasses of water like a school kid, I dried out some watermelon and honeydew seeds and packaged them away for spring planting.  I started drawing up diagrams of how I wanted our garden to look on notebook paper and generally began acting rather like a flipping stinking hippy.

At the same time, I started a composting bucket on our front balcony, thinking I would create my own mulch for the garden.  My housemates and I have been diligently dumping our compostable waste into the bucket, stirring it in and all that.  Which is gross.  And, makes me retch every time it is my turn to do it.  I just get through it by envisioning the beautiful, home grown, delicious tomatoes I will grow next summer because of our compost bucket.

Here’s the thing: even though the compost bucket is sealed shut… it STINKS.  Especially since it’s been so f-ing hot in Oakland the past couple of weeks.  And, it is getting rather full.  Both of my housemates said “One, two, three – NOT IT” to the task of building a permanent composting box in our backyard.

Hurumph.  Alright you bastards, I’ll build the mother-flipping compost box.

I figured if I had to do it, I might as well milk a column or two out of  it:

I found great instructions on HOW to compost in your back yard on Instructables.  They did not – sadly – provide blueprints to BUILD the box pictured.  I did not know that I would need worms or a pitchfork for this project, so I skipped back down to the hardware store and picked up both.  The pitchfork is sitting outside my back door, just waiting to be used and I put the worms into my existing compost bucket so they wouldn’t die.  This cost me an additional $40.  I decided that I wanted to make an 8X8 and four foot deep compost box.  I could see how it was assembled via the photograph and realized that I would need wood, a post diggger-thingie, a saw (yikes!), nails and a hammer.

I then remembered that I had been criticized for making an expensive soup as a project for this column, so I figured to take the heat off myself, I should figure out how to build the damn thing on the cheap or for FREE!  I had already spent $60 and didn’t want to spend anymore.

-I went on Craigslist and found ads for free wood.  I found a nice guy in Rockridge who had ten slatted pine pallets of varying sizes that I could pull apart to build my compost bin from.  I told him that he could have as many figs and lemons as he’d like to pick if he’d deliver the pallets to my apartment.  He’s bringing them over Sunday.

-I found the Temscal Tool Lending Library.  Here’s the thing: the tool lending library isn’t FREE.  But, it’s damn-skippy cheap.  For around $10 I can borrow all the tools I need to build my box.  I was really happy about this and made reservations to get a saw, two saw horses and a post digging-thingie from them.  I already have a hammer.

-I then realized they don’t lend nails and that I needed a tape measurer, too, to complete the project.  I skipped back down to the hardware store.  Add in another $15.

-So far the project has cost me $85.  That’s still cheaper than all the compost box projects I’ve seen outlined online on home improvement blogs.  One guy ‘s instructions were to go buy bricks and mortar to build what looked like an addition to a house to compost in.  Crazy.  I might catch flack for spending $85 on this project, but you have to remember: I didn’t own any tools other than a hammer when I started this.  Now I have a trowel, pitchfork, tape measurer, hammer,nails and hingy thingies.  Plus peet moss pots for planting, some potting soil and four adorable basil plants.  If you already have these items you’ll not spend nearly as much money on the project.  You’ll just buy worms, nails, hingy thingies and spend a bit of cash at the tool lending library (aprox $10).  I suppose you could always stir the pot of compost stew with a stick instead of a pitchfork… hm, maybe I’ll take that back to the hardware store, then.  We have lots of sticks in the backyard.

I’ll be assembling the compost box over the weekend.  I will return next week to show you my results, provided I don’t cut any digits off with the borrowed saw.  And, I’ll give you some tips and tricks to make your compost box building experience much easier than mine.

The really gross part is going to be starting the compost IN the box.  Blech.  We’ll get to that next week, too.

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Kate Kotler - DIY Diva

Kate Kotler - DIY Diva

Kate Kotler is a freelance writer and professional blogger. IRL she is a very nice person, regardless of what you might have read about her on the innerwebs. Kate lives in Berkeley with her dog, Max. You can follow her on Twitter @adorkablegrrl

  • Chloe

    compost isn’t gross it’s the best! thanks for writing about it!

