Composting is a fantastic way to recycle yard waste and food scraps while creating natural fertilizer for your plants. While there are a few ways to perform the composting process, a tumbler is the best compost bin for small spaces. Learn how to start a compost tumbler with the proper materials and use the finished compost to fertilize your garden.
A compost tumbler is ideal if you’ve always wanted to try your hand at composting but didn’t want to deal with a large composting bin taking up your yard space. Unlike a compost heap or pile, a compost tumbler holds the compost material off the ground, keeping the area clean and tidy.
These handy units are compact and convenient, and a pitchfork or shovel is not necessary for turning the organic waste. In addition, they produce rich compost faster than a traditional DIY compost bin, and there are fewer odors and pests to worry about, making them the go-to composting choice for those who don’t want all the fuss and muss.
- What is a Compost Tumbler?
- Choosing The Right Compost Tumbler
- How to Start Composting in a Tumbler
- How to Start a Compost Tumbler
- How to Use a Compost Tumbler
- Adding Basic Green and Brown Materials
- Things to Avoid Adding to a Compost Tumbler
- Turning a Compost Tumbler
- How Long Does Tumbler Composting Take?
- Ways to Apply Compost from a Tumbler
Creating Black Gold with a Compost Tumbler
Although there is a significant difference between topsoil and compost, both are beneficial for your plants. Making compost is relatively easy. While a compost tumbler is pretty simple to operate, there are a few things to understand about the composting process before you begin.
Explore the difference between a tumbler and a compost pile, which types of materials are best for composting, the ways to start fast composting, and how to create the richest compost for adding to your lawn and garden.
What is a Compost Tumbler?
You’re probably familiar with an outdoor composting bin since it’s hard to miss. It’s usually a large, square unit sitting in the corner of the yard with a pitchfork leaning against its frame. However, a compost tumbler is slightly different, and a manual turning tool is not required.
Rather than sitting on the ground like a typical outdoor compost bin or homemade hardware cloth composter, a tumbler is a closed container that rests on a stand.
It has a rotating drum with a handle and air holes that allow oxygen into the mixture. This type of composter helps retain moisture and heat, creating the perfect environment to speed the decomposition process.
Choosing The Right Compost Tumbler
While all compost tumblers work the same, there are a variety of models on the market. Discover their main differences to help you choose one for your needs.
Compost tumblers come in varying sizes, whether you need a way to start composting for beginners or have more experience. Larger models break down materials quicker than smaller types since a small tumbler has a larger surface area than volume. However, they are both effective, and it’s wise to pick one that is an appropriate size for your needs and space.
Additionally, there are single and dual-batch tumblers. Using a dual batch type lets one batch mature while starting a second batch, giving you a constant compost cycle. Some types don’t have drainage holes necessary to allow liquid to escape so you’ll have to keep an eye on compost layering. Make a model comparison before making your purchase.
How to Start Composting in a Tumbler
Before you begin composting yard and kitchen waste, setting up the composter in a good location is essential. Here is how to start composting in a tumbler by locating the unit in the proper area of your yard.
Compost Tumbler Location
Unlike the compost bin, tumblers do not attract as many pests or produce foul odors. It’s possible to set it up anywhere in the yard. However, it’s helpful to consider a few things.
For example, do you want it closer to the kitchen door for food scrap disposal or to the planting area for composting plant material and garden waste? You may want to keep it near the hose for convenient watering.
How to Start a Compost Tumbler
Once you set up the tumbler in a good area, it’s time to start composting. You may be unsure what materials to put inside the tumbler first so here is how to use a compost tumbler by getting it started.
When adding compost to a tumbler for the first time, many find that adding a starter is the best way to get a head start on the composting process. Consider adding a handful of manure, old compost, or dirt rich in organic matter to help the material’s microorganisms inoculate the new compost ingredients.
Follow this starting material with raked leaves, sawdust, and kitchen scraps, and feed the tumbler every day or two until the organic matter is four inches from the top. Note that food takes more time to compost than some other materials so ensure you have the correct brown to green ratio of compostable items in your composter.
