Posted By on May 24, 2009

What is Compost?

Compost is a gardener’s best friend and most cherish it like gold. It is the result of the natural decomposition of organic matter. When added to your garden, it conditions the soils structure, suppresses disease and attracts microbes, worms and desirable insects that help create a great growing environment. It also hold in nutrients, slowly releasing them as needed so that your plants grow at their maximum potential.

Typically compost is produced  by adding organic materials such as kitchen scraps, waste from the garden, leaves, grass clippings, straw and manure to an exposed bin or pile. The pile is then turned and mixed occasionally until it decomposes. Piles or bins are no doubt the best way to produce large amounts of compost, but for the small backyard gardener, compost tumblers create less mess, no odor and  provide a much easier way to get this garden gold without the attracting varmits and pests.

The different types of tumblers

compost-twin Crank Operated: This type of tumbler mounts horizontally on a metal frame with a hand cranked gear assembly that allows the user to easily turn the barrel. These tumblers are great for the elderly and those without the strength to turn a compost pile or other types of tumblers. The disadvantage is the higher expense. An example of this type of tumbler is the Mantis Twin Composting Bin which provides dual barrels, allowing one to be filled with your kitchen scrapes as the other is creating a new batch of compost keeping a continuous flow of fresh compost at your disposal.

Other crank operated tumblers:
Composter: Compact ComposTumbler
Original Compost Tumbler
Back Porch ComposTumbler

tumbleweed compost tumblerVertical Drum Tumblers: This type of tumbler consists of a plastic drum mounted on a horizontal axle. As the vertical drum rotates the center axle acts to break up and mix the organic materials which speeds the decomposition process. These tumblers are fairly easy to turn until they start getting full, but well with in the capabilities of most people. They might not be the best choice for the elderly or physically handicapped. They have good airflow and maintain good moisture content which also speed the composting process.

Other vertical rolling drum tumblers:
UCT Urban Compost Tumbler 9.5 Cubic Feet, 100% Recycled, Composter Bin.
Tumbleweed Composter
Urban Compost Tumbler

envirocycle-black Horizontal Rolling Drums: These tumblers rotate on rollers mounted on a ground base. They are easier to turn due to the built in rollers on the base and the drums typically have steps molded into them allowing you to use the strength in your legs to roll them. They can however be challenge to empty as they are quite low to the ground. Some have containers within the base for collecting “Compost Tea”. These tumblers are the least expensive and a good choice for those on a tight budget.

Other horizontal drum tumblers:
Envirocycle Backyard Composter – Black
RotoComposter Compost Tumbler
Achla CMP03 Spinning Compost Mixer Black Plastic

How to choose the right tumbler for you

With all the compost tumblers on the market, choosing one that suites your needs can be confusing. While all the tumblers outlined above will create usable compost, each has advantages and disadvantages. Some claim their tumblers will produce compost in as little as 2 weeks. Is this true? Well, a group of Sacramento master gardeners set out to review 10 types of home composting systems which includes bins as well as the tumblers that we have discussed above. They have documented a side by side comparison of the benefits, features and downside of these systems along with their trial results for a test batch of compost in a three part video series.

Testing Home Compost Units: Intro
Testing Home Compost Units: Part Two
Testing Home Compost Units: Part Three

Reviewing these videos you will see that the compost tumblers don’t heat up as well as a traditional compost bin. Mainly due to the unrestricted airflow of a bin. The tumblers still produce compost in a timely manner with way less mess, odor and work. This along with the restrictions some municipalities have placed on open compost bins, a tumbler might be the best solution for providing the urban and small gardener with fresh, inexpensive compost.

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