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Things to Consider when Buying a Compost Tumbler

Updated on March 11, 2013
Cleaning the yard and garden at any time of year will yield green and brown scraps perfect for making compost.
Cleaning the yard and garden at any time of year will yield green and brown scraps perfect for making compost. | Source

Compost Piles, Bins and Tumblers

There's more than one method to create a gardener's "black gold" -- compost -- but the basic premise in each of them is the same.

To turn plant and soil remnants into decaying organic substances, the system you use requires four basics:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Nitrogen
  • Carbon

Nitrogen and carbon results from the breakdown of the green and brown vegetative material you supply. You'll add water as you go and air will be incorporated into hot compost piles by turning the pile with a pitchfork at regular intervals. With compost tumblers, air will be incorporated into the decaying material when you turn the compost bin.

Some of the first questions you should ask yourself is, "Do I need a compost tumbler to meet my needs for compost?" "Might another composting method provide the compost I need?"

Adding compost to soil for flower or vegetable gardens provides nutrients to growing plants.
Adding compost to soil for flower or vegetable gardens provides nutrients to growing plants. | Source
Harvested compost; moist and ready to be worked into the soil.
Harvested compost; moist and ready to be worked into the soil. | Source

Should You Choose a Compost Tumbler or Would Another Composting Method Meet Your Needs?

Compost tumblers have some advantages over the other methods of composting, but they are not free of cost. Even if you decide to build your own compost tumbler, you'll have materials and labor invested in the project.

Learning what and how to compost should be on every novice gardener's list of important information, but not every novice gardener will want a compost tumbler the first few seasons of gardening.

As a novice, you can use other methods to create the compost you want for your garden, whether it be a flower or vegetable garden -- or a combination of the two. Hot and/or cold compost piles/bins provide compost just as surely as a tumbler and hot compost piles produce finished compost in the same amount of time as a compost tumbler.

Other considerations for the novice gardener before choosing whether or not to invest in a compost tumbler include questions such as, "How do I know I'll still want to garden after this season?" Even though the gardening bug bites some people pretty hard, gardening is not for everyone.

If you're currently renting a house with yard space for a garden, are you going to be living there long term or might your living arrangements change in the near future?

People who live in urban or suburban areas may be more tempted to purchase a compost tumbler to prevent near-by neighbors from complaining about any smells during the decomposition process, but even this can be managed by using a stationary container with a lid such as a clean garbage can or bin.

How to Make a Compost Tumbler from Recycled Material

What Composting System is Right for You

Composting Methods

What composting method has been most successful for you?

See results

Compost Tumbler Versus Compost Pile or Compost Bin

For any gardener, novice or experienced, there are some central considerations to be made in choosing the method you want to use for creating compost.

* How much compost do you need at a time?

Compost tumblers vary in capacity from 4 cubic feet to 15 cubic feet of raw material; store-bought compost bins hold between 7 cubic feet to 20 cubic feet of un-composted material. Compost tumblers have smaller capacities because the more material they hold, the more difficult it is to turn the tumbler, which is its basic claim to fame.

* Do you live on a small lot, in an urban or suburban setting or do you live on a large lot or rural area?

There are a couple of considerations for this question. If you live close to neighbors, a closed system is likely preferred over an open composting system. When it comes to tumblers and bins, each can be a closed system, although bins generally don't have a bottom while tumblers provide a thoroughly closed system.

If you live on a small lot, saving space may be a priority for you. If so, compost tumblers offer more space-saving advantage than do compost bins or piles.

* How much time and energy are you willing to commit to the composting process?

Although compost tumblers, compost bins and compost piles all require frequent attention for the most efficient and effective making of compost, the time and energy required to turn a compost tumbler is small compared to physically turning the material in a bin or pile with a pitchfork.

* What type of budget do you have for a compost method?

Do-it-yourself compost bins or piles are less expensive to make in general, although inexpensive compost tumblers can also be made at home.

Purchasing a compost tumbler from the store will cost approximately $150 to $500, depending on capacity, bells and whistles and other considerations.

