SuburbanHomestead
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Homemade Compost Tumbler from 55 gallon metal drum

In this video I show how I made a compost tumbler for free using recycled materials, including a metal 55 gallon drum.
What is your experience with using compost tumblers? Are they worth the trouble?


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rainbowgardener
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Re: Homemade Compost Tumbler from 55 gallon metal drum

I've never used a tumbler, but people have written in here with lots of problems about them. You need to be sure you have plenty of air and drainage holes or it will turn into a slimy, anaerobic mess.

And it is batch composting. You have to load it up (not too full, because it has to be able to tumble and aerate) and then just leave it alone, tumbling daily or so, until the batch is done. You can't keep adding to the batch. That means you have to have somewhere else, like a compost pile, to collect compostables, while the batch is cooking. If you have to have a compost pile any way .... You can fix that part of the problem, by having two of them, one to fill while the other one is cooking.

Let us know how it works for you!
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

toxcrusadr
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Re: Homemade Compost Tumbler from 55 gallon metal drum

I made one out of a metal drum in high school many years ago. The extremely biologically active and wet conditions inside the drum rusted it through in nothing flat. If I ever made another one I would not use a metal drum. But I'm not that fond of tumblers, they require a lot of complexity and extra work for little or no gain. I like a simple compost bin better. JMHO.
Tox

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grrlgeek
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Re: Homemade Compost Tumbler from 55 gallon metal drum

SuburbanHomestead wrote: What is your experience with using compost tumblers? Are they worth the trouble?
First off, nice video!

We have 2 tumblers gathering dust after less than one year of ownership. Both are plastic drum-style. One is big. Too big to tumble. And when it's full, it strips every bolt in it trying to turn it. At the end of the 2nd batch, we resorted to rolling it around the yard. The other is a dual-chamber. Finish one, fill the other. It has a nice drip pan with a spigot we installed to get the tea out easily. I do still use that for kitchen scraps and shredded cardboard. It's ok. But it doesn't make compost "fast,". as advertised. The chambers are just too small. The tea access is neat though. It's turnable when full, but stuff tends to clump into balls. They weren't cheap, either. And if I knew then, what I know now, we would have made creating a space for a ground heap a priority before we crash-tested the barrels.

So far, in my limited experience, no tumbler works as well as big giant steaming compost heap on the ground.

I would be concerned about a metal drum rusting out and what a mess that would be. I would expect it would need a lot more air holes, but that would make it dry out faster, and require more maintenance to keep it cooking. But without the air, like rainbowgardener observed, it will turn into a slimy yukky mess, especially if it's main goal is to compost wet and juicy kitchen scraps. Looks groundhog-proof enough though!

As a design suggestion, I wonder if small paddles or spikes could also be affixed to the center rod. We had a lot of clumps in our compost in the big drum. It had paddles inside too, but the spinning nature doesn't offer much in the way to break up and separate the ingredients.

I am curious, now that you have it built, and if it's full yet, how hard is it to spin it? Rolling by handling the drum will be a wet and icky process. Do you have a handle crank for the center shaft yet?

To answer your other question.... was it worth the trouble? For us, no. We don't have small critters to defend against. The big critters (3 large wolf-huskys that don't abide by foreign critters in their yard) are kept at bay by a chain link cage door. But, if keeping the compost safe from scavenging were a priority, I'd still be looking for a drum method that holds a LOT.

Let us know how it's working out as you use it more!
Zone - USDA 8b / Sunset 11

SuburbanHomestead
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Re: Homemade Compost Tumbler from 55 gallon metal drum

Rainbowgardener- You've definitely summed up some of the problems I encounter. I would need a second tumbler to be efficient and have it finish composting as I fill the other one. especially if my main purpose is to deprive a groundhog family of a steady food supply (sound a bit cruel though :) I still believe a simple pile works best.

toxcrusadr- I also fear it might rust out in a short amount of time. But it is worth trying if the materials were free and it only took a few hours to build.


grrlgeek- Thanks. I'm glad you liked the video. The tumbler does become a bit harder to turn, but nothing too cumbersome for me. Handles would be great though. The spikes ideas could work, but I fear it would have complicated the building a lot, and that would also mean more parts subject to breaking. I will be updating later to show how it is going. And as you said, if there are no critters you are having to exclude, a simple pile is the way to go.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Homemade Compost Tumbler from 55 gallon metal drum

I have groundhogs also, as well as raccoons. I have two piles, one in a wire cage with a lid and one in a heavy duty plastic bin. The critters do not succeed in getting in to either one. I do prefer the ground piles. For one thing you can have more volume of stuff and for another earthworms and other macro-critters can get in to them and in my piles, those do a lot of the heavy lifting of breaking things down. And then the compost you add to your beds is full of earthworms, which is a good thing. They continue working to break the compost down into nutrients the plants can use.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

toxcrusadr
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Re: Homemade Compost Tumbler from 55 gallon metal drum

You might consider a plastic drum if you have corrosion problems. Car and truck washes get their detergent in them, and you can sometimes get them for the cost of the deposit ($10-$20). Or check Freecycle, Craigslist free section, etc.

Re: spikes, this could be as simple as drilling a hole through the side, inserting a large galvanized bolt (maybe 3/8" x 8-10" long?) and securing it with a nut on the back side. I don't know how well it would work, since I haven't tried it, just thinking up a simple way to try it.
Tox

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ElizabethB
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Re: Homemade Compost Tumbler from 55 gallon metal drum

I like the KISS principle. For many years I composted in loose piles. Now I have 2 4'x4'x4' bins adjacent to each other, made from scrap lumber and chicken wire. My neighbor has bins made from pallets that she got free from big box stores. The tumbler thing is just too complicated for me and more work for too little return.
A great idea for someone with a roof garden or an extremely limited space.

Thanks for sharing.
Elizabeth - or Your Majesty

Living and growing in Lafayette, La.

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. ~Author Unknown

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