How To Start & Maintain A Compost Tumbler In 7 Easy Steps

Farmer holding wheel barrow filled with compost soil for gardenA compost tumbler is an excellent method to quickly create homemade compost, aerate decomposing materials, and build heat. Many gardeners appreciate a compost tumbler because you can easily rotate the contents inside the tumbler, instead of turning over your compost pile with a pitchfork. When using your compost tumbler for the first time, it is helpful to use an activator like manure, chop up your ingredients into small pieces, and make sure it is easy to turn as needed.

If you are breaking in a new compost tumbler, you will want to add a variety of ingredients to get a nice batch of compost within a few months of dedication.

  1. First off, make sure you can easily turn your tumbler. Turn your tumbler every other day to hasten the composting process.
  2. Select an activator such as manure, healthy soil, kitchen scraps, or even seaweed to get microorganisms, fungi, and other decomposers to break down your compost.
  3. Make sure to almost fill your tumbler with a mix of kitchen waste, shredded paper, grass clippings, and maintain a balanced combination of nitrogen-rich greens and carbon-rich browns. Do leave enough space inside for the ingredients to mingle comfortably.
  4. Opt for a ratio of 25 between your nitrogen and carbon ingredients, and once you almost fill your tumbler, do not add any more ingredients. Compost tumblers work best with small batches, so be patient and give it enough time to transform.
  5. Give your tumbler a rotation every other day, keep it in a sunny or warm environment for best results, and don't clean it between uses.
  6. Whenever possible, chop up your nitrogen and carbon ingredients into small pieces to make your compost more palatable to fungi and microorganism development. Ensure your closed system is nice and moist and give it time to cure.
  7. Check on your compost tumbler regularly, adjust for foul-odors and aeration needs, and know your compost is ready when it has a rich, earthy smell.

Are you excited? Using a compost tumbler in summer weather is the fastest way to achieve a nutrient-dense compost to enrich soil, gardens, and plants. Choose a compost tumbler that turns easily, and provides enough space for your pile of kitchen scraps, plant clippings, and paper waste. You may want to opt for a dual-chamber compost tumbler or keep a bucket to store additional nitrogen and carbon-rich compost ingredients while your first batch bakes.

Benefits of Using a Compost Tumbler

Why use a compost tumbler versus a bin, wooden box, or wire mesh container? A compost tumbler helps create compost because it is fully sealed and traps heat inside, it quickly turns to mix ingredients and provide aeration, and it makes the composting process faster. Get ready for a nutritious and rich compost batch when you use an activator to make your tumbler a conducive environment for microbes and decomposition.

Many gardeners like using a compost tumbler because it is elevated, making it difficult for pests to interfere. Also, the closed design of a compost tumbler keeps your batch nice and tidy, and malodorous fumes are reduced to nil. On the downside, compost tumblers are typically more expensive than a bin or box set-up, but you get compost done quickly. Larger tumblers may be more difficult to turn, but they make the composting process more efficient.

When you are looking for a compost tumbler, you will discover a few different types of models available. There are sealed drum containers, aerated drum containers, and dual-bin tumblers. No matter what kind of compost tumbler you choose, familiarize yourself with troubleshooting and understanding the composting process.

How Large of a Compost Tumbler Should I Buy?

Depending on how much room you have available on your property to commit to storing a compost tumbler, your family size, and how much composting you wish to make will help you select the right choice of a tumbler. A compost tumbler may be as small as 7.5 cubic feet, which is suitable for a four-unit family. The largest models available for big gardens or yards may measure 12 to 15 cubic feet. Do keep in mind, the larger the compost tumbler, the more effective it is at creating compost.

Check out this dual compost tumbler on Amazon.

Check out this reliable compost tumbler on Amazon.

Should I Use a Compost Starter?

Yes, you want to use a compost starter when you first introduce your green and brown ingredients to your tumbler. A virgin tumbler doesn't have any remnants of organic material, microorganisms, or fungi needed to break down nitrogen and carbon components. Some excellent forms of compost starter or compost activator include, but are not limited to, animal manure, grass clippings, or kitchen food scraps. You want a starter to add moisture, bacteria, and natural components that break down compost ingredients and release nutrients.

Once you finish your first batch of compost, don't clean out your tumbler. If you leave a bit of compost residue behind, it will help jumpstart your next compost pile. You don't have to use a compost starter, as your compost should generate enough heat and micro-bacterial activity if a balanced mix, but it is helpful.

Check out this cow manure on Amazon.

Check out this organic starter for compost on Amazon.

Do I Need to Add Water to My Tumbler?

The ingredients you add to your compost tumbler should provide enough moisture, so your batch is wet like a damp sponge, but not overly soggy. Too much moisture can throw off a compost pile's balance, leaving it too cool, and slowing down the composting process. Also, be aware that creating compost in an outdoor tumbler during the winter months may lead to wetter compost.

Ideally, carbon and nitrogen-rich ingredients like grass clippings, food scraps from the kitchen, and manure should provide adequate moisture. Some gardeners like to add a 'compost tea' to their batch, as this helps encourage necessary micro-bacterial activity and fungi to decompose their ingredients and create heat. Water does not need to be added to your tumbler to make compost.

Check out this thermometer to develop your compost on Amazon.

Where Should You Place the Compost Tumbler?

Depending on if you have a vertical or horizontal-oriented compost tumbler and its cubic footage, you may want to consider where to place it on your property. It is a good practice to keep a compost tumbler in the corner of the yard where there are indirect sunlight and partial shade. Placing a compost tumbler in direct sunlight may lead to the tumbler warping or experiencing discoloration over time. Having a balanced mix of nitrogen and carbon-rich ingredients will generate sufficient heat and moisture to create your compost.

Should You Keep Adding to the Compost Tumbler?

The beautiful thing about a compost tumbler is that it quickly escalates the composting process versus using a wooden bin or mesh container. Since most compost tumblers are sealed with holes for aeration, it is important not to overfill the container. You need enough room so that when the tumbler is being rotated that the ingredients can mix, generate heat, get enough oxygen, and stay moist.

If you have excess ingredients that you wish to add to your batch after your tumbler has reached capacity, consider storing your kitchen scraps, yard clippings, etc. in a nearby bin for the next batch. You could also consider using more than one compost tumbler.

When Will the Compost Be Ready?

Since a compost tumbler is a closed system, it is possible to have compost ready to use in as little as two to three weeks. When compost is ready to use, it should smell like earth, and there shouldn't be foul smells like ammonia. Depending on how large your tumbler is, how balanced your green and brown ingredients are, and the overall processing comes along with heat, moisture, and bacteria will determine when your compost is good to go. In some instances, you might not have compost ready until it reaches the three-month mark. Be patient and enjoy the process.

Check out this article to learn when to add compost to your garden.

Check out this article to learn more about the time it takes to make compost in your tumbler.

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