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Compost Tumblers: Fast, Easy Compost

Updated on November 23, 2010

Most gardeners know how important compost is to building good soil. However, some gardeners are intimidated by the amount of work involved in taking care of a properly managed hot compost pile, and cold compost piles take a long time to start producing results, a year or more, in most climates.

If you want fast compost without the work, you should consider a compost tumbler. Compost tumblers produce beautiful, rich compost in about the same time period as a well-managed hot pile, but without the difficult labor of turning the pile repeatedly with a pitchfork.

Compost tumblers are also a good choice for urban or suburban gardeners who have neighbors who might complain of odor or mess. Compost tumblers also generally avoid problems with pests such as flies and raccoons. Though a properly managed hot or cold compost pile should produce neither odor nor mess nor a pest problem, some neighbors are pickier than others, and some neighborhoods have local ordinances against open compost piles. Compost tumblers are a perfect solution for these areas.

A crank operated drum compost tumbler. Photo by hoyasmeg.
A crank operated drum compost tumbler. Photo by hoyasmeg.

Types of Compost Tumbler

There are a number of different types of compost tumblers available.

  • The easiest compost tumblers to operate and empty are typically crank-operated drums, which are horizontally mounted drums mounted well off the ground and turned with a crank. Crank-operated drums tend to be the most expensive, however.
  • Center-axle drums are vertically mounted and easy to operate, but tend to be more difficult to empty than crank-operated drums.
  • Base-rolling drums, which are mounted horizontally at ground level, can be awkward to empty, but are relatively easy to operate, especially when mounted on rollers.
  • Roll-around spheres are the least convenient to operate and empty.

Other Considerations

Compost bins require a certain mass before they start working, and time to completion is counted from the time they achieve that mass, not from the first day they are used. It is a good idea to have two compost tumblers, so you can alternate filling and composting cycles to maintain a steady supply of good compost. Other tumbler designs have two compartments to solve this problem.

Compost accelerators are not necessary when using compost tumblers, but it is important to pay more careful attention to the ratio of greens to browns when using a compost tumbler than a cold compost pile. Too many greens and you could end up with a slimy, disgusting mess. It is a good idea to keep a straw bale or some autumn leaves around to add if you plan to fill the bin primarily with grass clippings and kitchen scraps.


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