Get Your Garden Growing – How to Use a Compost Tumbler for Maximum Results

Written By Jennifer

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One of the popular methods to make composting more manageable and efficient is by using a compost tumbler.

These convenient devices allow for an enclosed and easy-to-rotate system, making the composting process quicker and simpler.

Jump to – How to use a compost tumbler – if you already know compost tumbler general information and want to bypass this part.

A compost tumbler is essentially a closed compost bin or drum that’s rotated to mix the contents inside.  Most compost tumblers have a handle attached to the barrel, which allows the user to rotate the barrel within the frame 

The drum often consists of one or more chambers that are filled with kitchen scraps and other organic waste.

putting compost into a dual chamber-compost tumbler

Understanding Compost Tumblers

What Is a Compost Tumbler

A compost tumbler is a closed compost bin or drum that is rotated to mix the contents inside, speeding up the composting process.

Most compost tumblers feature a large barrel that can be turned or rolled, which allows for easy mixing and aeration.

Benefits of Using a Compost Tumbler

There are several advantages to using a compost tumbler in your garden:

Faster Composting

Because the contents are mixed regularly, the composting process is accelerated. This means that you can produce nutrient-rich compost in a shorter amount of time, which can be especially beneficial for those with limited space or resources.

Less Manual Labor

The design of most compost tumblers allows for easy turning or rolling, reducing the need for manual labor and making it more efficient to maintain the composting process.

Odor Control

Due to the enclosed nature of a compost tumbler, odors are kept to a minimum, as opposed to traditional compost piles that can produce unpleasant smells.

Pest Control

The closed design also helps to prevent pests like rodents and insects from accessing the compost, keeping your garden healthier and more hygienic.

how to use a compost tumbler

Types of Compost Tumblers: Single vs. Dual Chambers

There are primarily two types of compost tumblers: single and dual chamber tumblers.

Single Chamber Tumblers

These compost tumblers have one large drum or barrel in which all the composting material is added. Over time, as you add more material, the older material at the bottom breaks down and turns into compost.

Single chamber tumblers are often more affordable and can still produce great results. However, they may require more time for the compost to be ready for use.

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Dual Chamber Tumblers

Also known as dual batch compost tumblers, these have separate chambers inside the barrel, enabling you to fill one side while the other side is in the process of composting.

This design allows for continuous composting, as you can begin using fresh compost from one side while adding new materials to the other.

Dual chamber tumblers can be more efficient and help produce compost at a more consistent rate.

However, they might be more expensive and slightly more complex to operate.

When choosing a compost tumbler for your gardening needs, it’s important to consider factors such as available space, budget, and your individual requirements. In the main, a compost tumbler takes less space than a compost pile.

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Gathering Compostable Materials

Green vs. Brown material

When it comes to backyard composting, it’s essential to use a combination of both green and brown materials.

Green waste, such as food scraps, kitchen waste, and grass clippings, is rich in nitrogen, while brown waste, including yard trimmings, shredded cardboard, and other organic materials, is high in carbon.

To create the ideal compost, we should aim for a ratio of about three to four parts brown waste to one part green waste.

Kitchen and Yard Waste

So, what types of materials should we include within our green and brown waste categories for composting in a tumbler? Here is a quick break down, however there is detailed information here about what are green materials and what are brown materials.

  • Green Material:

    • Food waste: vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, and eggshells.

    • Kitchen scraps or kitchen waste: leftover fruits, vegetables, and salad greens.

    • Yard waste: fresh grass clippings and green, seed-free weeds.

  • Brown Material:

    • Organic materials: dry leaves, small branches, and twigs.

    • Food wastes: nutshells, spent grains, and bread.

    • Shredded cardboard, shredded paper and paper products (avoid glossy or colored materials).

    • Yard trimmings: wood chips, straw, and dried, seed-free weeds.

When gathering compostable materials, it’s essential to avoid including weed seeds, which may germinate and spread when using the finished product.

Avoid adding any cooked food, meat, dairy products, or oily items, as these can attract pests and produce foul odors.

By following these guidelines and maintaining the correct balance of green and brown materials, your compost tumbler will create a nutrient-rich compost that will benefit your garden.

list-of-browns-and-greens for compost tumbler

How To Use A Compost Tumbler

Proper Material Ratio

Okay so you have added a balance of greens and browns, bearing in mind that it may not be perfect. It may needs some tweaking as you actually start turning. That’s normal.

For now you have kept to the general rule of thumb of 3 parts brown material to 1 part green materials.

