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Compost Tumbler

Does anybody have a compost tumbler, and if so, what are the pros and cons of these?

I'm planning on putting in my first veggie garden this year, and as part of the project with our family, I would also like to start composting. After seeing the price tag on brand new tumblers, I'm definately thinking hard about building one myself. I saw another thread below with plans that look easy enough even I could build one!

Thanks for your feedback!

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Green Thumb
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I'm not a tumbler type of guy. I find that you have to almost fill it at one time to get it working a pain. I don't want to keep things separated until it's time to throw it all in and start mixing. I'm more of a bin guy. I like to throw things in as I get them and pull finished product from the bottom. Now I do have a 55 gallon drum that I started using this past fall for just food scraps mostly. I would throw in food scraps then toss in a hand full of leaves. A few weeks ago it was about full so I topped it off with more leaves and rolled it around. I think it's cooking fairly good now but I have to keep myself from adding more to it when it settles if I want finished compost from it.

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Super Green Thumb
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I've read that the claimed speed of compost formation in those tumblers is all hype and that they make compost no faster than using a traditional hot pile. The only real benefit that I can see is to keep critters out and to keep kitchen scraps from attracting various undesireable insects. I find that using a cold pile, with occasional turning works fine and those wet, sometimes putrid scraps from the house now go into a covered worm bin which will be expanded this coming summer. This arrangement gives a good annual batch of leaf mold/compost and the worm beds give huge numbers of worms, worm castings, compost, and a rich tea from the liquids that drain into a catch pail.

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In my previous life, when I had money to toss around, I bough a couple of those. Pre-dated when the bigger drum-types hit the market, so these were the end-to-end tumbler design. I quickly found out that they were pretty heavy to turn.... Funny, I seem to remember posting about this before....
Ah, here it is:

Hm, hm. Anything to add? I guess only that I gave them to my father to use and he's still using them for composting kitchen scraps, I'm guessing because he likes the enclosed and the business-like look of them for neighborhood appeal. Oh, I think he also said it keeps out the animals (his house backs to woods). He makes a pile for the leaves and grass clippings though.

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Nothing beets a good old pitch fork. :)


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Thanks for the quick responses!

I'll have to think about this one for a while. I may be better off to just build a small compost bin at the back of our lot for all the bigger our garden is going to be. (For the money some places are charging for the tumblers I could build atleast five of them!)

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Super Green Thumb
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I've never had one, so I'm not an expert, but it doesn't really suit my style. The pros as I understand them and people have noted are that it keeps critters out of the compost, keeps it well contained, and it almost certainly produces compost some quicker than my lazy, throw it in and wait, cool composting. However, even those pros are somewhat mixed blessing. Keeping critters out includes beneficials. My compost pile fills up with earthworms, which are added to the raised beds with the compost. Couldn't happen in a tumbler. The main con for me is that tumblers really only work well with batch composting. ie. you have to save up a nicely mixed batch of brown and green composting materials, load them in all at once, and then leave them in together until done, when you can unload it all at once and load it up again with a new batch. That means you have to have other places to store your OM's in between batches. Those other places might as well be compost piles, in which case why do you need the tumbler....

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I have a small tumbler and I'm not that happy with it, because of the reasons stated above. I can't just keep adding and take out of the bottom, so I'm starting one of those this year.

A couple things I do like, though, is that mine sits on a drainage tray, and I get really great compost tea out of it once the composting is finally done. (It's not as fast as they claim.) Also, we have lots of opossums, raccoons, fox, deer around here, and it does keep critters out.

I'm buying one they have at Sam's right now and it's only around $50. It's covered, but larger than the one I have, and you can open a door in the bottom to get out compost. I can keep adding all summer and get my finished product out--sooner, I hope, than waiting for the whole thing to finish at once.


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Super Green Thumb
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Get a cement mixer. I have one but not for compost like you mentioned. I do my best compost in the summer in 30 gallon brown color plastic trash cans. There is something in the dirt that makes the compost get started, bacteria or something so you need some dirt, nitrogen, water and organic material mixed well in a cement mixer then stored in the sun in a trash can. In 30 days a full trash can will compost to about 1/4 its original volume. In the past I have always used Ammonium Nitrate but last summer I bought my first bag of Urea. I have not tried Urea on compost yet I used it all on my apple tree.

I have a lot of clay in my garden. For years it has been a problem. When I till the garden the clay brakes up into small pieces and planting in that stuff is like planting in gravel. I have found if I put the dirt clods in the cement mixer with some orgainc material, sand, nitrogen, water, sometimes lime, sometimes sheet rock from a contruction site, after a few hours the dirt clods hammer the organic stuff into powder. Then soon the dirt clods are gone. It makes some nice dirt.

Last time I checked was a few years ago but you could buy an electric cement mixer for $250. They sell them at Northern Tool, Farm supply stores and other places. It will tilt so you can dump the load. I got mine cheap at a year sale. Not sure what size mine is but it will hold very close to 30 gallons, probably about 1/2 cubic yard.
Last edited by Gary350 on Thu Apr 02, 2009 7:58 am, edited 2 times in total.

Green Thumb
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That's a great idea.
Can't we get a wheelbarrow sized mixer(what 6 Cubic feet)?

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As others have stated, there are advantages to both designs. The tumblers are a little "neater" but you need to add water, as they won't generally collect rainfall. And, worms won't find their way into the tumblers. If you're going to get a tumbler, I recommend the Mantis ComposTwin, because it has two chambers ... one that you can let cook for a while, while adding new compostables to the other. Tumblers are easier to empty and most have sifter screen options as well. A classic bin should also have at least two compartments, so that you can add stuff to one and allow the other to "cook." I've had both, and have produced good compost in both designs. See :D

The Helpful Gardener
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I "finish" in my tumbler for better stuff and just do the bulk in the pile...

And John is right, it's all about the turns. A good manure fork is the best tool...


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