DIY

Organic Garbage Disposal: Build a Compost Container

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The author and his son remove material from one of two compost containers. The finished compost is dry, crumbly, and odorless.
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A drainage tile half buried in the ground, with a firm bottom and a secure top, makes a very good compost container.
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Diagram show method of making a drainage tile compost container and a wooden lid.

Even if you’re not especially skilled at home projects, you
can make and install–in half a day–an organic garbage
disposal unit that uses no power, won’t clog your septic
tank or drainage field, costs under $20, and
turns out a useful product.

It seems our household always produces some kitchen waste
that we can’t feed to the chickens, barn cats, or pigs. But
when we tried burying the “leftover leftovers” out in the
garden, some varmint would always dig them up. Nor was burning the garbage an option; it caused our oil-drum incinerator to
clog up.

Fortunately, I recalled an article about composting that
I’d read back in the 40’s. The piece had described a
homemade compost container made from an 18″-diameter clay drain
tile, three-fourths buried in the ground, with a top and
bottom added. That article’s author said he ran his
disposal on earthworms, but–since our animals consume
all of our scraps except for eggshells, citrus and banana
peels, and small bones–the useful wigglers haven’t (yet!)
been lured into my version.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: You may be able to attract worms and speed
up the decaying process by layering your kitchen garbage
with an equal mix of freshly cut green plants and chopped
dried leaves, a handful of blood meal (available from
most garden centers), and a thin coating of soil. And  by sprinkling a little water over it occasionally.]

In practice, we have two tile composters. It takes about a
year to fill one, at which time we simply switch to the
other. Then, when the second one is full, the contents of
the first have decomposed into a rich humus and are ready
to be emptied on our garden plot.

How to Build It

The initial step in constructing a homestead garbage
disposal is to locate an 18″ diameter clay drainage tile.
The units can be found at building supply yards where
bricks, cement blocks, and such are sold (if you plan to
put a brick bottom in your disposal, you can buy the
materials to do so at the same time).

Now, pick a well-drained spot for your composter and dig a
hole that’s a few inches larger than you think is
necessary, since a big clay tile that “surprises” you by
getting stuck half in and half out of the earth can be very
difficult to handle. Next, lay the “groundwork”, which can
be constructed of brick, cement, or steel (my base is made
from the top of an old 55-gallon drum), making sure that
it’s level. And whatever material you use, do provide for
drainage, but keep the openings small; bear in mind a rat can get through a half-inch crack. When that’s
accomplished, slide the tile into place and backfill around
it with dirt.

The disposal’s top can be made from scrap lumber cut to
form two circles, which will
create a lid that fits snugly and won’t blow away in gusty
winds. (It’s best, however, not to make it so weighty that
taking out the garbage becomes a heavy chore!) If you don’t
have a drawing compass capable of making the big circles,
find the center of a large-enough board, tap a nail
partway into the wood at that point, attach a string
to it, tie a pencil to the string’s other end at the
proper distance (one-half the diameter of the circle being
drawn), scribe the shape, then use a saber saw or a
band saw to cut it out. Finally, center the smaller disk
upon the larger one, nail them together, paint
the cover, mount a screen-door handle on the lid,
and the job’s done.

We’ve used our pair of units for three years now and are
quite pleased with them. The finished compost is dry,
crumbly, and odorless (it resembles peat mixed with
eggshells), and our plants just love it! What more could we
ask from a couple of holes in the ground?

EDITOR’S NOTE: In China, household garbage is used to
produce methane gas. For more information on their methods read Sichuan’s Home Methane Digesters.