Compost Tumblers- Drum Roll, Please!

Compost tumblers are all the rage lately. You can buy them anywhere from Amazon to Home Depot. All compost tumblers consist of an enclosed container with a simplified way to turn the bin in place. You load the bin with yard waste and kitchen scraps and turn the bin every few days. After a period of time, you get compost!

tumblers_at_a_glanceHighlights of Compost Tumblers

Space Needed: It depends on the compost tumbler you select. Some hold as little as 37 gallons while larger versions have 2 bin systems that can hold up to 90 gallons.

Cost: High. If you plan on purchasing a compost tumbler, don’t expect to pay any less than $100. If you are interested in a tumbler, but don’t want to pay a high price, consider making one.

Maintenance: Generally low depending on the model. Simply add your materials until your bin is at capacity. Turn the tumbler once every few days. Check periodically for moisture. If the inside is too wet, leave the door open for a day or so. If the contents are too dry, add water. Once the inside material resembles compost, harvest compost.

Compost Rate:  Mother Earth News conducted a side-by-side comparison between a variety of compost tumblers vs. a hot, pile method. They found that both methods yielded compost in about 10 weeks (after the last addition). Keep in mind that the type of materials you add matters. With compost tumblers, along with piles, you want a brown-to-green ratio of no less than  40% brown. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a stinky, runny mess.

Pros: Keeps compost contained and neat. Keeps pests out. Compact versions are great for small spaces. Easier to turn than an open, compost pile.

Cons: Cost

Choosing a Compost Tumblers: How Do You Roll?

Size & Capacity:

When selecting a unit, consider the square footage that the tumbler will take up as well as the capacity of what it can hold. If you are only interested in composting kitchen scraps, you can get away with a smaller version. If you have a large yard and plan on composting grass clippings, a larger bin would work best.

Style:Horizontal Spin Compost Tumblers

Horizontally Mounted– These drums are raised off the ground and mounted horizontally to a sturdy, static frame. Some of these bins are rotated by  a crank; others are spun by hands. Not only are these easy to rotate, but they are also easy to harvest. Park your wheelbarrow underneath and dump. Viola!

Vertical Spin Compost TumblersVertically Mounted– These tumblers are raised off the ground and sit upright. They are mounted to a frame where one pole that runs through the center of the drum
horizontally, allowing the drum to rotate vertically. Try not to overload the bin or else rotating could be difficult on some models. Vertically mounted tumblers usually have one opening at the top. Once compost is complete, rotate the bottom of the bin horizontally and open the top. You can then scoop out the compost. If the bin is high enough, you could scoop it out directly into a wheelbarrow.

Base Rolling Compost TumblersBase Rollers– These bins are horizontally cradled in a base. The inside of the base contains rollers that allow the barrel to spin while staying within the base. Because these sit close to the ground, they are inconspicuous but might be
difficult to harvest. Most of the lids aren’t wide enough to accommodate a standard-sized shovel which might involve raking it out by hand to harvest. An easier harvesting method would be rolling the bin to where you intend on using the compost and emptying it there.

Other Options to Consider

Dual Bins– These are compost tumblers that have 2 side-by-side, separated bins that allow one unit to be used for active composting while the other can be used as a collecting bin.

Door Size – Determine if it’s possible for a standard shovel to fit in the door hatch. If not, and the unit isn’t raised enough to directly empty into a wheelbarrow, it might be a pain to harvest.

Assembly – Read the reviews on various units to see what the assembly is like. One of the main complaints for a variety of horizontal tumblers is what a nightmare they can sometimes be to assemble.

Sustainability Perspective – Buy Responsibly

Sorry, I have to rain on this parade. When I sustainability_soapboxwas checking out tumblers, I immediately got excited. They are beautiful and look so easy. I had to remind myself that the whole purpose of this journey for me was to just say “NO” to any new purchases. Many tumbler models ARE made of recycled materials, but some aren’t. Before purchasing, please honestly ask yourself: do you really NEED to buy something to create compost? Will just be another hunk of plastic sitting in a landfill when you’re done with it?

If you have a physical limitation that prevents you from partaking in other composting methods – Go for it! If you live in an apartment or have a house that lacks outdoor space– SURE! If you have a pest problem, then a compost tumbler is also a great option for you. However, if you are just a neat freak, maybe work on that instead.

If you find this method appealing, could you possibly create a compost tumbler out of something you already have on hand?

Additional Resources on Compost Tumblers

Mother Earth News | Testing Compost Tumblers
Compost Junkie | Are Compost Tumblers Worth the Money?
Garden Culture Magazine | Build A Better Compost Tumbler

Tell Me What You Think!

If you already own a compost tumbler, tell me what you think. Which model are you using at home? What benefits or challenges have you come across that I haven’t mentioned? Let me know!

