How to Make Composting Structures

Making a Compost Bin

Starting a compost pile can be as simple as piling yard waste up in a free-standing pile. But to save space in smaller landscapes, hasten decomposition and keep the yard looking neat, create a composting structure. Composting structures can be made from a variety of materials and be as simple or complex as desired.  


Structure Size 

Compost structures or bins can be built in a variety of ways. Just keep in mind, the pile must be large enough to hold heat, while small enough to allow oxygen to penetrate to the center of the pile. Ideally, each pile should be approximately 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.  


Time to Get Creative 

Here are some ideas to get your compost bin-building juices flowing.  

  • Use three pallets attached at the corners for an open-front bin. Or add a fourth pallet in the front for a fully enclosed structure.  
  • Create a circular bin with concrete-reinforcing wire. Don’t like the large open squares? Line the circular bin with wire mesh.  
  • Snow fencing can be used to create a round bin. Add posts on the corners and create a square bin.   
  • Purchase or collect cider blocks and pile them up into a 3-sided, open front bin. Be sure to leave 0.5 inches between each block to allow oxygen movement into the pile. Or if you have a lot of cider blocks, create three connected bins.    


Find more great ideas.  

How Many Composting Bins Do I Need?

If you are serious about composting, it’s helpful to have a series of 3 bins for collecting, building and turning your active compost. Multiple bins makes it much easier to turn compost frequently, which speeds decomposition by providing bacteria with the oxygen they need to break down materials.  

When using a series of bins, one bin can be used to stockpile materials until there is enough material to create a new active pile. In the remaining two bins, one is left empty and the other contains the current active compost pile. Each time the pile is turned, materials are forked into the empty bin. This allows you to continue to turn the active pile until all materials are broken down.  


Compost piles should be monitored and turned after temperatures have peaked (90-140°F) and begun to cool. This occurs four to seven days after pile construction. Turn the pile, wait for the temperature to peaked again. Turn and repeat until your compost in finished. Compost processed this way will be ready in four to six weeks. 



The pile should be located close to where the compost will be used and yet not offend neighbors. The pile will do best where it is protected from drying winds but in partial sunlight which helps heat the pile. Keep the pile near a water source so that adding water doesn’t require dragging a lot of hoses. 


Upcoming Compost Programs 

Backyard composting of landscape waste, including tree leaves and grass clippings, along with kitchen scraps such as coffee grounds and eggshells can significantly reduce the amount of home waste sent to Lincoln's landfill.   


Extension Master Gardeners will offer two program this spring demonstrating how to achieve a proper carbon:nitrogen ratio - or "green" materials vs. "brown" materials - and show you several types of structures that can be built or purchased for composting.  You'll learn how to construct a compost pile and discuss basic troubleshooting if your compost pile is not breaking down as it should.   


This spring's demonstrations will take place at our Pioneers Park composting demonstration site, south across the road from the Pioneers Park Nature Center, beginning at 10:00 a.m.  

  • May 21 
  • June 25  

These programs are free and open to the public. Two lucky participants will win either a composting thermometer or bin. No reservation is required and anyone with an interest in composting is welcome to attend.  


Your Suggestions are Welcome!

Is there a lawn and gardening topic you would like to learn more about? Sarah Browning is an Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension and can be contacted by phone 402 441-7180, by mail at 444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528: or by e-mail