How To Use A Compost Tumbler – 6 Steps


If you’re tired of constantly shoveling compost around to keep it aerated, are sick of seeing a pile of decomposing material in your yard or just don’t like the farmy smell of open compost piles, you should give tumbler composting a try.

This method allows you to hot compost your kitchen scraps and yard waste in a closed container and provides a simple mechanism to turn your compost regularly.

Compost tumblers are made up of a closed barrel with an opening to pile organic matter through and small air holes to provide the necessary aeration.

Related | The 5 Best Compost Tumblers

There’s also usually a mechanism, like a handle or a lever, to easily turn the tumbler to keep everything inside well mixed.

Not only do compost tumblers make composting easier, but they also significantly bring down the time required to produce finished compost at home. While an open hot composting pile can take anywhere from 1 to 3 months produce compost, a compost tumbler will usually give you the finished product in 1 month or less!

What You Need

Begin by amassing your materials. Unlike other composting techniques, compost tumblers work best if you put everything in at once instead of adding materials over time.

While you can still use a tumbler for continuous composting, you may find pieces of organic matter that haven’t fully decomposed along with your usable compost if you do.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Compost tumbler: Pick the best compost tumbler you can afford or make one that is appropriately sized to the amount of anticipated waste your home will be producing, as well as one that you can easily turn on your own.
  • Green waste: Any fresh (green) organic material will count as green waste. This includes fresh kitchen scraps, recently cut grass, and even freshly-fallen leaves. These will be the source of nitrogen in your compost tumbler.
  • Brown waste: Paper, cardboard scraps, dried leaves or grass, eggshells, and wood products are all considered browns. These will provide the carbon your compost needs.
  • A good spot for your tumbler: Your tumbler’s location is just as important as what goes in it. A shaded spot with limited moisture is preferable.

The DIY Compost Tumbler

Compost tumblers are commercially available in many shapes and sizes and can be purchased at various price ranges. Alternately, you can make your own compost tumbler from a heavy-duty cylinder trash container with a lid.

The common 55-gallon outdoor trash bins work great as DIY compost tumblers.

Just drill air holes all around the container. The holes should be large enough to allow air in without letting out any of the organic material inside.

You’ll also want to find a way to keep the lid securely attached. Bungee cords are a great option for this, as they’re easy to remove in case you want to check on the progress of your compost but will still keep the lid in place.

Once you’ve purchased on made your own compost tumbler, it’s time to get it ready to begin the composting process.

Even if it seems more daunting than a simple compost pile or compost bin at first, getting started with a compost tumbler is fairly easy.

Just follow the steps below, and your tumbler will be producing batches of compost for you in no time!

Tumble Composting Steps

Collect All Your Green and Brown Waste

Have all your organic waste ready, if possible, before getting started. You’ll want a good ration of greens to browns, as each provides a necessary chemical to the composting process.

A 1:3 nitrogen to carbon ration is recommended, or 1 part green to 3 parts brown. This keeps the compost from becoming too moist.

If you live in a very warm area, however, too much brown material may dry out your tumbler. In this case, a 1:1 ratio can be used.

Add Your Waste to the Compost Tumbler

Once you’ve collected enough greens and browns to fill your tumbler, go ahead and add it all in.

By filling your tumbler all at once you’ll encourage continuous decomposition leading to a whole batch of ready-to-use compost in just a few weeks.

Add a Compost Accelerator

Unlike in conventional compost setups, tumblers are closed off to the soil, and so the decomposing microorganisms that usually find their way into open compost piles aren’t present. This is why it’s important to add a compost accelerator.

These amendments are composed of blends of decomposing bacteria that will help to kick start the composting process in your tumbler.

There are a few commercial blends available, although you can always add a couple of handfuls of finished compost or manure. This will contain the beneficial bacteria that your compost needs.

Place Your Tumbler in a Good Spot

When choosing where to place your tumbler, it’s better to pick a spot with limited sun.

The composting process will make enough heat on its own, and getting too much sun may overheat the fragile ecosystem within in, killing off your composting microorganisms.

You’ll also want to pick a spot that will limit the amount of moisture seeping into your tumbler, as too much moisture will lead to rot instead of compost.

Turn and Check on Your Tumbler

Turn your compost tumbler daily or according to the manufacturer’s instructions to keep the mix well aerated. Open up your tumbler every once in a while to check for foul smells, too much moisture or dried-out compost.

Depending on how your compost is looking, you’ll have to add more greens or browns to balance out the process.

Use Your Compost After a Couple of Weeks

Most tumblers can produce finished compost in 2 to 3 weeks. Once you hit the 2-week mark, begin checking your compost for doneness. Once the mix smells earthy and no longer has any recognizable organic matter, your compost is ready to use.

Empty out your tumbler and use it in your garden to make your plants happy!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should I Turn My Compost Tumbler?

You should always follow the instructions that came with your specific tumbler. In general, most tumblers, including homemade ones, should be turned daily to provide enough air to the aerobic microorganisms working hard to make your compost.

What Should You Not Put In A Compost Tumbler?

Any biodegradable material that you would normally put in a compost bin can go in your tumbler. Here are a few things that you shouldn’t put in your compost pile and definitely not in your tumbler:

  • Cat and dog waste or waste from carnivorous animals
  • Meat, dairy, fish or any other animal part or byproduct
  • Diseased plants, fungus or mold
  • Oils
  • Tea bags
  • Chemicals, plastics or other non-biodegradable materials
  • Colorful, shiny or coated paper
  • Any part of the walnut tree

Do You Add Water To A Compost Tumbler?

Most of the time, the greens in your compost tumbler will add enough moisture to the system. However, depending on your climate or particularly hot weather, you may find that your tumbler has dried out.

If this happens just add a quart or two of water directly to your tumbler and turn it a few times to distribute the moisture. This will rehydrate your tumbler and allow the composting process to continue.

If you are regularly finding that your tumbler is drying out, you may want to switch to a 1:1 greens to browns ration to prevent this happening.

In Summary

Using a compost tumbler is a great way to get all the benefits of composting without most of the work that a conventional compost pile demands.

If you enjoy making your own compost but are finding the process too time-consuming or physically-demanding, try using a compost tumbler for your next batch.

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