 

Vermicomposting- It’s Time to Get Excited About Worm Poop

Does the idea of keeping worms in your house sound crazy? Stay with me, after you learn how easy it is to create nutritionally dense compost out of kitchen scraps, you might give the little critters a try.

Vermicomposting utilizes Red Wiggler worms to eat your kitchen scraps and paper. Their castings are then used as a soil amendment. Pretty straightforward.vermi_at_a_glance

Highlights of Worm Composting

Space Needed: Very minimal.  You can set up worm composting bins indoors or outdoors. This method is ideal for apartment dwellers and those who don’t have a ton of space to commit to composting.

Cost: $30 – $135. You’ll need to create a home for your worms. You can make one out of a Rubbermaid tote for relatively cheap or you can purchase one. The smaller versions start at around $30 but the nicer ones are close to $100. You will also have to pay $30-$40 for a pound of Red Wigglers worms.

Maintenance: Pretty low. Aside from checking on the bin and adding new food scraps, worm composting takes minimal effort. Need to go on vacation for a week? No problem, feed your worms before leaving and you’ll be fine.

Compost Rate: Relatively quick compost rate at 2-6 months

Pros: Worm composting takes up minimal space, has a potentially low cost (if you make your own habitat), requires little maintenance and yields a somewhat quick composting rate.

Cons: Having to touch and work with worms might not be appealing to some. Others might have reservations of keeping worms inside your house.

Setting Up A Worm Bin

  1. Select a Location: Worms need a dark, well aerated environment with temperatures kept between 60-80* Fahrenheit.
  2. Select a Container: Prepare your container a few weeks before you order worms. You can purchase a worm composting container, or you can make your own. When making your own, select a container that’s opaque, lightweight and water tight. Red Wiggler worms like to hang out near the top of the soil, so select a container that’s somewhat shallow but has a large surface area. Drill quite a few holes around the bin and on the lid to allow airflow.
  3. Add Materials: Add a thick layer of bedding (about ½ of the bin should be filled with cardboard, paper, peat moss, commercial worm bedding or a little handful of old compost). Then layer food waste and cardboard a few more times and end with a brown or cardboard layer. Spray the top layer so that it becomes saturated with water.
  4. Let Your Habitat Sit: Allow the food to decompose for a week or so while you order worms. If you don’t want to wait, you can skip this step by soaking, wringing out and then fluffing the cardboard / paper bedding.
  5. Order Worms: worms_2Not any worm will do; Red Wigglers or Eisenia Fetida is what you want.
    You can order worms based on the amount of kitchen scraps your household makes or by the size of your container.
  6. Add Worms to Your Habitat: Add worms, cover with a damp burlap sack and loosely put on the container’s lid.

Maintain Your Worm Habitat for Vermicomposting

Feeding Your Worms: Worms can eat up to half of their weight in food every day.  When you feed your worms, you can clear a hole and bury the food scraps OR you could layer the food scraps on top and cover them with bedding. Start slowly and remember that your worms will also be eating their bedding. Overfeeding is one of the main causes for worm bin problems and can lead to a stinky bin. Start off by checking the bin weekly to see how much food is left before adding more.RedWiggler.jpg

Harvest: In 2-6 months, you’ll notice the presence of what looks like dark brown coffee grounds. When you have an accumulation of the castings, it’s time to harvest the compost. Here are a few ways to get out that amazing worm poop.

 Migrate Down Method – Worms are light sensitive, so this method involves shining lights on the top of your open worm bin to get the worms to burrow down. Give them a little bit of time to move lower in the bin. You can then remove the top layer of castings using your hands and a sieve. You’ll want to put any worms or worm eggs aside to add back to your bin. Repeat until you’ve removed almost all of the worm castings.

Side-by-Side Harvest – Go into your bin and push all of the castings to one side of the bin. Then fill the empty side of your bin with new bedding and food scraps. By the next day most of the worms will be on the food side and you’ll be able to scoop out the castings left on the opposite side.

Additional Resources on Vermicomposting:

LET ME KNOW!

What do you think? Why would you or wouldn’t you give worm composting a try?

Composting Comparison: Which Method is Best?

compost_ideasSo you want to start composting! That’s great! Did you ever try researching all of the different composting methods? Did you immediately give up your dream right then and there? There’s so much out there! My goal is to learn as much as I can about the various techniques and compare the information here.

These are the variables I’ll be looking at:

– Space needed
– Cost
– Maintenance
– Decomposition rate
– Appearance: neat, contained, messy?

In each review, I will also explain the process, discuss pros and cons and provide you with additional resources. So stay tuned.

Comparing Compost Methods: 6 Different Techniques

Pit Composting – Digging a pit, adding material and then back filling the hole with dirt. Trench composting will also be discussed with this method.

Sheet Composting – Laying out a thin layer of composting materials on top of the soil and then tilling.

