If you’re serious about gardening or homesteading, composting should be at the top of your “must-learn” list. It’s more science than art, so anyone can learn. But to do it right, you need the right tools. Enter the compost tumbler.
Sure, you can do it the old-school way – composting in heaps. But that takes time – a lot of time. Compost tumblers make your life easier by literally turning out compost in half the time. No more offensive odors. No breaking your back turning heaps by hand with a garden fork.
Today, we’re going to talk about composting at home with your own compost tumbler, why you should start composting and our favorite compost tumblers.
How to Compost at Home with Your Own Compost Tumbler
People have been composting for thousands of years, and tumblers have been available for decades. Today, you can build your own compost barrel, or you can choose from hundreds of different commercial models.
How Does a Composting Tumbler Work?
A composting tumbler is a simple barrel that can be turned or rotated. Usually, these barrels are made from recycled plastic, but you’ll find some metal barrels out there.
To initiate the composting process, you’ll need some kind of starter, such as manure, garden soil or already finished compost. You can start with nothing, but the process may take a little longer. The organic material is broken down by living microbes and organic material.
Tumblers, when turned a few times a week, speed up the breakdown process by mixing the microbes with organic material and oxygen. The tumbler keeps the materials and the heat contained inside.
When done properly, you can have fresh, rich compost ready for use in about a month.
The Importance of Venting
Venting plays a very important role in composting. Without oxygen, microbes will die. Composting is an aerobic process, meaning it requires oxygen. Poor venting will transform it into an anaerobic process, which will leave you with a stinky, messy pile of trash (albeit still useful).
It is crucial to choose a tumbler with good ventilation. One way to determine if your compost is getting enough oxygen is to check its temperature. If it isn’t heating up to 130F or if the process is taking much longer than expected, you may need more venting. A few extra holes should do the trick, but ideally, you’d choose a tumbler that already has adequate ventilation.
Turn, Turn, Turn
You may be tempted to continue adding to your compost pile, especially since the decomposition process will make your pile smaller over time. But at some point, you have to stop filling the tumbler, and let nature do its work. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with unfinished items in your pile.
The frequency and way in which you turn your tumbler is also important. Don’t just rotate it once and call it a day. Make sure you’re spinning it quite a few times. Swing it back and forth while you’re at it to really shake and mix up your materials.
Make sure that you’re turning your barrel two to four times per week.
Another helpful tip: Keep your composter in direct sunlight. The sun will speed up the heating process and help decompose more quickly.
What Can You Compost with a Tumbler Bin?
A tumbler is really no different than a compost heap – except it keeps everything contained. You can add the usual brown and green waste to your bin for composting.
Paper, including paper towels, paper plates, coffee filters, writing paper and newspaper
Corrugated cardboard (no waxy or slick paper coatings)
Fruit and vegetable clippings
Eggshells (not the eggs themselves)
Some animal manures (cow, horse, chicken, sheep and rabbit – no cat or dog waste)
Things to Avoid
Keep the following items out of your compost pile:
Meat, egg, fish and poultry scraps
Diseased or insect-infested plants
Fat, oil, grease and lard
Black walnut twigs or leaves
Yard trimmings treated with pesticides
How much of each type should you add?
As a general rule of thumb, you want a C:N (carbon-to-nitrogen) ratio of:
25-30 parts brown to 1 part green, OR
6 inches of browns to 2 inches of greens
Why is the C:N ratio important?
The right C:N ratio keeps microbes happy, allowing them to break down organic material more quickly.
Now, if your ratio is off, you’ll still make compost, but it will take a lot longer.
The Key Benefits of Compost Tumblers
Why invest in a compost tumbler when you can just create a compost heap in your yard? There are many advantages to using a barrel instead of the heap method.
Easier on Your Back
Have you tried turning a compost heap by hand? It’s back-breaking work – literally. Tumblers save you the physical labor of having to turn your pile by hand with a garden fork.
You also don’t have to worry about missing some spots or whether you really turned your compost pile well enough. The tumbler takes care of that for you. A few good spins will ensure your pile is properly aerated, mixed and turned.
Doesn’t Attract Pests
If you have a pest problem (like mice and other vermin), a compost tumbler will keep these critters at bay. For best results, make sure that your tumbler is up off the ground and not easily accessible.
