Compost Rubbermaid:

Perfect Compost from a Rubbermaid Bin

A Pictorial Revealing How Anyone Can Compost

by Josh Day

We bought our first home in July of 2006. Situated on an acre of mostly wooded property, we had ample leaf fiber and space for a full-blown composting operation. We originally planned a large, elaborate, DIY system that never got off the ground, located near a patch of earth we had staked for a vegetable garden. A year later we accepted the fact that this idea would never get off the drawing board, and we began to look through catalogues for a premade composter.

The most affordable one that would fit our needs cost $130. As we had the knowledge of making a superior composter for a mere fraction of that, there was no way we were going to spend that kind of money.

In the end, after scrapping another idea for a toned-down DIY project, and almost on a whim, we turned a Rubbermaid container that once held tools into a composting bin that conveniently sits in our carport.

The pictorial below details the process of seeding and starting again with leaf fiber and shredded paper after our first compost "harvest."

Rich compost around a maple.Here are the finished results of approximately two months of "cooked" compost. You'll find some leaves in the mix if you look closely. This is why you need to mince the leaves a finely as you can; we ran over a pile of leaves with our mower, but obviously a fair amount survived. As you can see, the leaves don't break down.

Your final product should be dark--almost black, rich, and smelling earthly sweet. Compost that is not ready has rotted wet matter--the food items--that hasn't broken down yet and also stinks. Compost that's ready for your garden will have a pleasant, rich-soil smell.

Rubbermaid compost bin filled with shredded paper.This is our compost bin. It's a long Rubbermaid tub that has a pair of wheels at one end. The wheels are a great feature on a composter; you can lug it anywhere in your yard with ease!

You can see ventilation in the exposed handle area at one end (also at the opposing end). It's not much, but it acts like the vents in a CPU chassis, shuttling air in and out. When composting, you must have adequate oxygen exchange because methane gas can build up and literally blow the lid off your bin.

We perforated the lid with a drill for further air exchange. I stirred the compost every day or so. We had no problems with oxygen getting to the compost. In fact, I personally think the dark, enclosed environment helped break down the material at a faster rate.

After harvesting the finished compost, we left a little more than a gallon at the bottom to seed the next batch. Then we shredded our junk mail into a compost-feeding confetti. The paper is "dry" material that's crucial to breaking down the wet, rotting stuff and creating compost.

Note: compost purists (or compost nazis, if you prefer) frown on the usage of paper because of the black or color ink on the paper. My wife has been making herb gardens with layers of newspaper and soil (a "lasagna garden") for years and every one has been a great success with very little weeds. In regard to the health risk of the ink and potential contamination of ground water, I personally think it's nothing compared to the hard chemicals routinely sprayed on our produce.

Here we have the remains of a leaf pile I made along the edge of our woods two autumns ago. I simply ran the mower over the pile, repeatedly mincing the leaves until they were as fine as possible.

I took what I needed and left the rest for future compost cycles.

Leaf fiber is the most crucial ingredient in your compost stew. You always want to have a ratio of 2:1 or even 3:1 dry to wet matter. If you don't have enough dry matter like paper or leaf fiber, your wet matter won't break down and will simply turn into a rotting swamp.

I filled up the Rubbermaid bin more than halfway with shredded paper and leaf fiber. Then I gave everything a good stir with a shovel.

Our kitchen tub for plant matter to go outside.No compost buffet would be complete without the signature watermelon rind.

We keep a sealed container in the kitchen for food wastes. When it's full, we dump the contents into the compost bin in the carport. We originally kept the food matter in a bucket, but naturally fruit flies moved in and we quickly had an infestation.

Even though the Rubbermaid composter is only a few feet outside the kitchen, having some kind of temporary storage/transport from the cutting board to the outdoor bin is much more efficient than constant trips to the carport while you're chopping vegetables.

Quickly, here's what you want in your composter:

  • Vegetable and fruit matter (onion exteriors, fruits and veggies that have turned, peelings, rinds, husks, apple and lettuce cores, etc.)
  • Egg shells without any whites or yolk, crushed
  • Tea bags and coffee grounds
  • Finely chopped fish (shellfish, especially the exoskeleton, included)
  • Pasta and some grains (once again the compost purists say NO to pasta, but I've found it breaks down as fast as plant matter if not faster)
  • Used paper napkins, in moderate numbers

And this is what you do not want:

  • Dairy products
  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Processed foods of any kind (junk foods like potato chips, fries, candy, etc.)
  • Oils and grease

My wife's parents compost everything organic (containing carbon, the element of life, not organic as in natural), including the stuff in the don'ts list above. And you know what? It works out fine for them. Granted, their end results are not as black or rich as ours turned out, and the stuff rots a lot slower, but they've had no problems at all with their gardens.

Temporary Rubbermaid bin filled with wet compost.This is the temporary bin in which we kept our wet matter while the main composter spent three weeks "digesting" the stuff we had earlier laid in. When the compost really begins to break down, and you feel you have a good amount, give it a rest for two to three weeks and let it finish. You don't want half-rotted banana peels and apple cores in your garden, do you?

You're going to get a lot of maggots, then a lot of flies, so you may want to keep your temporary bin not so close to your house. Also, you'll need a strong stomach as things get nasty when you compost only wet material.

Notice the dried grass. I threw in a handful every time I made a big deposit. I found this helped with the smell and kept things from turning into a complete gooey mess.

Rosemary stalks help with odors.One more note about grass.

If the smell of your compost is killing you, throw in some fresh herbs, like rosemary shown to the right.

As you can see, our rosemary really likes its spot and grows like a weed.

I tossed in two massive handfuls early on in our first compost batch. The leaves broke down, but the limbs remained, although they were on their way out during harvest time. I'd recommend tying the herbs together in a bail of sorts so you can easily pull it out when your compost is ready.

A handful of fresh or dry grass clippings, scattered over the top of the compost, acts as an accelerant to biodegradation. Lawn clippings are an excellent source of nitrogen and do a great job of kick-starting the composting process.

All in, here's what the compost stew looks like after a quick stir with the shovel. The brown stuff is the leaf fiber. Note I purposely kept the seeded compost, the black, rich stuff, at the bottom.

Generally, when stirring, you want to mix up the very bottom with the top. Give everything a good shake and stir.

You'll discover the stuff at the bottom composts faster, where there's less oxygen and light. During hot days, you may even see your compost pile steaming. This is normal and a sign that it's "cooking."

In summary, a Rubbermaid bin makes for an excellent composter. You probably have one lying around your house right now. This setup is ideal for small houses and even condos with limited outdoor/garden space. Composting allows you more room in your garbage cans and saves you money down the road on fertilizer.

With a handful of grass clippings, a good amount of leaf fiber or shredded paper, and a continual supply of organic plant waste, anyone can compost.

Disclaimer: Throughout this entire website, statements are made pertaining to the properties and/or functions of food and/or nutritional products. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and these materials and products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.