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How to Build a 55-Gallon Compost Barrel

Composting returns vital nutrients and organic material to the soil by creating conditions where materials that otherwise would be discarded are allowed to decompose in a controlled environment. The finished compost, which is dark brown, crumbly and earthy smelling, is spread over or dug into the soil and gives many benefits to the plants in return. A plastic 55-gallon barrel is ideal for backyard composters, but two barrels are much better. Use one to allow the compost to finish decomposing while starting a new barrelful in the other. This avoids having to pick partially decomposed material out before using the compost. The second barrel can be made several months after the first.

Things You'll Need

  • 55-gallon plastic barrel
  • Drill with 1/4-inch bit
  • 3 concrete blocks
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    • 1

      Scrub the barrel with soap and water to remove any leftover material that was stored in the barrel. Rinse thoroughly.

    • 2

      Drill a straight line of holes 6 inches from one another from the top to the bottom of the barrel. Roll the barrel slightly and drill another row of holes 12 inches from the first line and offset between the other holes. Continue around the barrel with the offset lines of holes until the sides are covered.

    • 3

      Drill 20 holes scattered around a 20-inch circle centered on the bottom of the barrel. These will be your drainage holes for excess liquid.

    • 4

      Set the barrel up on 2 blocks, making sure you do not block the drainage holes.

    • 5

      Begin filling the barrel with various organic materials, including vegetable and fruit wastes, garden debris, leaves, shredded cardboard and coffee and tea grounds. If you only have enough to partially fill the barrel, that is okay. Adding half a shovelful of garden dirt is helpful.

    • 6

      Secure the lid tightly and turn the barrel over on its side. Roll it around the yard and place it back on the blocks. This should be done every few days after adding a large quantity of material, or every few weeks if you are adding a little bit every day or so.

    • 7

      Place a drip pan under the barrel between the blocks. The liquid that drips out can be mixed with 10 parts of water to provide a quick and effective fertilizer for your plants.

    • 8

      Place the third concrete block on the lid to keep the neighborhood animals out of the rotting material.

    • 9

      Let the barrel sit when it is completely full and start filling the new barrel. The first one should be ready for use in several weeks to 2 months, depending upon how quickly it was filled.