The Compost Tumbler: Advantages





Compost tumbler

The compost tumbler provides a great way to reduce household waste, provide nutrients for your garden vegetables and flowers, and reduce your carbon footprint all at the same time.  We've put together some information here to help you understand the value of composting and get you started on what is now a global effort to reduce carbon emissions as well as to make your life more sustainable.  

Compost Tumbler At Work
A True
Environment Saver
The Amazing Benefits of Composting
With all of the talk about going green, reducing your carbon footprint and helping to reduce climate change these days, more and more people are considering the possibility of  using compost tumblers in their back yard.  We're going to talk about some of the benefits of composting here and then look at some of the best methods of creating compost from your kitchen scraps, yard waste, and many other sources.

What are the benefits creating compost?  One of the most prominent reasons to compost is that you are creating a natural fertilizer for your yard and garden.  The nutrients from the food waste and yard waste is naturally turned back into the same plant nutrients that you get when you purchase commercial fertilizer from the hardware store, except that the compost form of these nutrients is completely natural and much less harmful to the environment.  Why is it less harmful to the environment?  Because commercial fertilizers are made from ingredients that require a vast expenditure of energy to produce them.  The main nutrients in plant fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. 

Most nitrogen production uses natural gas as it's base ingredient, and then nitrogen is forced to react with the gas at high temperatures and pressure, requiring lots of energy.  Phosphorus and potassium are mined from big open pit mines using heavy machinery requiring massive amounts of diesel fuel for transporting and processing. 

The traditional end result, sadly, is that food waste and yard waste end up going to the landfill via garbage trucks.   This is a one way stream, is very wasteful, and results in unnessesary energy use.  So by composting, you are putting an end to this wasteful one-way stream of energy use and putting nutrients directly back into the soil, for your yard and garden to naturally thrive on.  By doing so, you are also saving money on expensive store bought fertilizer.  You are moving one more step toward self sufficiency by not needing to go to the store and buy something that can be produced in your back yard.  And you are indirectly reducing carbon emissions.

The traditional and most common method of composting is to simply pile the material up, say, in a corner of your yard.  This will work, but there are many disadvantages, such as odors, a messy looking yard, and unwanted vermin feeding or nesting in the pile.  There is a much better, quicker, and cleaner way to creat compost.  That is with a device known as a compost tumbler.  The compost tumbler makes it super easy to create the conditions needed to create compost in quick order.  Organic matter such as food waste, fruit peels and grass clippings need air and a modest amount of moisture to decompost properly.  The composting process also creates heat, and this heat needs to be distributed evenly for the best results.  By turning every few days, the heat is dispersed evenly, and air is introduced into the compost, and the process proceeds much more rapidly.  In addition, the compost tumbler saves the back-breaking work of shoveling and turning the compost pile.

Most compost tumblers consist of a cylinder of some sort that is mounted on a spindle that can be turned by a handle or crank on one end.  The unit will have an opening that will allow addition and removal of material from the cylinder.  This opening will be able to close tightly to prevent the compost from spilling out during the turning process.  The cylinder will also have small holes spaced evenly around it to allow for circulation of air.  So when the unit is closed up, which will be most of the time, rats and other vermin will be prevented from getting inside.  The conditions provided by a compost tumbler will allow the composting process to be completed much more quickly, on the order of two weeks rather than months, that would be the norm for a simple compost pile.  

lush vegetable garden  
It seems like more and more people every day are asking "What's the best way to get rid of my left over kitchen waste...?"
Reasons for considering composters

It is important to understand how and why using composters will improve the quality of your soil with the least amount of time and effort.  Healthy soil provides a stable base for plants to grow, and yet is loose enough for roots to penetrate, well drained, and rich in organic matter.  Good soil will be porous with spaces around the particles for air and water to move freely.  Healthy soil will actually have as much as 25% air, 25% water, 45% minerals and 5% organic matter.  The air spaces are important because they allow water to travel freely and carry nutrients to the roots of your plants.  A healthy soil will also have a pH of between 6.5 and 7.5.  This is the optimum level of acidity for nutrients to be available for root absorbtion.  If you don't know what pH is, don't worry too much.  Unless you have extreme conditions, like bottomland or raw desert land that rarely gets rain, your soil can most likely be easily conditioned to grow the kind of garden you want by adding compost.

Here we are going to describe the process of turning a soil that is not so good into a rich thriving medium in which garden plants can grow to their full potential.  Let's assume your soil is fairly well drained, but low in organic matter.  It may be rich in clay, which impedes root growth. Or it may be sandy, which will drain too quickly and doesn't ratain enough water to support your plants.  The addition of organic material greatly facilitates both root penetration and water retention.  There are several ways of adding organic matter to your soil to improve these conditions.  One way is to add organic matter such as grass clippings, straw, leaves or any other fibrous organic material directly to the soil, mix it in, and allow it to decompose in place.  This is a very common practice.  The main disadvantage is that it takes a long time, up to a year in some cases.  You could still grow plants in your garden during this year.  They just wouldn't be quite as healthy the first year.  Another way of adding organic matter would be to plant a cover crop, preferrably in the late summer or fall, and work it into the soil in the spring with a rototiller.  A good choice of crop for this purpose would be a legume, such as peas.  Legumes have a nitrogen fixing capacity that can take nitrogren directly from the air and incorporate it into their growth structure.  This is a very common practice among organic farmers.  And of course, you can just buy compost or topsoil and add it to your garden.  In fact, there is an entire industry centered around collecting compost from households, composting it in huge quantities, and selling commercially as compost for garden soil. 

