Milkcrate Composter (vertically Stacked)




How to make a vertically stacked composter using milkcrates. 
This instructable is based on Terracotta home composter by artworker
and the creators of the terracotta composter, Daily Dump ( )

When I saw the terracotta composter, I though it was the most brilliant composter I have ever seen.  It was also absolutely beautiful.  I saw some problems however.  First, the price for terracotta pots this size is expensive (my favorite budget is 0$, so that didn't quite work...).  Second, the amount of work to find the pots that will stack well, make the holes without breaking the pots, the fragility of terracotta, and the weight of it was against this lovely project. 

Then I though of the perfect substitute, a milkcrate!  It stacks perfectly, has plently of air circulation, is sturdy, has handles to lift them easily, light weight, low cost.  All you needed is 3 milkcrates, mesh/screen, newspaper, a lid, and a base if it's not resting on the earth directly. 

The only down is the aesthetic of it, the terracotta pots are so beautiful.  But the milkcrates has their own charm, especially in my urban surrounded garden.

So here's my milkcrate composter!

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Step 1: You Will Need

materials needed:

-3 milkcrates

-plastic or metal mesh/screen, or weed barrier fabric
-hot glue gun

-screws (preferably rust proof)
-old drawer handles

-and organic waste to start your compost

To make this project, all the material I used were either found, reused, or I had it already at home, so the total budget was a wonderful 0$!

Step 2: Prepare Your Milkcrates

Choose your milkcrates

You could decorate them using paint, but you could also leave them the color they are, especially if you have various bright colors. 

A note on composting however: black will generate more heat that will help the compost and speed things up.  But it is not as pretty... 

I decided to use two black ones and one red to add color

Clean them with a rag. 
Cut pieces of your screen/mesh or weed barrier fabric and hot glue gun them inside the milkcrates to cover the side holes.  This will keep your compost inside and prevent pests to go in, but air and water to circulate.  I had leftover of weed barrier fabric that I used for my square foot garden, so I used that, but you could salvage some mosquito net from a tent or an old window that ended up in the trash.  

Step 3: Lid and Base

Use wood (or other material) to create a lid and a base (to protect your floor if your composter is not resting directly on the ground)

To make this lid, I used old wood from an IKEA bed frame, and old drawer handles that I salvaged from my neighborhood trash.  My composter will be resting on the earth directly, so I do not need a base.  I glued and used screws to hold the wood planks together to form the lid, drilled holes to attach the handles, and varnished it to protect it.

Step 4: Assemble Your Composter

Choose the spot where your composter will go.

Lay 2 layers of newspaper at the bottom of your milkcrates to stop the compost from falling through, stack them (on the base if you have one), and put the lid on.  Your composter is now ready!

Step 5: Start Composting

You are now ready to start composting! 
Good luck and have fun!

here are the steps and image with instructions taken from the Terracotta home composter by artworker ( ) and created by Daily Dump ( ) on how to use your composter (Pot A would be the top Milkcrate, Pot B the middle Milkcrate, and Pot C the bottom Milkcrate)

Composter Process:
Start adding the kitchen waste to the composter (Pot A)
When the Pot A is 3/4 full, switch the Pots A and B. And start adding the materials in Pot B which is now at the top.
When the Pot B gets filled 3/4 the ingredients in Pot A has shrunken.
You can again switch the Pots A and B
When the middle tear pot gets almost filled 3/4, empty the middle tear Pot to Pot C
And start the process all over again.
The final contents of Pot C starts shrinking and thus more materials can be added from the middle tear Pot to Pot C.
When Pot C gets filled 3/4 empty the pot before starting to fill the Pot C again.
At this point the contents of Pot C has decomposed completely.
Sieve the contents of Pot C and you get perfectly good non-smelling manure (compost).
The larger pieces that are left after sieving can be added to the Pot at the top for further decomposing.
Keep the compost little damp by sprinkling water in the upper Pot occasionally.
The whole process takes around 90 days.

