homemade barrel compost tumblers

mogardener(z5MO)November 6, 2006

How much compost will a barrel composter make? Does it still take 2-3 weeks in optimum conditions or does the smaller size require more time? I got a plastic barrel from a neighbor this morning and have printed out the directions in the link GIJane provided recently. I plan to use it in my hoop house for the winter. The HH would provide some extra heat to keep it working longer into cold weather. If it's successful I may build a second one as I don't have enough hot compost for starting seeds, beds in the hoop house, etc.

Also, I'm trying to figure out a way to put bearings of some sort on the stand so that I don't have to use a metal rod inside the composter. DH built me a similar composter years ago using a metal barrel and a metal axle--both promptly rusted out. I'd be grateful for suggestions. This will be my own project as I am just learning to use DH's power tools and know little about fasteners, etc. Please keep it simple for me. Thanks for your help and input.

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Honestly I recommend you bite the bullet and buy a commercial unit like the compost tumbler.

There are numerous challenges involved in making a tumbler that will work well and last more than a season or two.

Commercial units have, for the most part, figured out these challenges.

On a 1 to 5 scale with 1 being a project ideal for beginners and a 5 being a project even pros might not care to try I would rate building a tumbler that works as well as the commercial units a 3. It can be done, but you really need to know what you are doing from a materials and engineering standpoint.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 10:48AM
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Thanks, Guy. There is absolutely no money in the budget for a commercial model right now so I guess the barrel I bought will become another rain barrel. I needed another one anyway.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 11:23AM
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heidi41(z5 Mass)

Maybe I'm a dreamer too, but since you already have the barrel, why not try it. At the very worst, your compost will take longer to decompose. I see it as a win win situation. You will still get compost(maybe not as quickly as the store bought ones) and, you might learn alot and beable to rebuild the barrel into a good unit by trial and error. I read about a very easy barrel composter in the Oct/Nov issue of Organic Gardening Magazine. Cut the bottom off a barrel. drill alot of air holes all around the barrel. Load it up with your leaves and other materials. When ever you have a chance to turn it just simply lift it off the ground, place it next to the old pile and shovel the contents back into the barrel. I am planning on doing this just as an experiemnt. I do my composting in large piles. I have several piles that are about 10 x 20 feet. I turn them with a tractor. But I still want to experiment with a barrel type unit just to see the outcome and how long it really does take. HEIDI

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 1:35PM
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Thanks for the encourangment, Heidi. Besides money, the other issue is my age and having to change my methods to accomodate arthritis, etc. With the compost barrel, I was hoping to avoid turning a pile itself, just the barrel. I do mostly sheet composting which only requires moving the material twice--to load my cart and to unload--actually, dump and spread manure/bedding from the barn--to the garden beds. I also have a 3 section bin made of pallets. As you know, that's a slow process if you aren't turning it regularly which I don't/can't do. I had hoped for an easy solution to produce some high temperature compost.

I have decided that I could get 4 small dolly wheels and install them upside down on the stand to support the barrel. They wouldn't create any obstruction to the turning/dumping either. Nope, I don't think I've given up yet.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 2:04PM
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The dolly wheels is exactly what I was planning to do. The barrel I got though, the top can't come off so I made that one a rain barrel.

If you can get your top on and off, drill some air holes, put it on an upside down dolly and let 'er roll!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 5:35PM
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Where did mogardener find the directions for the compost tumbler? I SOMEWHERE have a gardening book with directions, but it is in storage. My son is willing to build one, but we need a few directions until I can find my book. I know this was a year ago post, but hoping someone can help me with this.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 12:37PM
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I printed out the directions from the link GIJane provided but I can't find them. I may have thrown them away. If memory serves, they came from some land grant college's horticulture department or Extension.

