One of the key principles of successful composting is to just get started. Yes, you should learn about nitrogen and carbon and the ideal ratios so that you can accelerate the decomposition process. But if you are spending more time studying the principles of composting than actually just doing it, you’ll never get anywhere. So I am always on the lookout for simple ways to begin composting. One of the quickest ways to start is by composting in a plain old cardboard box.
A cardboard box makes an excellent compost bin as a starter container. While not really suitable for indoor composting, using a cardboard box to begin your composting outdoors will allow you to keep the pile contained while it is small. As an added benefit, it will slowly break down from the moisture and weather, providing additional carbon as the pile grows.
Now, you may be asking yourself why in the world you would want to use a cardboard box outside to build a compost pile. Let’s address that.
Why Start A Compost Pile In A Cardboard Box?
As someone who is critical by nature, I tend not to believe most of what I read. But I do like to put ideas and theories to the test. I am currently working on my third cardboard box compost bin and here are the conclusions I have drawn from this lengthy experiment.
Cardboard Boxes Are Great Compost Bins Because They Are Free!
You can really go a little crazy purchasing composting supplies. Tumblers, fancy bins, and other premade composting paraphernalia can quickly drain your wallet before you’ve made your first batch of organic matter. Now, it is perfectly fine to invest in quality composting supplies to increase your yield but if you are just getting started, the cost of entry may scare you away. Composting is a natural process and you don’t have to invest money to start.
At the same time, there are advantages to starting out with some type of walls. This can help to reduce pests getting into your compost as well as keeping it tidy while the pile is small. A cardboard box provides these benefits without a need for investment. You can pick one up from a local store (they tend to have tons of these – check your local Dollar General). Using something free to get started should take away any excuse not to begin!
Cardboard Boxes Are Biodegradable
One of the really great benefits to building a compost pile in a box of cardboard is that the box itself will slowly decay. As you continue to add organic material to your pile, it will likely surpass the size of the box. Eventually, it will possibly even engulf it completely. That is actually fine, in fact, it’s perfect!
Since the cardboard box itself is biodegradable, it will decompose and become part of the compost mixture. The moisture from the pile combined with the elements of nature will help it to slowly break apart, becoming a valuable carbon source for your compost pile (source).
They Work Great For Vermicomposting
I wish I could take credit for already having known this but it was actually my neighbor who pointed this out. It turns out that worms eat cardboard. When the cardboard is pressed against the ground and is wet from the moisture, it provides an excellent cover and food source for the worms. They cannot live exclusively on it but it is a food source. (This is technically not vermicomposting because it’s earthworms, not red wigglers, that I’m finding in the bin, but still).
The boxes I use usually have a hole in the bottom where the edges don’t meet. If not, I’ll cut a few holes for good measure. Then I begin filling it up with grass clippings, kitchen waste, and any organic material I have. Throw in some compost activator for good measure. I treat it just like I would any compost pile. The added benefit of it being a welcoming habitat for worms is just icing on the cake!
Cardboard Works For Above-Ground Or In-Ground Composting
The examples I’ve given primarily deal with building compost bins above ground. But that’s not the only DIY solution for cardboard box compost bins.
You may have heard of dig and drop composting, the process of burying kitchen scraps to allow for passive decomposition. You can actually do this by burying a cardboard box up to the edges. Then, use it as you normally would, filling it with a healthy balance of nitrogen and carbon-rich organic material.
As the mixture decomposes, the walls of the box will decay and become part of the compost. In the meantime, however, it serves to keep the compost hole open but there is no container to remove from the ground once the process is finished.
This is not something I’ve tried since the heavy red clay in my yard will turn an open hole in the ground into a retaining hole for water but if you lived in an area with less rainfall or had soil with better drainage this may be something worth trying out.
As I embark on my third test with this process, I feel very comfortable in recommending using a cardboard box as a compost bin. I like the fact that I am creating organic matter with my grass clippings and kitchen waste and that even the container that I’m using will degrade and become part of the compost itself.
Want to compost faster? Check out our recommended compost tumblers
Be sure to check out all of our articles on composting for other great ways that you can get started creating nutrient-rich organic matter for your lawn, garden, or trees.