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!



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