Compost Tumbler Pros and Cons: Is It Right For You?

Composting has many benefits, including reducing waste and producing your own feed for your garden. If you like the idea of composting, consider a compost tumbler.

Here we answer some of the most popular questions about easy-turning compost barrels, what tumble composting is, how to use a compost tumbler, and how long it takes to compost.

What Is a Compost Tumbler?

To put it simply, a compost tumbler is a sealed container, such as a barrel that you can rotate or “tumble”.

The two main differences between a compost tumbler and a compost heap are:

  • A compost tumbler is sealed so it generates heat more quickly, speeding up the composting process
  • The tumbler can rotate, which means that you can mix its contents more easily.

Are Compost Tumblers Any Good?

Before buying one, it’s natural to wonder if compost tumblers are any good and if they’re worth the money.

To some people, they can’t compost without them, but it depends on your abilities and situation as to whether you need one.

A compost tumbler will generate and hold heat more effectively than an open composter drum, heap or pile will. This is because it’s all enclosed. 

What we love about them the most, though, is that you can mix the compost more easily. You simply turn the handle to turn the drum over. It is a fantastic selling point for people who may struggle to turn a compost heap every few days.

In addition, there is minimal smell when you use a compost tumbler. This also means you won’t attract wildlife like you would when starting a compost pile.

What’s also great is they are usually on wheels. This means you can move them around as needed. You may want to roll it to your garden when you are taking out the compost but keep it closer to your home to fill with kitchen scraps.

How Do You Make Compost in a Compost Tumbler?

Compost is really easy to make, no matter how you’re making it or what you’re making it in.

DIY Compost Tumbler
DIY Compost Tumbler

You just need to learn what kinds of things you can compost, and then follow the tumble composting procedure below.

Three Easy Steps

To start composting in a tumbler, here are the things you need to do:

1. Fill the tumbler with scraps and more

Open up the compost tumbler and add all of your brown and green waste from both your garden and kitchen. Pay attention to the proper ratio of greens to browns at a ratio of 2:1 so it’s balanced. You may need to add organic matter from your yard or other sources to make it balanced.

It’s also important to know the difference between greens and browns. As an example, freshly cut grass clippings from your yard are counted as green in composting. However, if left in a pile to dry, they are considered brown matter in composting.

We keep a bale of alfalfa to add to our compost as a brown as we tend to have a lot of vegetable scraps each day. In this way, we can also use the alfalfa as mulch for the gardens.

Once your tumbler is full, make sure you close the lid properly. Then, you just need to give it time to get to work.

The organic materials will start breaking down inside the tumbler producing heat.

You can save up scraps from fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, and more. Some people keep them in a container on their kitchen counter for a day or two before putting it in the composter. You can move the composter around to make it convenient to access. 

2. Turn the Tumbler

A couple of times a week, you need to roll or turn your tumbler to mix up all of the contents inside. Most compost tumbler models feature a crank or handle to make it easy.

Unlike when you have a compost pile where you need to physically turn over the composting materials with a shovel or rake, with a tumbler, you simply turn the handle. You can roll it and know everything inside is properly turned. When you have a pile, especially a deep one, it becomes difficult to do this by hand.

When composting, the mixing process infuses the mixture with fresh, heat-producing oxygen, which is vital to the composting process.

3. Use the Compost

When your compost is ready, you can access it easily by opening the door or hatch and letting it fall into a bucket, ready for spreading into your garden or pots and planters.

You can also take out scoopfuls as you need to add to some plants, especially midway through their producing season. We do this with our okra in order to give it a boost. 

The advantage of a compost tumbler is you can wheel it to wherever you need. Most composters come with wheels which make it easy to roll. 

How Long Does It Take to Compost in a Tumbler?

It can take as little as two to three weeks for a compost tumbler to turn out the compost.

Several factors will affect the composting process’ speed, such as moisture, air, heat, and compost starter.

1. Moisture Level

Ideally, your compost shouldn’t be too wet or too dry, but just moist.

Usually there is already enough moisture in the items you compost, such as kitchen scraps and grass cuttings, to maintain optimum moisture levels.

As such, you should try to avoid adding water since it will cool and slow the composting process down.

If you live in a very dry environment, it may be necessary, but add as little water as possible. Keep your balance of greens to browns and add what you need.