Since then, a neighbor loaned me his small model ComposTumbler to try out. Someone had given it to him and he'd never used it. He's in his mid-30's with lots of energy so he does a huge compost pile every year on a new section of his garden then spreads the slow/cold compost to the various beds. Anyway, I've had this SMALL ComposTumbler since last fall. I tried it out in a hoop house during the warmer months last fall and it didn't make much of an impression on me as something I would buy or even attempt to work out a trade with the owner for this unit. Now that it's warmer, I'm trying it again. Everyday, I bring home a couple of buckets of compostables--coffee grounds, veggie peels, today a whole sandwich--from work to add to the composter. So far, so good but the jury is still out on its efficiency. Mind you this is the small model, equivalent to a barrel composter.

In the meantime, I started a worm bin in an old fiberglass tub that I keep in a shady location behind the shop. I needed one tub for a flax retting vat (I'm a spinner) and an auction had 4 for one money--$10. I use one for water plants and goldfish (never quite got around to that water garden I had in mind), have the deepest for the retting vat and still have the fourth one that will become another worm bin for the summer. I think the bins might be as good as the compost tumbler at far less cost.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 5:10PM
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I just finished putting one together. I got a barrel with bottom and top intact. By making a few lines across the top and bottom, I found center and mounted a hub for 3/4" conduit. Then I bought two 10" x 3/4" pipes and screwed into the hubs. I drill holes through and near the top of two treated 4x4's. The rigid conduit (10x3/4") are 1" in diameter, so drill your holes jsut a bit bigger or ream them out (like I did). Dig the holes for the 4x4's. Remember these are 6' long so bury as much as needed to leave the barrel at whatever height you want. I am 6' and wanted the center of the barrel at 4' so a wheelbarrow will roll right under it. drop the 4x4's in and place the install the drum. Once you have it in place, straighten and backfill the holes around the 4x4's. Put a 90 degree coupling on one of the 10" conduits and a 3' piece of pipe bent at 2' to provide a handle to turn the barrel. I cut the door from another barrel so it will overlap the hole I cut for the door in the first barrel. Put two hinges on and mounted the door. Went to Salvation Army and bought two belts, cut off the buckles and mounted them to the barrel. Then mounted the belts to the door which when buckled to the buckles will hold the door secure. Position the door where you will open the barrel, hold secure and drill holes for drainage. I drilled four row of small holes.
Hope this helps. Don't know how it's going to work yet.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 9:33PM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

If it were me, I'd make another rain barrel. You've had a chance to try the tumbler, do you like it? Will it work for you?

I make my compost in a ring of wire fencing, don't have to drill all those holes in the barrel to let air in, the fence already has the holes. Fill the ring, let it be until it is ready.

Do a search here on compost tumblers.

The surest way to get compost in 2-3 weeks? Go to the store ;-)

Why ruin a good rain barrel? But hey that's me.

Good Luck,
Gumby_CT - who still thinks like the fruitcake, there is ONLY one compost tumbler that continues to get passed around (re-gifted).

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 1:32AM
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I still have the compost tumbler--need to make arrangements with the owner about returning it. I have had access until recently to a couple of gallons per day of coffee grounds, filters and fruit and veggie trimmings that I put into the tumbler and the bathtub worm bin. Both seem to be moving at the same pace but the tumbler is heating up to the point that there is steam when I open it. I wonder how much is the microherd working and how much is aid from the warm temps we are having. At any rate, the yield is small.

I'm keeping the barrel for another rain barrel. Gumby, I'll stick with sheet composting and worm bins due to age and arthritis but when I was younger, yes, I had a circle of welded wire that contained my compost.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 6:08AM
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this is my homemade tumbler I made it did not take much

    Bookmark   July 12, 2007 at 6:20PM
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Here is a video of one being made

Here is a link that might be useful: Building a Compost Turner

    Bookmark   October 13, 2007 at 12:21PM
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this is a pic of the tumbler i have made.. I am on my second batch forst one worked out great had compost in 2-3 weeks. My second battch is almost complete works great gets hot lots of worms in there etc. you should be able to copy and paste links below in http box to see pics. Any questions comments are welcome!!




