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Compost Tumblers

Richmond, KY(Zone 6b)

Anybody use them?

I've always either used large wooden compost bins I build myself, or sheet compost.

Now I'm researching commercial compost tumblers for a story and wondered if anyone has experience with them.

Did they work for you? Are they cleaner? Faster? Less obtrusive? What are the pros and cons?

Lancaster, CA

Well Hello There Brook,

I don't look at this forum very often or I'dve responded sooner.

Dad built one for me to try 4 years ago. I normally use the pile on the ground method.

He used one of those 55 gallon blue plastic drums. It had been used to hold apple juice concentrate. He built a baffle into it and made a door. Built a frame to sit it on and gave it to me.

Kept the mice out of the pile
Was easy to turn

didn't hold enough to compost well
smell was increased. (my guess is moisture stayed in the mix longer)
there seemed to be more flies. Now this one is debateable. It may have seemed like more because of them swarming out when the door was opened to add materials. LOL

I use it now as a holding tank for my "green" waste till time to start a fresh pile.

Jonesboro, GA(Zone 7b)

Brook - I have a Mantis Compost twin - I love it. I don't have a problem with smell or bugs. I think if the mix is not right, if it is too green or wet, that's where the smell comes. You need the vent holes to ventilate it, air keeps the oder down. You need several things to make good compost, "green" (fresh grass, veggie scraps), "brown" (dry leaves), fertilizer, (soil or manure)and air - the reason for turning. It works faster in full sun, but of course will produce it's own heat anywhere. If you have the ideal conditions, it is true you can get good compost in only two weeks. Don't know how I did without mine!

Lancaster, CA

I think if the mix is not right, if it is too green or wet, that's where the smell comes. You need the vent holes to ventilate it, air keeps the oder down. >>

I'm certain you're right Azalea. When I actually start a new pile I have plenty of the "right stuff" to make the pile start cooking. However this time of year, I don't have much in the way of brown material. I don't even start really collecting much until fall. I have a few spent bean plants and flower deheadings but that's about it.

I was hoping the tumbler would keep down the unsightly mess (DID) while allowing me to gather materials over spring summer. I also was hoping to keep down pest problems (DID keep out critter-DID NOT keep out flies).

Mine does have holes for venting. How much material does the Mantis hold?

Jonesboro, GA(Zone 7b)

Ok - looking at the manual that came with mine- each chamber will hold up to 3 30 gal trashbags of raw material, which will become 20 bushels of finished compost! That's a bunch. The 2 chambers are to be used as follows: one for "speed-cooking" a full load (10 bushels) of materials, the other to hold fresh materials until you are ready to "turn up the heat". To do this, add about a cup of fertilizer to give it a kick-start!

I sound like a salesman for them - I ought to get a commission, Lol!

Lancaster, CA

Sounds great!!

I like that you can hold materials till needed. That portion has no flies or smell either? Or are you one of the lucky folks who has an abundance of composting material on hand and can start a pile any time?

Jonesboro, GA(Zone 7b)

No - I really don't have nearly as much as I wish I had. We have a very small yard which can be mowed in about 15 min. I am fortunate that my next door neighbor is a chef and often brings me a bucket of processed kitchen scraps, of course I save all my coffee grounds & kitchen scraps too. We do have several pine trees & plenty of dried leaves in our woods. I throw in a couple of shovelfulls of regular soil too, this contains helpful bacteria to help in the decomposition.

No, no flies or oder, it's really great. I only wish I had an area in full sun to park it.

San Francisco, CA

As the Queen of Compost, I have two earth machines and two rubber maid bins, which I use for storage. I heard the problems with tumblers are 1 too wet and 2 too hard to turn.

I turn mine by removing the unit and replacing it empty and moving the top layer to the bottom of the unit, it the new location and then the botton layer ends up on top. I call this replacing the top with the bottom and it really works.

Full sun is very important because it speeds the process by creating more internal heat. The more heat you have the faster and better the compost will be. When I put them in the shade I got fungus gnats and a huge slow down in turn around time.

Richmond, KY(Zone 6b)

Bug-Girl, what is an earth machine?