  • Megan

    Back at the end of August, you wrote an article explaining how to knit. Actually, you had never knitted anything in your life and had no idea how to do so, but you expressed the intention to one day take a class about it. How’s that working out?

    This new article explains how you’ve dropped nearly a c-note to zero result. Let me remind you that you’re constructing a glorified trash can. Will you ever actually complete this project, or does the DIY Diva merely speculate on how various tasks MIGHT be accomplished? Thanks for the amazing service you provide.

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  • Hi Megan,
    I’m taking a knitting class as we speak. I am working on my first scarf and intend to follow up with a column about that experience. It’s slow going, I have to rip out every other row, because I still haven’t quite got the hang of the knit stitch to such a degree that it looks the way I want it to.

    Regarding the compost bin: I picked up tools today from the Temscal tool library and my pallets are being delivered tomorrow. Stay tuned to my column next week to see my detailed instructions of how to build the composting bin.

    And, honestly – I don’t know if it’s fair to criticize me for honestly expressing that I don’t know how to do something and sharing my experience of teaching myself to make/build the thing I didn’t know how to make. I have not claimed to be an expert, just someone who is interested in making stuff. I’m sure I’m not the only person who is interested in making/building stuff who doesn’t or didn’t know how to do something before taking on a project…

    Glorified trash can or not, composting/mulch is vital to gardening and though I’ve spent $85 to build a compost bin (with a hinged side and lid – the side opens so that you can pull the mulch out w/out getting it all over yourself, the lid opens and shuts so that you can keep critters out of your compost) I would actually spend a LOT more buying mulch and/or buying a bin to install. Given that all the seeds/plants I’ve received for my garden (outside a $2.49 pack of basil seeds) have been free, traded or harvested from fruit/veggies my housemates and I have already eaten I think the $85 for the composting bin is cheap compared to the rewards we’re going to reap.

    Further: remember if you can borrow tools or you already have them, you don’t have to spend $$ on that portion of the project.

  • @Chloe — it’s the STINKY best! 😛

    Actually I just calculated how much $$ we’ll be saving on starter mulch for our garden when we do our big planting in the spring and it’s a couple of hundred dollars.

    Exciting! I’m going to follow up with a post later in the winter about seed trading and such. We just found a guy who has a garden who was willing to give us baby tomato plants and seed for corn and for lettuce in trade for him harvesting some of our figs and lemons. He’s actually going to come over on Monday (after I’ve built the compost bin) to show me how to trim our fig trees back so they are healthy and happy. 🙂

    Gardening is very communal around here.

  • Charlotte

    awesome post…great to see you’re so motivated 🙂 one word of advice when composting: make sure you have a decent mix of “green” and “brown” items; this prevents your compost from getting too slimy and stinky. some ideas for “brown” stuff:
    # dry yellow or brown leaves and grass
    # the woody stalks of plants such as sunflowers and corn
    # paper and wood products, such as sawdust, chopped up twigs and shredded newspaper
    # dryer lint
    # straw

  • Hey Charlotte! Great advice — I didn’t know I could use dryer lint, that’s fantastic! I thought that was just a useless waste product.

    I’m taking a break from building the box right now – it’s pretty toilsome work for one person. I just sank my four posts and I think the worst of the hard work is done. I’m just enjoying some homemade iced tea w/lemons from our tree and then I’m back to it! 🙂

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  • Compost is disgusting but also so satisfying to make. These diy resources might help you out in the east bay

  • Thx, Hank! Great resource… 🙂

  • James

    Here’s how to do it for $15 (includes ACTUAL INSTRUCTIONS and leaves out the filler and annoying backstory):

    Kate, why don’t you try focusing on making your articles useful to the reader, instead of telling longwinded, pointless stories about your failures. How-to articles are more effective when they are informational and avoid personal-narrative style.

  • Wow. James. So negative.

    Please see my post tomorrow.