You can find much more instructions on the Daily Dump website on how to compost and troubleshooting that I recommend reading.

5 People Made This Project!


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30 Discussions


1 year ago

Very cool! how do you sieve?


2 years ago

Fantastic! I'm going to be combining your instructable and this one for a more modular raised garden (I have bad knees so I need to keep it higher up). This seems fantastic, and also I can double the amount of towers if I need more composting space. Thank you so much!

DebbieM114jean v

Reply 3 years ago

thank you thank you for posting this!!!


3 years ago



5 years ago on Introduction

I have wanted to compost for awhile now, but my husband is afraid of the smell. I have never done this and it would make sense there would be a smell. Is it a really bad smell and if so is there a trick to keeping the smell at bay as well as the flys?

2 replies

Reply 3 years ago

Compost doesn't really smell. Garbage in a compost pail in your house might smell cos it's going rotten. It builds up annoying fruit flies since it is inside. Doing your compost outside will smell a bit as the organic matter starts to compost, but will break down pretty fast and smell mostly like dirt. Insects are part of the process but again with the lid and screen method you are keeping out most of the bugs and more importantly rodents. Just know that this kind of composting is called cold composting. You can't do meat or bones in this kind of composter. You should not put too much citrus or grain in the cold compost, since grains really attract rodents. As far as smell goes if it's outside you will deal with it less. Good luck.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

A well balanced compost pile should not smell bad. There are tons of resources online to guide you in what to compost and getting a compost balanced and working efficiently.


4 years ago on Introduction

WHERE are you finding the crates? have asked around recently and was told by convenience store clerk that they have to pay for each crate they use and if broken they return to vendor to be replaced said this practice of vendors charging a price per crate started couple years ago. I live in s.w. part of Virginia

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

Try buying them at dollar stores or at the container store. They cost 5-9.99$ new.


4 years ago on Introduction

Walmart had some of these crates beginning of the school year for

kids going back to school


4 years ago on Introduction

i'm a balcony gardener and had been composting with a large container for awhile but now I am using that for a shrub - I have collected some vegetable crates from a local store that was throwing them out so will use them in place of milk crates - thanks for the great idea


4 years ago on Introduction

I hate to be dense, but from your written instructions, are you only adding kitchen scraps to compost? Where do you add leaves and such? I really want to do this!!


5 years ago

It gets the job done. Thanks for the instructable.


8 years ago on Step 2

First off, let me say how great this instructable is. Perfect for a small space and/or small budget. I'm going to be making two of these myself and it'll run me about $12 since I don't have the weed barrier fabric on hand. I figure I'd need one for myself and one for my husband since we tend to produce a good bit of vegetable waste.

I'm personally probably going to use a little more of the fabric to line the bottom of the bed, or omit this step. I only say this because some holes on the bottom of milk crates can be small, and if so, who cares if that little bit of compost from Bin A goes to Bin B. It's all getting mixed up anyway. Also, I've been reading about some of the colored inks in newspaper can contain metals. Since I'm using my compost for vegetable gardening, I rather not take this chance. So if the holes are big, I'll line with a little extra of the weed barrier.

3 replies

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Yes, good point about the newspaper! You have to be careful that it is made with vegetable inks. Good luck with your composters :)


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

As far as I am aware, all newspapers printed on regular print paper (your average hometown papers and not the "glossies") in the US, use vegetable based inks. There may be exceptions, of course. But, I am not aware of any. It was a big selling point on one of those "As Seen on TV" tailgate collapsible grills.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

The concern about metals in colored inks is outdated, especially in newspapers. Newsprint ink is the cheapest possible and has to be recyclable, which means it is made from soy. Heavy metal inks are expensive! (And dangerous, which is another reason they don't use them any more.) These days, the only inks you have to worry about are the ones which are fluorescent or metallic - they're usually found in advertising supplements or packaging materials, not the general news sections. Anything else is compostable, even on glossy papers.


5 years ago on Introduction

Hmmmm. I have a "Can O' Worms" worm farm and think that your brilliant idea could also be adapted to that.