    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 10:21AM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

Hi hhiii
I'm curious on how the worms are doing within a hot compost that is ready in 2-3 weeks.
I would think they would fry and die.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 1:19PM
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i would have thought so but they are still alive

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 3:14PM
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Nice setup hhiii. I was thinking about making a tumbler but ended up just using my drum as a a simple compost bin. I drilled a number of wholes in it and cut off the top but added latches so I can keep it on tight and I've been using an auger connected to my drill to turn it. I can also just roll it around if it's not to full. Seems to work fine with little effort. I'll be moving it closer to the house during winter to make it easier.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 3:49PM
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Just wanted to share our new compost tumbler. This is by far my fave way of composting. I've included a link to my blog with composting entries gathered. This wasn't expensive and it is really taking the back breaking work out of this chore. I love it and I love my husband for making it for me!

We can't afford to buy a $250 compost tumbler - so making our own was the only way I'd get one. It's like Christmas in April in our garden today!

Here is a link that might be useful: $48 Mobile Compost Tumbler

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 5:44PM
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That's pretty ingenious! Portable, looks good, easy to turn, fill and empty.

I'll pay you a dollar to take it for a walk down the street like a child in a stroller! That would be a compost whacko enthusiast.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 8:19PM
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I have started composting and I am going to need a LOT more browns in my bins, I can tell.

I found this after looking for a way to build a tumbler vs paying $200 for the one at Costco.

Watch the video, it's great.

Here is a link that might be useful: Building a tumbling composter

    Bookmark   April 9, 2009 at 7:43PM
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I made a unit not long ago, I will upload pictures sometime today. It was not hard to make.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 3:58AM
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jim_w_ny(Zone 5a)

I made one a couple of years ago and put grass clippings in it. It just sat there. Nothing happened. Finally I dismantled it.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 7:33AM
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Please share what you mean w. "Nothing happened." You stopped putting stuff in or you stopped tumbling and you didn't get compost? I'm curious because I'm thinking of building one (or find a volunteer who would build one for me).


    Bookmark   April 19, 2009 at 3:42AM
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jim_w_ny(Zone 5a)

It didn't decompose. I tumbled it for awhile. I think I added more clippings but it didn't change so I quit.

I wonder if these gadgets are just something more to be sold for those peddling stuff to us.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2009 at 8:57AM
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I've never bought a tumbler but I use three different sized ones, all home built. They all work well for what they were designed/intended for. They certainly can have issues if one attempts to use them for something way beyond what they were designed for.

I also agree that the advertisements are, how can I say this politely, embellished a tad. There are definitely people that hate them and there are people that love them. I would recommend that people seek out local gardeners or clubs to see if anyone close to you has one you can go look at before one makes an aye or nay decision. Most compost whackos enthusiasts are more than happy to show off their compost equipment. Stealing Borrowing an idea/design isn't cause for shame in the composting world, I've done it often enough. (Thanks Vance, squeeze and gonefishin)

Over the years the discussion about the practicality of tumblers has gone on and on and on and on. Someone once likened it to the tastes great/less filling debate, I tend to agree with that assessment.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2009 at 9:22AM
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marthacr(z5 Me)

I'd love to hear from the people who posted on this subject last year and earlier. Do you still use your tumblers? Do you still like them? I'm especially interested in hearing about the Lambda Tumbler.


    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 3:23PM
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I'm the original poster. I returned the commercial unit to my neighbor and stayed true to my word--sheet and worm composting. I still have some old pallet bins out by the barn but when I finish using the compost in them, I will tear it up. I don't plan to replace it.

The home grown units look good though.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 7:48PM
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ChoctawWoman(TX z7b/8)

I just built one that is tall enough for my wheel barrow to get under, it is stationary for now but it rolls on fixed 3" rollers, just filled it up tonight and gave it it's first twirl. If it works as well as I hope it does then I will get a little more elaborate on the stand for it, did not want to go to the trouble if it doesn't do well. So will see in time, I will post a pic soon. It was very easy to make and do not think I will have a hard time turning it. I have RA and FM, so am having to learn to do things differently, always before just used pitch fork in 3 sided pallet composter.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2011 at 12:00AM
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