'Better Buckets' Compost Initiative Kicks Off in Redwood

Redwood's three-tier compost bin.
Volunteers on Saturday gathered behind Redwood's Community Greenhouse to construct a three-bin compost system available for public use as part of the recently launched "Better Buckets" initative.

Better Farm has partnered with the Redwood Neighborhood Association and other local groups and individuals to kick off a new campaign that will turn natural waste into soil and help preserve and expand the natural beauty of the area.

Better Buckets” allows individuals and families in the Redwood area to isolate food scraps from the waste stream in order to benefit their community. Better Farm will deliver five-gallon pails to those who have signed up and make regular visits to empty the buckets—or individuals can bring their full buckets to the community compost bin at anytime. Over time, the food scraps will become healthy soil perfect for fertilizing flowers and produce grown in the community greenhouse. Redwood residents are invited and encouraged to participate in the process of growing plants in the greenhouse, which is operated and overseen by members of the Redwood Neighborhood Association. Plant sales and giveaways throughout the summer months will help to nourish residents and beautify the hamlet. This program is brought to the community at no cost to participating individuals.

How the Three-Tier Compost Bin Works

All your dead leaves, grass clippings, twigs, hay, and kitchen food scraps get tossed into the first section of the compost bin until it's a full, big pile. When that bin is full, you shovel it all into the second bin (top-to-bottom). Then you go back to filling the first section of your compost bin. When it fills up again, you move everything from compartment 2 to 3, and from 1 to 2. Then you start over. When all three compartments are full (this should take the average household a full year or even longer), the third bin should be ready to be shoveled out into your garden.

How it works is that over time, the materials in each bin will be decomposing. The process is sped up by your twice-yearly aeration (manually shoveling the pile into the next bin), rainwater falling from overhead, and the natural aeration that will occur by oxygen reaching your pile from the nice big spaces between the wood of the pallets. Also, because you're leaving a bare earth floor, worms and other bugs have easy access to your compost heap.

If you're worried about backyard pests like raccoons or coyotes, be sure to install a hinged door on the front three sections of your compost bin. And of course, if you live in suburbs or the city, you may be subject to zoning or community board laws that would require a closed compost container such as a tumbler. For the rest of you, here's how to have your own three-tier compost bin for less than $20 to cover the cost of screws and chicken wire.

What You'll Need:

  • Pallets (12 feet of pallets for back wall, four 4-foot pallets for the walls. Check with your local hardware store, contractors, big box stores, or your local transfer station. Free pallets are in abundance!)
  • Galvanized Decking Screws (longer is better)
  • Chicken Wire
  • Optional: Three "front doors" for your compost sections with hinges (each door should measure 4x4)
  1. Screw the far left wall into the back wall with screws every six inches or so, driven from back to front.
  2. Repeat with the second wall (if pallet is wide enough, screw it into both sections of back wall. If not, you may need some additional pieces of wood to create a solid back to screw into. We were fortunate enough to find a very long pallet to have one continuous back wall).
Many thanks to volunteers from the Redwood Neighborhood Association, Better Farm, and individuals living locally to make this vision a reality. To participate in the Better Buckets program, email info@betterfarm.org.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.