2. Air

Your compost tumbler will ideally be well ventilated with small holes since a constant source of fresh air is needed to keep the composting process going. There is nothing you need to do to “give it air.”

You will need to turn or mix your compost often to ensure fresh air permeates through the mixture.

In most cases, a compost tumbler is easier to aerate than a compost barrel or composter drum because it turns.

With stationary composters, you would need to get a fork or another device inside to turn the compost over manually.

3. Heat

If you’re feeding your compost tumbler a good mix of nitrogen and carbon materials, it will generate a lot of heat.

The compost tumbler will help to keep the heat in, but you will notice that the composting process takes longer in colder months.

If you notice the temperature dropping, you can heat it back up again by adding more nitrogen-rich materials and turning it more.

Also, if you live in an area with consistently hot summers, you may want to put the composter in the shade.

4. Compost Starter

You can add a compost starter to your waste to help kick-start the process, although it is not actually needed to make compost.

Once you’re making compost regularly, you can just keep a little compost from the previous batch to use as a starter.

You can also add some soil from the garden to get the composting process going.

compost tumbler

Can You Add Worms to a Compost Tumbler?

In theory, yes, you can add worms to your compost tumbler, but you should be careful to ensure you add them at the right time.

If you place them into fresh waste, then there won’t be anything for them to eat. You need to wait for the waste to rot to a point where worms will see it as food.

On the other hand, you also shouldn’t add worms to warm compost since they won’t like it. They will try to leave the tumbler immediately, in any way possible.

Unfortunately, if there is no way for the worms to escape, they will die when the temperature starts to rise.

Thus, if you’re worried about worms not thriving, then you probably shouldn’t add worms to your compost tumbler. We don’t have worms in our compost tumbler but have encouraged them when we had a big compost pile.

Worm Farm – Should You Start One?

Compost Tumbler: Pros and Cons

Now we’ve looked more closely at how a compost tumbler works, let’s revisit the pros and cons in more depth.

Pros of Compost Tumblers

Some of the main benefits that people who use compost tumblers enjoy include:

1. Turnability

There’s no denying that a compost tumbler generally makes lighter work of turning and aerating the composting mixture.

Whether they work by turning a crank or simply roll around a central rod, as long as they’re not too big, they’re effortless to mix.

It takes more time and energy to turn over a compost heap or mix a compost barrel with a fork or other device.

2. Faster Composting

If ideal conditions are present, the composting process can be completed more quickly in a compost tumbler.

With the right moisture levels, outdoor temperature, and balance of carbon and nitrogen waste, you can compost in just two to three weeks.

3. No Critters Can Get It

You can do your best to keep wildlife out of a compost heap, but they usually will find a way to it. They will be attracted to the smell, and then stay to enjoy eating it. 

If you have a compost barrel on the floor, they often don’t have a bottom, which is excellent for worm access. However, it does also mean that small rodents, raccoons, and pets can burrow their way into your compost.

When you own a compost tumbler, it’s sealed except for small air holes for ventilation. You won’t have animals in it. You may attract some insects but it should be minimal.

In addition, compost tumblers are generally raised above the ground, making it more difficult for rodents and pests to access it.

4. Attractive

A compost tumbler is a more attractive option than a compost bin, but especially a heap! They usually have sleek designs and offer a very tidy operation overall, keeping your garden looking clean and attractive.

This may be important if you don’t have a lot of land or if you live in a neighborhood setting.

5. Produce Little to No Odor

The sealed design of a compost tumbler also makes them less smelly, a must for properties with smaller gardens. No doubt your nearby neighbors will appreciate it too!

6. Easy to Use the Composter and Compost

Another benefit to owning a compost tumbler is you can access it and move it to where you need it. Most have wheels.

This means you can leave your tumbler where it’s convenient for you to add scraps to it as well as roll it to wherever you want to use the compost. When it’s convenient, you will be more apt to want to make compost.

7. Saves Time

It’s takes almost no time to turn the compost vs manually turning it in a pile.

8. Live Sustainably

In addition, making your own compost helps you keep fruits and vegetable scraps, newspapers, grass clippings, leaves, and more out of the landfills. It’s a great first step to homesteading. You can use a compost tumbler in a small space such as a balcony or deck and making them ideal for  urban areas.

