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.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Can You Compost Bread?

We’ve all been there. You pull out the fixings for your favorite sandwich, set a nice plate on the counter, and pour yourself a tall cold drink. Reaching into the bread bag you gently pull out two slices. But what’s this? Ugh….. your heart sinks with a pang of disappointment.

Mold lines the edge of your bread.

Well, you can’t save the sandwich now. Unless you’re the type to shrug, pull off the moldy crust, and keep eating (I’m making my silently-judgmental, grossed out face right now). But you can put that moldy bread to good use in your compost bin.

Bread, while not a vegetable, is made from a plant and will break down in your compost bin rather quickly. Pretty much any food scrap made of flour or grains can go in your bin. This includes:

Donuts (without cream filling)

I don’t think a single cookie has ever made it to my compost bin, even the burnt and stale end up being consumed. But technically, they could be composted.

And what’s the most important thing to remember about composting bread and the like? Bury your food scraps. I’ll say that again.


Otherwise, you will end up attracting animals or creating a “garbagy” smelling bin.

Once in contact with a moist compost pile, bread doesn’t typically last long. Think of a hotdog eating contest without the dog. You know how the contestants dip the buns in water to easily cram down 20 hotdogs in 5 minutes? Now I’m making my grossed out face again.

That bun soaks up the moisture and starts breaking down immediately. The same thing happens in your compost pile. And then the micro and macro organisms alike devour the bun in what I can only imagine is a very competitive sport with millions of contestants and only you cheering them on.

Do you compost bread? If so, am I missing any “bread” categories that you can compost?

I think this croissant is upset about being tossed in the trash.
Or maybe he's just trying to lift his "arms"?