Thursday, May 23, 2013
The Lowdown on Compost Tumblers
Do you tumble? Some composters swear by their compost tumblers with devout enthusiasm. “Once you go tumbler, you’ll never go humbler,” they say in my imaginary rhyming conversations.
Compost tumblers come in models ranging from horizontal and vertical barrels with a cranking arm to large balls you fill up and push around your yard. They can yield impressive results, creating compost faster and with less “work” than a regular compost bin. But compost tumblers can also turn into a fancified waste of money if you don’t use them correctly.
We’ll weigh the pros and cons and go over a few tips for getting the most out of your tumbler.
Let’s Get Ready To Tumble!
First the pros. Compost tumblers create finished compost fast- some models claim in just a few weeks. The primary reason is that most tumblers are exceedingly easy to turn (or crank or roll). You end up aerating more often which heats the pile up and generates usable compost at lightning speed (well, lightning speed in compost terms).
Some models allow you to wheel the composter around the yard cutting out the wheelbarrow middle man. They are also fairly pest resistant but flies will still bug you if you’re not careful.
Tumbling Without Stumbling
Now the cons (more points of caution than cons). The moisture level in tumblers have to be monitored. If you add just grass clippings and food scraps you will end up with a slimy mess sloshing around your bin. Add a good balance of browns like shredded leaves or paper.
Since compost tumblers are not next to the ground, you should add microorganisms to speed up the decomposition. A few handfuls of finished compost or good healthy garden soil will work.
The last point to consider is that compost tumblers can be pricey. Be ready to invest at least $100 if not more.
Tips for More Crumble from Your Tumble
1. Stop adding material at least three weeks before you want to harvest. Compost tumblers work best when creating “batch” compost. Just as you wouldn’t pull a batch of cookies out of the oven and add more flour, don’t continue to add material to your compost tumbler. Otherwise, you will be screening that finished compost just like the rest of us.
2. Monitor the moisture to keep it as wet as a wrung out sponge. Add shredded leaves or paper if needed (the exception to tip one) or leave the door open for a while to air out the compost.
3. Shred material into smaller sizes. This will speed up the decomposition for any composting method, but is very apparent when you use a tumbler. The smaller the pieces you add, the faster they will turn into finished compost.
4. Add at least one part brown to one part green (two or three parts brown will make the compost easier to manage but also slow it down).
5. Turn, crank, or roll that tumbler as often as you can. Some models suggest doing it daily, so read the instructions that come with your bin.
Mother Earth News tested and reviewed a few different styles of tumbler, which they spell out in this helpful article.
Do you have a compost tumbler? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.