Cons of Compost Tumblers

When we drew up our list of limitations of the compost tumbler, we found it to be the shorter list of the two and includes:

1. Costs Money

While you can begin a composting pile or heap in your yard for free, you will have to buy a compost tumbler.

There are different sizes of compost tumblers. Some are smaller and less expensive than larger compost tumblers. Still, you can get a decent one for less than $100. These are ideal for families.

The great news is there isn’t anything else you need to buy after you get the compost tumbler. Everything you put into it is recycled waste. The tumbler itself is a one-time purchase.

2. Can Be Cumbersome

With larger compost tumblers, their turn-ability can be compromised by the sheer weight of the compost inside.

Typically, though, there is a size limit on compost tumblers to ensure that you can turn them, even when they’re full. Consider how much compost you want to produce and how big of a space you have for the tumbler. 

3. Manual Addition of Worms

Worms would have to be added manually to a compost tumbler, and unless they have means of escape, they might die.

4. Less Physical Activity

The only other drawback is you won’t get the exercise you will from manually turning compost with a traditional compost heap.

Tumbler Composting

Overall, we think compost tumblers are terrific, but depending on your circumstances, you may not need one.

The people who will benefit most from compost tumblers are those who struggle with turning their heaps.

If you have limited space in your garden or live with neighbors close by, you’ll also see more benefits from how tidier and more odorless they are. Also, consider the wildlife in your area. A closed compost system will keep them away.

Choosing a compost tumbler is a great addition to homesteading. You get to use what you have by not wasting and help to enrich your soil for gardens. Adding compost to garden beds and containers is an asset. 

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2 thoughts on “Compost Tumbler Pros and Cons: Is It Right For You?”

  1. So we have questions , at what point do you stop adding scraps bc at a point you’ll have compost dirt but don’t want to add anymore raw materials. Do you get a 2nd or 3rd tumbler? Then once you have compost dirt, how do you store it? Make your own bags?

  2. Great questions… so glad you asked. It’s always difficult to know when to stop adding scraps to a compost pile. With a compost heap on the ground, it’s good if you have an area to start a newer heap, even if they are just a bit separated within the same area. You may want to consider the temperature/season to know whether to make the first pile bigger (end of winter/beginning of spring) or stop adding to a smaller pile (perhaps late summer, depending on how soon winter comes in your area) so it will have time to cure to use or store in the fall/early winter). If you live in a climate that has mild winters/rarely below freezing where you will still be able to compost, this may not matter as much.

    In a compost tumbler, it’s easier to know when to stop adding to it because there comes a point when there’s no room to add scraps or lawn debris. If you have a tumbler that you can turn to rotate, you will know when to stop adding to it because you don’t want it too packed. Air needs to be able to circulate. Having a dual-chamber composter is ideal. You can add to one side while the other side is curing. Once you empty the finished compost, you can start adding to that side to make another round.

    Having two compost bins each with dual-chambers would mean you could have four batches in different stages of decomposition which would be awesome. It would be especially helpful if you have a household with a lot of vegetable and fruit scraps and other household and garden compostable materials. It’s frustrating to fill up the compost bin and “waste” kitchen scraps by throwing them in the garbage because you have no room in the composter!

    We have a 43 gallon compost tumbler (total capacity) with two chambers, and are considering a second one for this purpose. Just imagine having four sections composting in various stages makes me very happy! We would get another 43 gallon one; the same model we have.

    As far as storing finished compost, it is best if you can use it soon after collecting it so it doesn’t lose nutrients by being sealed, not rotated, etc. However, if you have a harsh winter, have extra compost, etc. you may want to save the compost to use for spring plantings.

    If you have room in your yard or on your property or even in a garden bed, you can pile the compost there. Cover it with a tarp, use rocks or stakes to keep the tarp secure. This will keep it protected from rain and snow. It will also help to maintain oxygen and humidity levels.

    You can also use heavy-duty plastic lawn bags to store finished compost. These can get heavy though so don’t fill them too high. You’ll also need to poke some holes in the bag and try to mix it — even rotating the bag will help mix the compost. Like when you are making compost, you’ll need to consider the humidity and oxygen levels when storing compost in bags. Fabric bags work well too. If you are lucky enough to have an extra composter, you can store it in there as well, especially if you don’t compost in the winter months. You may also consider a smaller garbage can with a lid that has some airflow.

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