Some homeowners prefer metal barrels if they’re worried about rats and rodents, but a well-made plastic barrel should work fine.
Safer for Kids and Pets
The last thing you want is your kids or pets messing with your compost pile. Sure, you can try to block access to your heap, but kids and pets are both curious creatures. Compost isn’t necessarily dangerous, but you don’t want all of your hard work to go to waste because the kids thought it would be fun to play in the pile.
A tumbler will keep your compost safely contained.
One of the main benefits of using a compost tumbler is that it speeds up the decomposition process. Instead of waiting a whole season for compost, you get it in just a few weeks.
Yes, it takes time, dedication and a little care to complete the process this quickly, but it’s certainly achievable. Even if you’re not giving your compost this much love and attention, the process is still faster than with a compost heap.
Saves on Space
If you have a small yard or just don’t want your compost to take up a lot of outdoor space, a tumbler is a practical solution.
If you have to site your compost on concrete, a tumbler is also a better option. You can catch the fluids from your tumbler in a container, but you can’t really catch the ooze that drains from the bottom of a compost pile.
How Do Composting Bin Tumblers Affect the Environment?
Composting is great for the garden, but it’s also great for the environment. Every year, 167 million tons of garbage is dumped into U.S. landfills alone. Many of the things we throw away can be composted, which reduces our waste and our impact on the environment.
In fact, 50% of our household trash is compostable:
21% is food scraps
15% is paper or paperboard
8% is wood waste
8% is yard trimmings
Reducing the amount of food scraps in landfills alone will help protect the climate. Food scraps generate methane, which may be more harmful for the planet than CO2.
Healthy soil plays a key role in protecting watersheds, and compost helps create that healthy soil.
Get this: Adding compost to soil can filter out 60-95% of urban stormwater pollutants. Here are some of the many ways compost can help the environment:
Improves soil fertility
Prevents plant disease
Protects against erosion and desertification
Stimulates microbial activity
Improves soil structure, water retention and ability to store nutrients
Serves as a filter and sponge to reduce pollutants and help improve water quality
Reduces stormwater runoff because compost can hold 5-times its weight in water
Our Favorite Compost Tumblers
Ready to start composting? If you’re a beginner, you may not know which tumbler to buy. You may be feeling overwhelmed by all of the options out there. We’re going to make your life a little easier by sharing our picks for the three best compost tumblers.
The Yimby composter keeps your tumbler off the ground, is easy to rotate and is very beginner-friendly.
The 8-sided dual chamber has two doors and a painted frame for an attractive look. The black color helps the tumbler absorb more heat to speed up the decomposition process.
Here’s how it works:
There are two separate sides.
The first side finishes first.
The second side allows you to add fresh clippings/scraps while the first side finishes.
Aeration holes ensure your compost gets adequate oxygen, and the deep fins help break up clumps.
Weight: 26.4 lbs.
Dimensions: 23.1” x 22.6” x 8.1”
The Yimby is easy to turn, so you won’t break your back mixing your compost. Just turn 5-6 times every 2-3 days. In the summer, when temperatures are highest, your compost can finish in just 2 weeks if you use the right balance of ingredients.
Great for beginners
Dual chambers for continuous composting
Finishes compost quickly
Aeration holes for better venting
Easy to turn
Not ideal for year-round use
The Yimby is a great composter for beginners and for the summer season. However, it’s small 37-gallon size is not ideal for year-round use. If you decide you want to start composting all year, you may need to upgrade to a bigger barrel.
Normally, we love the Mantis brand for any lawn and gardening tools and their compact composter (it is really not that compact) is a smart buy for those that are looking for large capacity. At 60 pounds, this steel composting tumbler is better suited for people with more space.
The CTO2001 has a drum capacity of 12 cu. ft. That’s enough space to hold 88 gallons of material. It also sits 12” off the ground to prevent rodents and other pests from getting too curious.
Drainage vents help get rid of excess moisture, and the removable door makes it easy to load/unload material.
Rodent- and pest-proof
Large drum capacity for year-round composting
Drainage vents remove excess moisture
Rust can be a problem.
Mantis claims that their barrel is made of galvanized steel, but rust may still be an issue. You may want to consider other options on our list for this reason. However, Mantis still gets a mention because of its large barrel size and rodent-proofing.