I now am the owner of four different tumblers, two of which I have, and two of which I have other people testing.

Of the four, only one is hard to turn, so I think that's a theoretical problem rather than a real one.

Too wet is, apparently, a real problem. It stems, I'm told by the manufacturers, from people putting just grass clippings in the tumblers, with little or no browns.

So far, all the tumblers I have (but one, which was just delivered today) are working well. The Mantis double is a real charmer, in fact.

San Francisco, CA

The Tumblers are too wet becasue of lack of drainage. My Earth Machine is a plastic bin. It sits directly on the ground and all excess water drains out. If the compost is too wet, it will not work the way you want it to.

The key is too water enough but not too much. If you over water an earth machine, it will dry out in a few days. If you over water a tumbler you may have to take everything out and dry it out and then put it back in.

Manufacturers always want to blame the users and not the product. For example my Rubbermaid bins are junk because the lids will not fit. So I wrote a letter to the company, they said, it was my fault and this never happened to anyone else. But, the lids do not fit because over the years the plastic has expanded. Now the interlocking lids won't fit.

The Earth Machine is much better, you can look them on the the net. There is an website. I read tumbler horror stories on the Garden Web and it put me off buying one. But, I do not have one so I can not say for sure. If the compost is over wet, it will smell horrible and it won't break down the way you want.

I always mix up the grass clipping with browns, but just putting in grass will not create over wet conditions. Only lack of drainage will do that. The grass will be a bit damp, but not create water.

Sometimes you need to over water to get everything wet, and then just let it drain out. Some tumblers are just as hard to turn as not having one at all. Some tumblers just turn everything upside down, but don't mix the outside layer with the inside layer. The inside layer breaks down faster, then the outside, so you need to mix them to achieve perfect compost. I use rubber gloves and hand mix.

It is hard to say about the Mantis, I know nothing about it. I would try one for free if that were possible. But, I am getting great results with the Earth Machines.

I also add browns as needed. I am willing to buy browns, that are ready to use, for example mushroom compost is cheap and it is a great brown. Sherred Redwoood Mulch is a great brown, but it makes me allergic. I tired straw as a brown but it did not break down fast, newspapers are also no good. Large pieces of wood will not break down fast either, so use only sherred wood as a brown, not the kind of mulch with large pieces.

Jonesboro, GA(Zone 7b)

I also have one of the Rubbermaid Composters (below) that my DD gave me a couple of years ago. I find that it will do the job, but much slower than the Mantis Compost twin tumbler that I have. I have to take it off the pile and set it to one side, then use a pitchfork to turn the pile loading it back into the bin. My DH decided I was getting "too old" to do this type of labor. I agreed with him eagerly! I don't find the tumbler hard to turn. The bin is less expensive than the tumbler - but also less effective!

San Francisco, CA

The Rubbermaid bin is one of the more expensive ones, I would recommend the earth machine. There is a site called Compost Com or something close to that with online pictures of all of them. I would never use a pitch fork, because that would be too hard on the back. I have a bad back. I take a small container and fill that up, and it takes time, about an hour, this way, but it completely doable becasue I never lift more then my back can handle. However, I only have to do it about once a month, it depends on the time of year and how much I am putting in there. If I do it more often the process goes faster. Some people do not want to touch the compost, that is not a problem, I use gloves.

At the same time, I am hand mixing it and breaking down any little clumps. I can get finished compost in as little as two months in the summer. I use two bins so I never have to wait to start a new bin. I use the rubbermaids bins only for storage, because with no lids, if it rains the compost becomes over wet, if it keeps raining, it will not be able to drain off, if you have no lid.

We do not have real winter here. No snow, so I can compost all year long. Trail and errors has been very useful. If I am not seeing the results I want, I try to think of how I can improve in the future.

When I was doing cold composting, my compost was almost just like my garden soil. It took over six months to make compost and then it was "bad compost". Cold Composting only gets rid of yard debris, but hot composting helps the soil. If you want to begin hot composting, coffee grounds from coffee shops are the way to go, see my post on this forum re Starbucks.

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