How to Build a Compost Tumbler?

In this article we are going to look at what composting is and offer some basic instructions for building a compost tumbler or a tumbling composter.

Composting is an excellent and eco friendly way of turning your kitchen and garden wastes into useful nutrient rich soil byproduct that can be vital for the healthy growth of houseplants. It is eco friendly because it helps reduce landfill and thereby cuts the production of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide. So by compositing your garden wastes you are definitely doing your part in helping the environment. Kudos to you!

Compost Tumbler.
Compost Tumbler. Photo Credit.

What is compost?

Basically compost is just an organic waste which breakdowns due to decomposition and gets converted to a dark mixture, which is almost crumbly. Vegetable and fruit plants love organic compost; it’s a great food for them.

In fact most gardeners call it black gold. Looking to make compost at your home is a great idea. Not only does it save money, but you get to put your household waste to good use plus you do a great bit for the environment as mentioned earlier.

Traditional Compost Bins and Compost Tumblers

A simple leaf or garden compost bin is a good option if you are planning to compost garden wastes like dry leaves and grass clippings. But you will need a more advanced system to compost kitchen wastes. To take care of such wastes you will either need a large wooden or plastic compost bin or a compost tumbler.

Traditional compost bins are easy to build but they may not be an option for everyone. Firstly there are many areas where open composting is not allowed or might be considered a nuisance. Secondly traditional bins don’t come with turning devices making it hard for you to aerate the waste material. You will need to use a pitchfork to turn a pile of waste matter which could be back-breaking work. Less oxygen availability to the composting material will also mean that it will take more time before you can harvest the compost. Finally one of the major disadvantages of a traditional open compost bin is that it gives easy access to rodents and other critters which can become a menace.

You can safely overcome all these problems by making use of a compost tumbler. It might take a bit more effort in the beginning to make a tumbler but the returns certainly are worth it.

One major disadvantage of a urban compost tumbler is the fact that it is small in size and cannot hold all the garden waste. This disadvantage can be easily overcome by using multiple compost tumblers.

How to Build a Compost Tumbler?

Buying a ready made compost tumbler can be costly affair, but why buy something when you can make it on your own? The best thing is that making a compost tumbler is not as hard as it seems and it can be easily built using knick knacks around your house. So let us look at how to build a compost tumbler:

Items you will need: You are going to need a plastic drum (anything between 25 and 50 gallons should do), a PVC or galvanized steel pipe that will be used as an axle and wooden planks to build a saw buck that will be used to support the compost barrel, a drilling machine, bolts, nails, saw, hinges, washers and basic hand tools like a hammer, measuring tape etc.

Step 1: The first step is to drill two holes one at the top and one at the bottom of the compost barrel through which to insert the pipe that will be used as an axle. You can also drill the hole in the center of the body of the barrel (horizontal sides instead of vertical) depending on the type of barrel you are using.

Step 2: The second step is to build a frame (also known as the compost turner) that will be used to rotate the compost barrel. The frame can either be x-shaped or vertical. The following video shows how to build a vertical compost frame:

Step 3: Once the frame is in place, use the pipes to balance the barrel on the wooden frame (compost turner). The barrel should be able to rotate freely once mounted on the frame. If it does not, you will need to make further adjustments.

Step 4: Use a driller to drill several evenly spaced one inch holes throughout the body of the barrel. This will aid aeration which is vital for the decomposition to take place.

Step 5: The fifth step is to create a door through which waste materials can be introduced into the tumbler. This can be done by cutting a square piece of material from one surface of the barrel and attaching this back to the barrel with the help of hinges. You can avoid this step by changing your compost tumbler design as shown in the video above and in the adjacent picture. For this you will need to drill a hole for the axle pipe horizontally instead of vertically through the drum.

Step 6: The final step involves coloring the compost drum with a darker shade in-case the drum has a light color. Black color is the best as it will absorb heat helping maintain a high temperature in the compost.

This was just a basic explanation of the various steps involved in building a compost tumbler. For more advanced reading please refer recommendations in our gardening books section.

What to use for making a compost?

A few household and garden wastes which can go into the compost pile are listed below

  • Kitchen Wastes
  • Corncobs
  • Hay or Straw
  • Eggshells (finely crushed)
  • Remains of tea leaves
  • Fruits peelings & vegetable peelings
  • Chopped branches and leaves
  • Grass clippings for your lawn
  • Cut up paper

A few things you should avoid completely are:

Avoid these materials in your compost

  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds which have taken seed
  • Insecticide or chemically treated plants
  • Non-vegetarian wastes like bones, skin or fat
  • Large branches (without cutting them up)
  • Fruit seeds
  • Waste for pets (cats and dogs do eat non-vegetarian stuff around, their waste also contains virulent parasites)

Remember that this compost will be add to your garden soil. Avoid putting anything which can attract rodents, secondly your plants will absorb this compost so don’t put anything which you find un-hygienic yourself.

Quick Composting Tips

If your compost pile is decomposing very slowly you can accelerate things by following these tips:

Keep the Compost Well Aerated: Decomposition requires oxygen and this is why it is important to aerate the compost. So always remember to keep the compost well aerated by rotating the compost tumbler at regular intervals.

Keep the Compost Moist: If you think that the compost is too dry, add some water in it to make it moist. You can also consider using water-downed leftover fruit juices. This helps decomposition. Just make sure that the compost does not get too wet.

Locate the Composter in a Sunny Area: Composters work quicker in sunny locations and hence it makes more sense to locate the compost bin/tumbler in a area that receives a lot of direct sunlight. Remember that when temperatures drop below 50 degrees F composting usually stops.

Maintain the Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio: The right carbon to nitrogen ratio which is 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen (25-30:1) will ensure faster decomposition producing sweet smelling compost. To achieve this add materials like sawdust, straw, dry leaves, or wood chips that have a high level of carbon content to a proportionate mixture of kitchen and garden waste that has high levels of nitrogen. Check out the following link for more information:

Chop it Up: As a general rule of the thumb, Make sure you chop everything before putting it in the pile. Smaller parts decompose quickly.

Coloring Color the compost tumbler with darker shades like green, brown or black. These retain heat that will in-turn aid faster decomposition

Use Two Composters: If you have a lot of garden waste then having two composters will definitely be a better option. This will give you a chance to fill one composter when the second one is decomposing in the sun and vise versa.