Pile Composting – Traditional, open compost heap.

Bin Composting – Composting in a stationery bin that sits on the ground with an open bottom. Bins can be open on one side or closed. A variation of this method is the Three Bin Composting method which I’ll touch on.

Tumbler Composting – Composting using a rotating container

Vermicomposting– Composting with the assistance of worms

Important for All Methods

Brown to Green Ratio

To get the black gold that gardeners rave about, it’s important to create an ideal balance of different materials. Otherwise you may end up with a stinky pile that attracts pests and doesn’t decompose. Been there. Done that. In composting, the materials are classified as brown or green. Different methods may require a different brown / green ratio.

BROWNS
Material high in CARBON content

  • Dried leaves
  • Dried grass clippings
  • Twigs
  • Branches
  • Pine needles
  • Hay
  • Wood or sawdust
  • Paper (egg boxes, shredded mail, shredded cardboard boxes, paper towels, paper napkins, newspaper)
  • Cut up cotton or wool
  • Hair
  • Brown bags
  • Peanut shells
GREENS
Materials high in NITROGEN content

  • Fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps
  • Fresh leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Plant trimmings

AVOID
Materials that shouldn’t be added

    • Any waste from meat eating animals
    • Fish & meat
    • Colored or coated, glossy paper
    • Treated wood or sawdust
    • Large branches
    • Diseased plants
    • Ash

*If you aren’t sure whether something is brown or green, wet it with water and wait a few days. If it smells, it’s definitely a green. No smell? It’s probably a brown.

Particle Size

Smaller particles decompose quicker. Keep that in mind when a decomposition range is given. Shredding material is a good practice, but don’t go crazy. When the particles get too small, your pile will just get compacted and sludgy due to the moisture and lack of airflow.

Environment

The location of your compost site could determine how quickly your method produces. Environment will determine air flow, moisture and temperature.

Where to Start: Smallest Space Needed to Compost

Composting is so important and anyone can do it! If you live in an apartment without a balcony or yard, you can STILL compost. In fact, I’m going to look at vermicomposting first. This is a great method if you don’t have alot of space. Let me know which method interests you most!

Reducing Your Family’s Trash: How a Few Simple Strategies Can Make a BIG Difference

Last Week’s Trash: 38.4 LBS / 4 Bags / 18 LBS Recycle
This Week’s Trash: 23.6 LBS / 2 Bags / 16 LBS Recycle

So this week, we decreased our trash by 15 LBS and 2 bags. If this becomes our new average, we would reduce our family’s garbage by 780 LBS in a year! Not too shabby.

Here are a few easy practices to start reducing your family’s trash today:

Cooking cook I’ve been guilty of bulk cooking. Sometimes I do this with recipes I’ve never tried, only to find out that I now have a gallon of awful soup that nobody in my family wants to eat. The bowl just glares at me from the refrigerator every time I open the door to select something tastier. This week I only made food that our family would eat and I had an intentional plan to use the leftovers.
Smart Grocery Shopping & Realistic Meal Planning Shop Smart to Reduce Waste I know we want to buy as much as we can to avoid multiple grocery stops in the same week… especially when we have to shop with kids. PAINFUL! However, this week, when I shopped, I only bought enough items to make 4 meals instead of 6. Realistically, I won’t make all 6 meals. When I plan for 6 meals, I always end up tossing unused, spoiled food.  How many meals do you normally plan? Are you making all of those meals?
Skip Cooking When You Have Leftovers  Eat Your Leftovers This seems common sense, but sometimes when we schedule meals we feel like we have to stick to the plan. If you have leftovers accumulating in the fridge, take the night off from cooking. Declare it a Leftover Holiday!
Inventory Your Fridge Inventory Your Refridgerator Every day or so glance over the items you have on hand (especially fruits and vegetables). If there is something that is at it’s peak ripeness and potentially on the verge of spoiling, incorporate it into a meal that day..
Teach Kids Not to Waste Food Don't Raise Wasteful Kids My kids aren’t picky, but they aren’t huge eaters. There are times when they literally take one bite and refuse to eat anymore because they “aren’t hungry.” This week, we started something new! If they didn’t eat their meal, they got that same meal back at snack time. It’s amazing what kids will eat when they are hungry.
Save Plant Based Kitchen Scraps for Composting Composting Save all plant based kitchen scraps to use in your compost pile! If you aren’t a gardener, you still have options! Check to see if you have any gardening friends that maybe would be interested? Post it on Craigslist. People love free stuff. You can also check with your city to see if they have a composting program in place.
Keep Calm and Recycle On recycle Continue to recycle all the obvious materials: jugs, cans, paper, glass jars, junk mail, cardboard boxes, etc.

Hopefully this helps you take the first step to reducing the amount of your family’s trash. Later this week, I’m going to discuss details on composting.