Compost at Home: Food Digester Method

by Callie Martin

posted May 2, 2020

Gardens offer us a hopeful perspective. “They give us a way to connect to something immediate here and now and watch it grow,” says Dr. Rupa Marya, a professor at the University of California San Francisco’s Medical School.

One of the best ways to bring your home garden to life is through the creation of healthy soil. Did you know that all the leftover food scraps create conditions conducive for life to grow? They can when you make them into compost.

Since food scraps from the kitchen can attract rodents in the backyard, it’s best to begin using a method specially designed to break down food scraps, rather than tossing them into a traditional, open-air compost pile.

Building a Food Digester

One of the simplest ways to compost food scraps is in a sunken garbage can. The can should have a tight-fitting lid and holes punched into the sides and in the bottom. A galvanized can works well for this project, you can also use a five-gallon bucket. Here is the step-by-step:

  • Drill or punch about 20 drain holes that are one-quarter to three-eighths inch diameter, in the bottom of the can.
  • Drill 20 more holes in the sides of the can, but only in the lower third, which will be covered by soil.
  • In a well-drained spot, dig about 15 inches deep and set the can into the hole. Then, push the soil back around the sides and tamp it down with your foot or a shovel.
  • To get your digester ready for food scraps, gather shredded paper, dry leaves, or other chipped woody debris and layer it on the bottom of your digester, several inches thick.
  • Follow this by sprinkling two to three cups of garden soil onto the brown materials. This “inoculates” your digester with all the oxygen-breathing microorganisms that encourage healthy, odorless decomposition.

Your new digester is ready to use!  Collect food scraps, storing them in a container in your kitchen and once or twice a week, throw them into your food-scrap digester. A good way to keep fruit flies from getting into the bin is to layer the top with a thick piece of cut-out cardboard or newspaper. Placing a handful of shredded paper or dried leaves atop each addition of food scraps will keep mold or odors from developing and help the food scraps break down evenly. No worms need to be added to your digester. They’ll find their way in through the holes and help the composting process. Depending on your household food habits, compost should be ready to harvest in 6-12 months.

Food Waste for Compost

Go for It

  • Fruits, vegetables, tops, and bottoms
  • Rice and grains
  • Eggshells
  • Spent flowers
  • Tea bags
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cooked food without oil, dairy, or meat
  • Shredded paper


  • Meat and fish
  • Dairy
  • Bones
  • Oils and butter
  • Cooked food with oil, dairy, or meat

For more information about home composting and recycling please contact Callie Martin, Skagit County Public Works Waste Reduction Recycling Education Specialist at or
(360) 416-1575 and visit the website

2 thoughts on “Compost at Home: Food Digester Method

  1. Jan Hersey

    This is a great idea. Two or three cans to use successively even better. How easy is it to remove the can? My husband just digs a hole in the ground and shovels some dirt over the kitchen scraps. Works eventually, but makes it difficult to remove finished compost, as new scraps always on top.

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      Hi Callie,
      The Food Digester information has gone international! I forwarded it to my daughter and her husband living in France and dealing with seven weeks of being house-bound with three kids. Lots of food to compost.
      I have 8 worm bins going, just large trash cans like the Digester. I need to add another as the garden season kicks in.
      Good to see your program still going strong county-wide.
      Peter H.

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