Achieving this ratio ensures that composting microbes have the right balance of carbon and nitrogen needed to decompose organic material efficiently within the tumbler.

Adding Compost Starter And Decomposition Aids

To help kickstart the decomposition process in our compost tumbler, we can add a compost starter containing beneficial microbes.

This is optional. You can still make compost without using a compost starter.

A few handfuls of garden soil or finished compost can also work as a natural alternative. Adding these decomposition aids introduces essential microorganisms to the mix, which facilitates efficient decomposition.

Another useful method to speed up the composting process is cutting or breaking down large pieces of organic waste to smaller sizes.

By doing so, we increase the surface area for microbes to work on, resulting in faster decomposition.

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Maintaining The Right Conditions

Our tumbling compost bin requires consistent attention in order to create an optimal environment for the composting process. Proper aeration is crucial.

Allocate time for rotating or tumbling the compost barrel. Frequent mixing ensures that microbial life remains active and all parts of the compost mixture are adequately supplied with oxygen.

It’s important to monitor the moisture level in the tumbler. Composting microbes need moisture to thrive, but excessive moisture can cause yukky odors or the development of anaerobic bacteria.

If the compost is too dry, add some water. If it’s too wet, include extra brown materials to absorb excess moisture. The ideal compost should feel damp, like a wrung-out sponge.

By following these guidelines, we can effectively use our compost tumbler to create an efficient composting process and ultimately generate high-quality compost for our gardens.

Caring For And Harvesting Compost

In this section, we’ll discuss how to care for and harvest compost using a compost tumbler. We’ll cover turning and monitoring the compost, determining when compost is ready, and using the finished compost.

Turning and Monitoring the Compost

One of the main advantages of using a compost tumbler is the ease of turning the compost mixture.

With traditional methods, turning compost can be labor intensive plain hard work, but with a tumbler, we simply rotate the barrel to mix and aerate the organic material.

Regular turning helps speed up the decomposition process by introducing oxygen, which is essential for composting microbes.

Make sure the tumbler has proper ventilation holes to allow air circulation and facilitate aerobic decomposition.

reminder to rotate the compost tumbler

How Often Should You Turn A Compost Tumbler?

The frequency of turning a compost tumbler depends on various factors such as the condition of the compost, the size of the tumbler, and the desired outcome.

However, a general rule of thumb is to turn a compost tumbler every 2 to 3 days for the first two weeks, then less frequently as the compost matures 

Determining When Compost Is Ready

Knowing when our compost is ready is crucial for successful composting.

The compost is considered finished when it’s dark, crumbly, and has a rich earthy smell. If there’s still easily recognizable pieces of organic matter, the compost needs more time to break down.

Monitoring the temperature inside the tumbler can help us determine when the compost is ready.

When it maintains a steady temperature and no longer heats up after turning, it’s a good sign that the decomposition process is complete.

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Using The Finished Compost

Once our compost is ready, it’s time to put it to use!

This nutrient-rich material is perfect for improving soil health, contributing to plant growth, and overall supporting a thriving garden.

We can spread the finished compost around the base of our plants, mix it into the soil when planting or even use it as a top dressing to provide a slow release of nutrients.

In summary, using a compost tumbler can help us generate more compost faster compared to traditional methods, as long as we take the time to properly care for and harvest our compost.

By turning the mixture regularly, monitoring moisture levels, and checking for readiness, we’ll have a steady supply of nutrient-rich compost to enhance our garden’s health and productivity.

Common Issues and Solutions

Dealing with Odors and Pests

One common issue when using compost tumblers is dealing with unpleasant odors and pests.

We recommend keeping your compost tumbler in a location that isn’t directly exposed to sunlight, as excessive heat can intensify bad smells.

Make sure your compost mix contains a balanced ratio of green and brown materials to manage odors effectively.

If pests are becoming a problem, ensure your compost tumbler is properly sealed to prevent any critters from accessing the decomposing matter.

Adjusting Moisture Levels

Another important aspect of the composting process is maintaining the right moisture levels inside your compost bin. Too much moisture can create a soggy, smelly mess, while too little can slow down decomposition.

To avoid these issues, regularly check your compost tumbler and add water as needed to ensure the decomposing matter stays damp but not soaked.

If excess moisture becomes an issue, adding more brown materials, such as dry leaves or cardboard, can help absorb the excess moisture and balance the composition of compost materials inside your compost tumbler.

