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Need info on "small scale" composting --

I would like to start composting again. I used to have 3 or 4 piles going all at the same time, but I'm not physically able to turn a compost pile anymore. Does anyone know if those cylinder-shaped bins that have hand-cranks on them really work? They're a bit on the expensive side for me, but if they work, I would be willing to make the investment. The ones I've seen seem to be really big, though.

I don't really need a whole lot of compost, and I know I can buy it, but I'd rather make my own.

Any advice?

Charlie MV
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I had one that was basically an oversized trash can on a swivel that let you tumble it end for end. I followed the instructions and it worked well. I didn't buy their special compost starter dust because that seemed gimicky and unnecessary to me. It produced fine black compost in small quantities in about 3 weeks.

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Can you do any turning at all on your own? Or is there someone in your household or nearby who can (and will) help you turn it occasionally, under your supervision?

I ask because I have constant knee and hip pain at approx. Level 6 to 7 (bicycle, other sports, and car accidents) and turn my BioStack maybe quarterly. Once I let it go for 2 years. It's *just* smaller than 3' x 3' x 3', but I can turn it in layers. There are three tiers, so you can turn it in stages if necessary.

Sorry, no experience here w/compost tumblers, but I've read widely and found that the 3' (1 m) cube is generally thought to be the minimum effective size for a compost pile, and a 4' cube the maximum. After 4', the recommendations are, as you experienced previously, to divide the pile(s).

Sorry to be so personal, but perhaps your situation is similar to mine, and the BioStack would be helpful....

Cynthia H.
USDA Zone 9, Sunset Zone 17

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I mentioned this elsewhere before but...
For years, I was unable to do any strenuous work in the garden, so my compost consisted of nothing more than a black plastic compost bin filled with kitchen scraps and occasional weeds. To minimize work involved in taking out the kitchen scraps, they were collected in brown paper bags. Starting with a lunch bag, then when full/nearly full, put in next size brown paper bag (may be from a deli or hardware store), and so on until they were in a double layer of grocery bags with handles. That's when the whole thing went out to the compost bin without any other processing. (I might have stabbed at them a couple of times with garden forks to poke holes in the bags.) Occasional weeds and wind drift of brown leaves on the patio were only other additions. My "pile" tended to be too dry, and it was never turned, but it still yielded black compost from the bottom access every spring. I'd say approx. 1/2 the bin was usable compost. :D

So, from someone who's "been there," let me assure you it's possible to make compost with minimal work. If you can maintain the moisture level by soaking each layered bundle, I think it would work better. I think there must be plenty of "natural" air pockets inside/between the layers of brown bags and that's why I didn't need to turn them. Oh, my dh used to dump his left over fishing worms in there too.

Now, getting back to your original question, I tried the tumbling composter (end-to-end kind) ages ago. It tended to dry out a lot, and larger pieces didn't break down very easily. Enthusiasts recommended that you pre-chop anything you put in it into small pieces. I found it to be a lot of work, especially when I didn't have the energy to go outside very often. So it's still a question of just how much work you are able to do.

I let a bunch of neighborhood kids use the tumbler one spring for their Earthday science project. They were studying about compost so they came to *me*. I offered them the tumbler, gave them a brief lesson on what to do, and contributed a good shovel-ful from my compost pile to help things along. The kids brought kitchen scraps, brown leaves, shredded newspapers, grass, weeds, guinea pig bedding, etc. and took turns turning it -- one kid pulling down, another lifting up -- (a little too much I thought, but they were enthusiastic and were fighting each other for a turn :wink:) It was a chilly spring and they had less than a month, so I told them not to expect a completely finished compost, but assured them that composting process WAS taking place. On Earth Day, the parents came to collect the tumbler for the Science Fair. When they brought it back, they said that the project was a great success BUT ANTS, ANT EGGS, AND WORMS TUMBLED OUT when they opened it :shock: :shock: :lol: :roll: I was amazed that some of the other parents expressed WONDER that most of the things the kids put in the compost tumbler had become UNRECOGNIZABLE and that everything had TURNED BLACK :roll: :wink:

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WOW! Great replies and encouragement!

I thank you all very much! Now, I'm all excited to get a pile going! :D :D :D

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