Composting with a Compost Tumbler

This method works best for gardens that struggle with animal pests, for gardens that want faster composting turnover, or for gardens that have limited space. This approach to composting involves using any type of compost tumbler or vessel that can be moved around. Some you can roll across the ground, some revolve on a central axis, and some have a gear and handle on the side that you can use to turn it. A compost tumbler is not ideal if the people taking care of the compost struggle with back mobility issues or are smaller (kids). The tumblers that have handles and gear cogs are easier and safer to turn for both kids and adults, but they are more expensive than other compost tumblers. In general, tumblers are more expensive than classic compost bins and other approaches, so consider your budget.

If you need a refresher on the basics of compost, use our post Compost 101 found here and this infographic to help get up to speed.

Here are some other things to keep in mind about composting in a tumbler:

  • You must be able to fill the tumbler up all at once, and then leave it for a while to finish decomposing. If you keep adding things, the compost will never be done, so you will need to have a strategy for storing food and plant waste while the first batch cures. One idea for this could include placing compost on a section of unused garden bed and covering with mulch or straw until you are ready to add it all to the tumbler.
  • For the first couple of batches, you will need compost activator, handfuls of finished compost, or herbivore manure to get the decomposition process going, since the compost pile is above ground. Don’t clean your tumbler between batches. Worms and other larger organisms (the ones you can see) won’t be able to survive in the tumbler- bacteria and fungi will be doing all the work for this kind of compost.
  • The effectiveness of the tumbler decreases in colder months and is highest in warmer summer months, so it is best for gardens that are used during the summer as well as just during the school year.
  • Both the right nitrogen/carbon ratio and chopping your green and brown waste into small pieces are critical to being able to compost fast in a tumbler.
  • If you need to put the tumbler on concrete, you should place a container underneath it to collect the drainage liquid so it doesn’t stain – when diluted, this makes a kind of compost tea that you can spray on plant leaves or use as liquid fertilizer.