Tips for Choosing the Right Compost Tumbler

How to Choose the Best Compost Tumbler Among the Varieties of Compost Tumblers Available

There are three basic types of drum compost tumblers along with sphere-shaped tumblers. Each of these types has something different to offer the gardener who is considering purchase of a compost tumbler:

  • Crank-operated: The most expensive of the tumbler types, the crank-operated compost tumbler usually has a shaft that goes through the center of the drum horizontally. There are paddles located along the shaft, so that when the crank is turned, the paddles stir the composting material.
  • Center-axle: These type of tumblers usually sit vertically and are anchored mid-line to the base, allowing the tumbler to be rotate on the axle, moving compost from one end to the other. Most compost tumblers of this type are priced between $150 to $250.
  • Base rolling: Most often, this type of tumbler sits horizontally on its base with spinning wheels located between base and drum. The compost tumbler is turned by hand, rolling the drum along the wheels in a circular motion.
  • Sphere-shaped: The most basic of all the compost tumbler types, the sphere-shaped tumbler is basically an empty ball into which you place the material to be composted. To turn the material, you roll the ball around your yard or space which can be less easy than it sounds. This type of tumbler is the most difficult to empty when the compost is ready to be used.

Advantages of compost tumblers over other composting methods:

  • Pest-free: because the tumbler is a closed system, you don't have to worry about pests getting into the material
  • Less moisture evaporation in composting material than in an open system, which means you won't have to add water as often to the composting material
  • Less or no odor escapes from material during decomposition process
  • No unsightly piles of compost

Additional factors for choosing the best compost tumbler for your needs:

  • Durability: In general, the mental compost tumblers will be more durable than those made of plastic.
  • Ease of Use: Purchasing a compost tumbler that is too difficult to fill, to turn, or to empty defeats the purpose of getting a tumbler. How high is the tumbler's opening from the ground? Is it going to be too difficult to shovel material into it at that height? Turning the empty tumbler at the point of purchase may be easy enough, but will it be manageable once the tumbler is filled with material? Will it be easy to harvest the finished compost into a wheelbarrow or other device?
  • Aeration: Does the compost tumbler have air holes or vents to allow air flow through the drum? Are there just enough holes or so many holes that the composting material will dry out?
  • Capacity: The larger the tumbler, the more raw material it can hold. The more material that's decomposing, the greater the heat that will be generated and the more effective and efficient breakdown of materials will occur.

Comparing Compost Tumblers At-a-Glance

Name of Unit
Type of Tumbler
Price Range
Lifetime 60058
Center Axle
75 gallons
$179 to $299
Center Axle
58 gallons
$149 to $179
Suncast TCB6800
Center Axle
6.5 cubic foot
$83 to $100
STC 33301Green Composter
$266 to $350
Lifetime Dual Compost Tumbler
Center Axle
50 gallons each side
Williams-Sonoma Back Porch Tumbler
Center Axle
37 gallons
Sun-Mar 400
Crank Operated
102 gallons

Would you be kind enough to share your composting successes and failures here? It may take the trial and error out of the process for someone else...


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    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Doodlehead, it's true there is a wealth of information on HubPages, even about things you didn't know you didn't know.

      Compost tumblers have their advocates and detractors, but if chosen with care or built at home for pennies on the dollar, they can take much of the hard labor out of composting.

      Thank you for the read and the comment.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Laura Verderber, thanks for sharing your experiences with the different composting methods and your preference for vermicomposting. Actually, if I were having to choose between a compost tumbler and using worms to aid in the process, I'd likely arrive at the same conclusion you have.

      I need to add that option to the poll, as you've suggested.

      Thank you for the read, comments and vote. Happy gardening and much success with your worm farm.

    • LauraVerderber profile image

      Power Ball Pythons 

      5 years ago from Mobile, AL

      Btw, I voted your article up because it is extremely well written and thorough. I would see how this would be very useful for someone looking into composting. I gave my tumbler away to a friend and he enjoys it. I just prefer vermicomposting with my worms. ;) You should add that as an option on your poll.

    • Doodlehead profile image


      5 years ago from Northern California

      OMG-there is always somethng new at Hubpages....this is truly a subject I would never have ever thought about!....the "tumbling" of compost........a needed skill under the right circumstances! Thanks!

    • LauraVerderber profile image

      Power Ball Pythons 

      5 years ago from Mobile, AL

      I've done the traditional compost pile, the tumbler, and the vermicomposter and the worms win hands down. They almost do all the work for me. I've become such a huge fan of them I started a worm farm.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Alocsin, I hope some of this information will be useful to you in your choice of a compost tumbler. I envision lots of health soil in your future.

      Thanks for voting and Sharing.

    • alocsin profile image


      5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      We're actually thinking about getting one of these since we have so much yard waste, so thanks for the tips. Voting this Up and Useful. SHARED.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Hi Gail, I appreciate the kind comments. I can imagine the happy anticipation fellow gardeners are experiencing right now. : ) Thank you for the read and vote.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 

      5 years ago from Kansas City - United States

      Wow, what an informative and well-written hub on composting. Thanks for sharing these things to consider. Voted up and useful.


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