However, for most people, composters are probably the most convenient and economical way of improving soil quality.  Composters serve several purposes at once.  They take unwanted organic matter from the yard and  kitchen and instead of you paying to have it hauled off it is turned into a nutrient rich conditioner for your garden soil.  In addition to saving you money, the process reduces your carbon footprint, as a result of less energy used to haul this stuff away.  The remarkable attribute of composters is the short amount of time it takes to create compost. 

There are a number of types of composters available for purchase, in addition to plans for building your own.  The compost tumbler is the quickest method because it turns the compost evenly, distributes the heat and creates optimum conditions for the decomposition process to occur.  This type of composter can create a batch of compost for you in as little as four weeks.  We will delve further into the details below...


Compost makes great flower gardens.  Your flowers will love you for it!
A compost tumbler is the best solution to reducing your food waste stream.
Perhaps by now you have heard of the compost tumbler.  You may be wondering what all the buzz is about.  After all, gardeners have been creating compost for their gardens for centuries.  Well the compost tumbler makes the process tremendously more efficient and effortless.  These composters will transform what essentially begins as garbage into a natural, organic, healthy fertilizer for your garden at no cost.  And the process can take as little as three weeks.  The effort required is minimal.  You will be adding your kitchen food scraps and yard waste into the drum at the beginning and during the composting process and removing it at the end of three or four weeks and this is the bulk of the effort required.  The only other thing you will be required is turning the handle every few days.
What makes it work so well is the tumbling action.  This tumbling action mixes the material up and breaks it down into smaller pieces.  The conditions are perfect for decomposition of the organic matter inside.  The composting process generates a little bit of heat, and the turning process distributes this heat so that no one part of the mass is too hot or too cool.  It even works in the winter time, although if temperatures are too cold the process is slowed down a bit.  The openings in the drum provide air for healthy composting, but yet are small enough to prevent vermin from getting inside.  You want to fill the drum only about three fifths full so as to allow enough space for the turning action to work properly. 
Once you get into the routine of using it, a compost tumbler will provide you with hundreds of pounds of compost for your garden throughout the year.

A quaint English garden fed entirely by compost.

More Tips on Composters

Composting has been happening for millions of years, and is one of the most natural processes in the world.  The leaves fall to the forest floor, and in time turn into a nutrient rich material referred to as humus.  The manure pile over time turns into composted manure. 

To make compost all it takes is to pile up any and all types of organic matter from grass clippings to leaves to fruit peels and leftover food and even paper.    Eventually Mother Nature does her work and the degrading action of bacteria will change it into a compost, which is the natural organic food for plant life.  We can be thankful for this process, because without compost, there would be no soil, and without soil, no life.

However the natural process as described and practiced above takes time, perhaps up to a year or more.  With certain modifications of the composting process, we can greatly speed up the process and provide compost in a timely manner for our gardening schedule.  We will describe some of those modifications here.

Getting the right mixture of ingredients will help make sure it heats up sufficiently and breaks down the fibrous material properly.  Getting the proper ratio of brown, carbon material to green nitrogen material will make a huge difference on the efficiency of the composting process.  The microorganisms in the compost bin generally require about 1 part of green nitrogen material for about 30 parts of brown, carbon material.  Too much brown leafy material will take too long to break down, and too much green material will result in a slimy messy mass that doesnít break down well.  If you can get close to this ratio and do the other steps properly, you will be ok on proper breakdown in a reasonable time frame.

Turning the compost more often will greatly help speed up the process.  There are two reasons for this.  The first reason is that the microorganism need air to work properly, and turning provides and distributes air evenly.  The other reason why this is important is to distribute the heat evenly.  The composting process produces heat, and when really hot spots develop, the microorganisms cannot thrive as well.  The more even the heat distribution, the better.  These microorganisms like to work best at around 110 Ė 120 degrees F.  For composters, the easiest way to achieve even and frequent turning is to use a compost tumbler.  This device basically consists of a cylinder mounted horizontally on a shaft that can be turned so that the material ďtumblesĒ inside.  This action not only provides air and distributes heat, but also helps break down the material more quickly.

The next important thing to pay attention to is moisture content.  The compost should be around 50-60 percent moisture.  An easy way to gauge moisture content is to take a handful of the material from the center of the pile or drum and squeeze it.  If you can squeeze water out of it, itís too wet.  If it does not release water, and it crumbles apart when released, then itís too dry.  If itís too wet, you can simply add more dry leaves or other organic material to soak up the excess water.

Shredding some or all of the material will also greatly decrease the amount of time it takes to make compost.  Shredding increases the surface area of the material, giving more surface area for the microorganisms to work with. 

If you are short on nitrogen material, such as in the autumn leaf raking season,  the addition of some alfalfa meal will make up for your lack of green nitrogen material and greatly enhance the process.

Having more than one batch of compost in progress will also enhance the process.  There are compost tumblers on the market that actually have two sides, so that while one side will be in the later stages of the process, new raw material can be added to the other side.

We hope these  tips about composters are helpful.

Hal Merrill