compost tumbler questions

njitgradMay 20, 2013

I have a compost tumbler and have some questions below. Last year wasn't a successful composting year for me so with a few adjustments I'm hoping that I do it right this year.

1. So far I've added a good amount of browns (mostly shredded newspaper) and greens (veggie & fruit scraps). This material has been added in little by little over an 8 week period. It's almost half full and I believe it needs to be 3/4 full for best results. The hard part is obtaining greens. For that reason I actually shucked my corn at home yesterday as opposed to doing it in the grocery store. I weed and feed so I can't use my grass clipping. Is there a point where I say that's enough even though its only 1/2 full?

2. When adding in a little brown and a little green here and there on a daily basis, how can I determine if I need to add more of one than the other? Every time I open the lid I see tiny flies flying out and the pile looks nice and moist and has an earthy smell to it but I obviously can figure out the ratio of greens to browns if keep adding to it daily.

3. In addition to turning the tumbler daily, I also use a small pitchfork to move clumped material around in the bin. Is this advisable or not?

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I love my tumblers. They work really well for fast composting once you figure out the art side of it.

Getting the C:N (brown:green) balance right is a bit of art. You can speed up the learning or figure-it-out process by getting to know the C:N ratios of what you're using as feedstocks.

How full is optimal may depend upon the specific tumbler you have, but in my experience with two different brands, both horizontal drum types, they work best at about half-full.

I use two 90-gallon tumblers. Using aged shredded wood mulch as browns and kitchen produce trim + UCG as greens, it takes me about 4 weeks to half fill one. During the fill I do not tumble, but layer. I've found it seems to work best if I start with a couple of inches of wood stuff, then add the greens as mini-piles 2-4" thick, covering each with more wood mulch for every addition. I do NOT mix during this build-it-up period, by do water starting after about two weeks (the mulch is really dry and soaks up a lot of water. How much is a learned thing. After it's half full I start the daily tumbling, six revolutions. It takes about 4 weeks to get to mature compost.

I use an old fashioned 4-tine cultivator (think pitchfork with bent times) to pull the stuff from the ends towards the center after each tumbling session - it helps with the heat-up in what would be a shallow pile.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 8:12PM
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If one is using their tumbler as a continuous fed method, the best way I've found is to start with about 1/3rd full of shredded leaves and add your other scraps. When you go to add more kitchen scraps, give it a couple of tumbles, add the material, tumble again and then add about the same volume of more browns on top, do not tumble. You may also have to add moisture somewhere in this process as well depending on the moistness of the stuff you are adding. Repeat this process each time you add.

The tumbler will eventually get full but the time it takes depends on how much material one generates. This guy lasted almost 4 months for a household of two. This one would take a year to fill but I run up against winter. I use the continuous feed method for these but I gather material from multiple families/businesses for them.

I mainly utilize the tumblers for food items that may attract varmints, regular grass clippings and other plant material get composted in the windrows.


    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 7:24PM
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I used a tumbler for two years before abandoning it for mesh bins. The tumbler came with a thermometer, fortunately. It was only on my third try, weighting all the ingredients, that I managed to get a temp of 165F.

As you might expect, this seems a lot of work for a small amount of compost. The material seemed to form round balls where the moisture was not perfectly mixed in. Turning was hard on my back compared to a open mesh bin only 18" high that I can turn with a compost fork.

I found mesh bins to be cheaper, easier, better in the winter, better for smelly material, etc. After two years of the tumbler, I gave it away. The center bar rusted thru after four years.

Suggestions for tumbler use:
1) Mix in one day
2) mix the stuff before putting in tumbler
3) take temp each day so you are aware of temp. and direction of same.
4) shred the material finely

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 5:39PM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

what does that baby do in the quarter mile?

Here is a link that might be useful: Lloyd's bin

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 7:52PM
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At one RPM, it will take a while.



    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 8:13PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I'm a lazy composter! I have 2 tumblers and 2 free standing bins.
I will save leaves from my neighbors' trees and add a bunch of leaves, add all my household stuff, and tumble every couple of weeks, spraying them down whenever I do the garden watering (a couple times a week)
After about 2 months, the tumblers are pretty broken down, and I empty them into the free standing bins (after emptying them into the garden or a holding area)
Some (many on this board) don't like tumblers, but in MHO, my way seems to work faster than just letting it sit. I have a bad back, so the tumblers are easier than forking a bunch of stuff from here to there!
Happy Gardening! Nancy

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 9:30PM
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