You’ve finally decided to invest in a compost tumbler. And you’ve started piling in your green plant materials like vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds, and banana peels. And, then you added in the brown materials like leaves, wood chips, and newspapers. It’s time to turn your tumbler and let the decomposing begin. But you might still be pondering this question: How often should I turn my compost tumbler?
For the best results, turn or spin your compost tumbler daily. If your compost mix is well-balanced with green and brown materials, the frequent turning will get you your “black gold” quickly.
Tumblers are designed to save you from the arduous task of manually turning over your compost heap with a pitchfork or shovel. Even though composting might be physically easier with a tumbler, you still need to take care of your pile. Keep reading as we guide you through the process of creating the perfect compost in your tumbler.
How Do You Compost With A Tumbler?
Starting your compost in a tumbler is just like starting a pile in your yard. You need to gather brown materials that are high in carbon and combine with green materials that are high in nitrogen. The general rule is a 30:1 carbon-to-nitrogen ratio or 30 parts of carbon to 1-part nitrogen.
Once you have your items in the tumbler, check to make sure the mix is damp but not wet. Then turn, roll or spin your tumbler. Spin your barrel daily so that air flows through the materials. It’s also fine to only spin the tumbler every other day. And be sure you give it a whirl when you add new ingredients.
Find a spot in your yard that's sunny to partly shady. Your tumbler should be exposed to some sunlight but not direct sunlight.
Is Turning The Tumbler Hard?
Turning your compost tumbler shouldn’t be hard or strenuous. If the tumbler has been designed well, it will spin, flip, roll or turn with little effort.
Tumblers range in size and capacity which can impact the weight of the container you're trying to turn. You can buy a small tumbler that holds up to 19 gallons of material and it will be easy to flip. Even if you double the size of your barrel to 37 gallons, it will still turn without much effort. Larger tumblers that have barrels holding up to 60 gallons will be more of a challenge to spin if you are not at full strength.
Tumblers are designed to work with gravity. You can help gravity do its job by placing your tumbler on a flat and level surface. Placing your barrel on a solid surface is also helpful.
If your tumbler is too heavy for you to flip, don’t fill it all the way. Or, you can try a container that rolls.
While you might find a larger tumbler a bit heavy to spin when it’s full, it’s still a lot less work than using the old pitchfork to the heap method.
How Long Does It Take To Make Compost In A Tumbler?
One of the perks of using a tumbler to compost is that it’s fast. In our research, we’ve come across tumbler users that have fully cured compost in as little as three or four weeks.
There are several factors like can sometimes help and other times hinder your compost’s journey.
Your compost mixture needs heat and moisture to thrive. But too much or too little of either element will delay decomposition.
For example, if you live in upstate New York and it’s winter, your compost will take more than a few weeks to cure. Everything you put in your barrel will likely be wet. To expedite the decomposition of your pile, look for drier items to add to your container. Freezing temperatures will also lower the tumbler's internal heat. With a good balance of green and brown, your compost might cure in about three months.
Now, if you live in sunny South Florida, your tumbler compost will likely be ready within a month. In this scenario though, you should keep your bin out of direct sunlight. You should also check that the contents of the barrel are moist. Daily spinning in a warm climate can help release extra heat.
Check the temperature of your bin with a meat thermometer. Ideal temperatures are between 135° - 160° Fahrenheit.
For more information on this topic, check out our post where we discuss how long it takes to compost in a tumbler.
Carbon And Nitrogen
Your compost needs to have the right mixture of carbon and nitrogen, a balance of brown and green components to get the job done fast.
You should start your compost with dry brown material like leaves, newsprint, sawdust or hay. Then add layers of green items like vegetable scraps, eggshells, and grass clippings to your tumbler. Keep the ratio of three parts carbon-rich brown items to one-part nitrogen-rich green items. Aerate your compost by flipping or spinning your barrel several times a week.
To get to the fully matured compost stage, you need to make sure your mix is moist. While your compost shouldn’t be wet or soggy, it shouldn’t be dry either. You will rarely need to add water to your barrel. If the materials look dry, add green material. If you have a soggy mess, add paper or leaves that are dry. Also, if you have the time, cut your produce into small pieces. Shred paper or cardboard and mix it into the produce. Add the concoction to your compost bin and give it a spin.
Once you have the right balance, let the compost do its job and don’t add new items. Keep a separate pile of new ingredients in a hunk elsewhere. Or keep your new scraps and waste in a different tumbler.
When conditions are near perfect, you should have access to a mature compost in about three weeks.
Once you have your cured compost, read our post that goes over when to add compost to your garden for guidance.
Are Compost Tumblers Any Good?
Compost tumblers are not just good, they’re fantastic. There are a variety of sizes and capacities to meet any of your composting needs. And, you will enjoy the many benefits of using a tumbler. We’ve covered these perks in this post. Here’s a recap:
- Tumblers are closed systems that keep rodents and raccoons out
- It takes less effort to spin or turn a tumbler than it does a heap on the ground
- You can expect faster results because tumblers can aerate quickly and hold their temperature
Whether your tumbler turns, flips, rolls or spins, we hope you keep composting with ease. Your garden will reap the rewarding humus from your efforts.