How to Compost in a Bucket

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 09, 2023

Composting is a great way to return organic material to nature. If you want to compost your food scraps but can’t compost outside, you can use a compost bucket to store compost piles or make compost indoors.

Benefits of Composting

Composting is a method for recycling organic waste, like food scraps and yard trimmings, and turning it into fertilizer for crops and gardens.

Composting has many benefits. For example, you get a soil additive full of nutrients, which is also good for the environment

Food and yard waste accounts for over 28% of the waste stream in the United States. This puts a large strain on the environment and our wallets. The United States spends billions of dollars on waste management every year.

The strain on the environment caused by landfills is significant. Landfills create the perfect environment for organic waste to undergo anaerobic decomposition — the breakdown of organic matter without any oxygen.

Anaerobic decomposition releases biogas as a byproduct. This biogas is a mix of methane and carbon dioxide — both are destructive greenhouse gasses. Landfills are the third largest producer of human-generated methane emissions. By composting, you can stop your organic waste from undergoing anaerobic decomposition.

Adding compost to soil also helps conserve water.

With an increase in organic material levels of as low as 1%, soil can hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre. So you need to use less water for irrigation. Soil that conserves so much water also has a lower chance of erosion.

How Does Composting Work?

Composting works by creating an ideal environment for decomposers like bacteria, fungi, and worms to work on aerobic decomposition — the breakdown of organic matter with oxygen. This process doesn’t release greenhouse gasses.

With the mix of the right conditions — including certain ingredients, air, and water — composting can produce the final product in 1 to 12 months.

Composting ingredients. You need two kinds of ingredients to compost. “Brown” items have a lot of carbon, while “green” items have a lot of nitrogen.

Brown items include dead leaves, twigs, branches, and paper products, all of which act as food sources for the decomposers. On the other hand, green items include fresh grass, food scraps, and coffee grounds, which help decomposers reproduce and grow.

A mix of brown and green items in the right amounts is important for a healthy compost. Your compost pile will be dry if you have too many carbon-rich items. Too many nitrogen-rich items will use up the oxygen too fast, making your compost pile slimy and smelly. The ideal ratio is 25 to 30 parts of carbon per part of nitrogen. As most organic items contain both nitrogen and carbon, include one part of green items for every 2 to 4 parts of brown items.

Air. To prevent anaerobic decomposition, your compost pile needs oxygen throughout. While your compost pile will still decompose without proper airflow, it will take longer. It could start to stink too. 

For large compost piles, turning your pile ever so often or using an aeration system is important. Other ways to increase airflow include layering green and brown items and chopping ingredients into small pieces.

Moisture. Your compost pile should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Depending on several factors, you may not need to do anything at all to keep your pile this damp. If you notice that your pile getting dry, add water. If it’s getting too wet, add more carbon-rich brown items.

What Is a Compost Bucket?

A compost bucket is a container perfect for small-scale composting. These are great if you can’t compost outdoors and need to keep your compost container inside. You can buy them in many sizes and styles or make your own.

You can also use a compost bucket that only holds ingredients but doesn’t make compost. When these buckets start to get full, you can bring them to a location near you that accepts composting ingredients.

You can find options that have the technology for absorbing and eliminating odor so that your bucket can stay in your kitchen or garage without smelling.

How to Make a Compost Bucket

You might not have the space or live in a climate that makes outdoor composting possible. If you want to compost indoors, one of the most common ways is vermicomposting, or composting with worms.

To make and use a compost bucket, you’ll need the following items:

  • A 5-gallon bucket or 12 by 12-inch plastic or wooden storage bin
  • A drill with a 0.25-inch bit
  • An extra bucket or tray
  • Eisenia fetida, commonly called red wigglers worms — which you can order online or buy at some pet or gardening stores
  • Carbon-rich material, like shredded newspaper, for bedding

Once you collect all these materials, here are a few more things to consider while you prepare your bucket for compost:

Ventilation and drainage. Clean and dry your bucket completely and then drill holes on the side for ventilation and the bottom for drainage. To catch the draining liquids, place something underneath the bucket. For example, you can place a 5-gallon bucket inside another 5-gallon bucket, or if you are using a larger bin, you can place it on a tray or inside a larger bin.

Lining. Though optional, it’s a good idea to line the bucket or bin with a fine screen or mesh — which will stop worms from escaping and pests from getting inside.

Bedding. The bedding of your compost bucket should be loose and carbon-rich. You can use materials like shredded paper, cardboard, or dried leaves for this. Spray the bedding with water until it’s about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. If it’s too wet, squeeze the extra water out.

If you’re starting your first compost bucket, mix some of your composting ingredients about halfway down in the bedding. Eggshells are a great addition to help your worms reproduce quickly.

Worms. Once you are done with the bedding, it’s time to add the worms. One pound of red wigglers is usually a good amount to start with — they can break down about 3.5 pounds of food scraps per week. Once you’ve added your worms, cover them with another layer of bedding. 

When you feed the red wigglers daily, bury a small amount of food scraps near the wall of the bin. Don’t put scraps in the same place twice in a row. Instead, put your scraps in a different spot and keep rotating around the bin so that the worms have enough time to decompose each section.

Maintenance. Keep an eye on the environment of your compost bucket while the worms do their job. Add water if it starts to get dry, and add more bedding as the volume decreases. The bucket should always be about two-thirds full of bedding.

After a few months, the worms will compost most of the food scraps. To harvest the compost, move everything in the bucket to one side and add fresh bedding to the other side. When you add food scraps, only add them to the side with the new bedding. Within a month or so, your worms will move to the new side. You can then scoop out the compost. If you find any lingering worms, just pluck them out and return them to the bucket.

Show Sources

Iḷisaġvik College: “How to Build a Worm composter from a 5-Gallon Bucket.”
Natural Resources Defense Council: “Composting 101.”
NYC Compost Project: “Indoor Composting with a worm bin.”
Sierra: “Composting 101: Hooray for the Black, Brown, and Green.”

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