How to Use a Compost Tumbler
The organic matter requires oxygen and water to help with the decomposition process, and too much or too little creates an imbalance. Find out how to use a compost tumbler to maintain moisture.
We generally spray water into the tumbler every three to seven days, but keeping an eye on moisture while adding greens and browns to the tumbler is crucial since compost should not be too dry or too moist.
Too little water causes the compost to dry and slows decomposition. Overly wet materials cause an imbalance of organisms and aerobic bacteria, resulting in stinky and slimy compost.
The best compost moisture level is between 40 and 60%, and the easiest way to check if it has the proper amount of water is with your hands. Put on a pair of gloves, grab a handful of compost and squeeze it. If you can’t squeeze out any water, it’s too dry; if water gushes out, it’s too wet.
Adding Basic Green and Brown Materials
Before you toss random vegetable scraps into the tumbler drum, it’s vital to balance the ingredients to ensure you get a rich final product. Learn ways of composting wood chips to benefit the organic material and what to put in a compost tumbler for optimal results.
Compost requires a decent mixture of brown and green materials to create a well-balanced final result. Brown waste consists of woody or dry plant material, such as straw, sawdust, dry leaves, wood chips, newspapers, and corn stalks. Put shredded paper in your tumbler rather than whole pages to speed the decomposition process. These ingredients add carbon and bulk to the compost while allowing air.
Green waste consists of kitchen scraps, such as coffee grounds and food scraps, and recently growing plant material like pulled weeds and grass clippings. These material types supply the compost with most of its nutrients.
If your compost tumbler has imbalanced organic matter, the compost may not heat up and will take longer to break down into a finished product. If you notice that the compost is starting to smell, add more browns. And if it’s not heating correctly, add more greens like grass clipping or fresh leaf material.
Things to Avoid Adding to a Compost Tumbler
While many natural materials are safe for composting, some items contain chemicals, others have parasites and bacteria, and some attract unwanted guests to the yard. Discover what not to put in your compost tumbler.
Only organic and biodegradable items are safe for creating compost in a tumbler. While adding manure to the compost is fine, do not place animal or human waste in the tumbler. Avoid adding meat and milk products, greasy foods, treated wood ash and sawdust, and plant debris sprayed with chemicals.
Turning a Compost Tumbler
Knowing how to start composting in a tumbler is only the first step. It’s important to turn the tumbler regularly to ensure the organic material gets equal amounts of moisture and air for proper decomposition.
As a rule, always turn the tumbler when adding fresh waste materials. Spin it two to three times whenever you add items to help break up the material and distribute it evenly. Spin it every two to three days and gradually turn it less as it reaches maturity.
How Long Does Tumbler Composting Take?
One of the most common questions when composting is how long it takes for the materials to turn into fertilizer. Explore how long composting takes and how to tell when the compost is ready.
Stop adding food and yard waste when the tumbler reaches 80% of its capacity, leaving a four-inch air gap at the top or four weeks before you’re ready to harvest the compost.
Depending on the conditions, tumbler compost is usually ready in four to eight weeks. Finished compost is a rich brown, crumbly and smooth, has an earthy scent, and none of the original ingredients are distinguishable.
Ways to Apply Compost from a Tumbler
Once you have the finished compost material, it’s time to use it to apply compost and feed your vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other plants. Here are some tips for using homemade compost to promote healthy and productive plant growth.
Make a DIY potting soil by combining equal parts of compost, topsoil, and vermiculite, or brew a compost tea with water and compost as compost tea ingredients. Sprinkle compost directly over the soil around your plants as fertilizer and for amending soil with compost. Spread it on new or established lawns, use it to top-dress beds, or work a few inches of compost into a new veggie patch.
While picking up a bag of fertilizer from the local garden center is easy, fertilizing products are often expensive and not always available. Fortunately, Mother Nature provides us with everything we need to create rich and natural compost to promote healthy and productive plant growth.
We hope that knowing how to start a compost tumbler helps you recycle yard and food waste into rich fertilizer for your plants, and we’d love it if you’d share our composting tumbler guide with your gardening circle on Pinterest and Facebook.