Ensuring Proper Aeration

A well-aerated compost tumbler is crucial for efficient decomposition. Good airflow helps maintain the optimal temperature and moisture levels and prevents odors from developing. Here’s what we recommend to ensure proper aeration in your dual batch compost tumbler or bin:

  • Rotate your compost tumbler regularly to promote airflow and mix the decomposing materials. This will also prevent any compacted areas from forming inside the bin, which could limit the amount of oxygen available for decomposition.

  • Maintain a balanced mix of green and brown materials

By addressing these common issues and following our solutions, you can ensure an efficient and pleasant composting experience with your compost tumbler.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can A 50 kg or 110 Pound Person Turn A Compost Tumbler?

It is possible for a 50 kg or 110-pound person to turn a compost tumbler. The size and weight of the tumbler will determine the amount of effort required to turn it.

Most tumblers come with a recommended capacity to help make selecting the right fit easier.

For example, the Jora JK125 compost tumbler is ideal for a household of 1 to 4 people producing between 2 and 4 gallons per week.

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The larger Jora 270 has an operating capacity of 6 to 8 gallons per week.

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The effort required to turn a compost tumbler will depend on the size and weight of the tumbler, but it is possible for a 50 kg or 110-pound female to turn a tumbling composter with the appropriate size and capacity.

Be aware that compost tumblers can vary widely in size and weight, ranging from compact, lightweight models to larger, heavier units that can weigh several hundred pounds when fully loaded with composting materials.

In order to turn a tumbling composter effectively, an individual typically needs to use a combination of upper body strength and leverage to rotate the drum.

While some smaller, lighter compost tumblers, like the smaller Jora tumbler shown above, may be manageable for a 50 kg or 110 pound individual to turn, larger models may be too heavy or cumbersome for one person to handle alone.

In these cases, it may be necessary to enlist the help of another individual or invest in a smaller, more manageable tumbler.

Can The Temperature Be Measured Inside A Compost Tumbler?

When the internal temperature of the tumbler reaches around 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit (60-70 degrees Celsius), this is an excellent time to turn.

To measure the temperature inside the compost tumbler, simply insert a compost thermometer into the compost materials and read the temperature.

What Is Easiest To Maintain, A Compost Pile Or Compost Tumblers

Compost tumblers are generally easier to maintain than compost piles. Compost tumblers require less labor and time to turn the compost, and they also tend to have better odor control and pest prevention.

A compost pile, on the other hand, requires more attention to maintain the right moisture and temperature levels, and they can attract pests and emit odors if not properly managed

The Best Way To Make Use of a Second Tumbler

Having a second compost tumbler can significantly speed up and streamline your composting process.

Here’s our suggestion – Fill the first tumbler with kitchen scraps and garden waste and while it’s breaking down, start filling the second tumbler.

When the first tumbler’s compost material is ready to use, empty it while allowing the second tumbler to complete the composting process. This way, you can continuously work on producing nutrient-rich compost material by alternating between the tumblers.

How Do You Empty A Compost Tumbler?

Once your compost is ready, emptying a compost tumbler is simple.

Place a wheelbarrow, tarp, or a large container beneath the tumbler and open the hatch or door.

Then, tilt or turn the tumbler so that the finished compost falls into the container. Make sure you wear decent gardening gloves when handling compost and use a garden fork or shovel to break up any remaining clumps.

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What Items Should Be Avoided In A Compost Tumbler?

There are certain materials you should not add to a compost tumbler.

Don’t use meat, dairy products, fats, oils, and bones, as these can create unpleasant odors and attract pests.

Don’t use chemically-treated wood, large branches, diseased plants, or weeds that have gone to seed, as these can be harmful to the overall process of making compost.

How Long Does It Take To Make Compost In A Tumbler?

The time it takes to make compost in a tumbler varies depending on factors such as tumbler design, materials used, and environmental conditions.

Generally, compost that is ready to use from a tumbler can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 3 months.

Frequent turning, maintaining the right greens to browns ratio, and ensuring optimal moisture levels will help speed up the process.

How Do You Operate A Dual Compost Tumbler?

Operating a dual compost tumbler involves filling one side with kitchen scraps and yard waste while the other side is composting.

As you fill one chamber, be sure to turn the tumbler regularly to help aerate and mix the materials.

Once the first chamber is full, start filling the second chamber and continue turning both sides.

When the compost in the first chamber is ready, empty it so you can start a new batch while the second chamber is still composting.

This process allows you to have a continuous supply of compost by alternating between the chambers.

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