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How to Start Composting in a Tumbler at Home | Expert Tips for Beginners

Household waste reaches landfills, stays there for several weeks, generates huge amounts of methane and foul smell while providing a perfect breeding ground for insects, pests, and micro-organisms. Therefore, it is required to switch to sustainable methods and treat household waste at home. However, it can be a tedious process if started without learning the basics. One of the ways for managing the waste with less hassle is using a compost tumbler. Let’s look into the details of how to use a compost tumbler.

What is a Compost Tumbler?

As the name suggests, the compost tumbler is an easy and creative invention to mix and create compost efficiently. Converting the compost pile is one of the most tedious jobs a gardener faces, but compost tumbler makes it more convenient. It is usually made of recycled, hard-wearing plastic. A compost tumbler is quite easy to use. It is a completely sealed barrel that can be rotated to mix the composting material thoroughly. Before knowing how to start a compost tumbler, lets talk a bit about its types.

There are three types of tumblers available, which are as follows-

  1. Vertical: These tumblers stand upright and have an appropriate handle to facilitate turning.
  2. Horizontal: These tumblers have cranks to ensure that the turning process is easy.
  3. Spherical: They are considered different than horizontal and vertical tumblers, as they can be rolled on the ground.

How Do Composters Work?

It conserves the heat and speeds up the entire composting process quite efficiently. It generates a steady oxygen flow using microbes to break down biodegradable waste in favorable conditions. Speed of composting is influenced by:

  • Temperature,
  • Season, and
  • Balance between carbon and nitrogen matter.

How to Use a Compost Tumbler?

Starting a compost tumbler might be hard for beginners if there is no proper knowledge. Below is the simple 7-step guide about how to compost in a tumbler at home. Read on and make your tumble composting easy.

Step 1: Understand the Basics

The two basic terms are: (i) “Greens”: They are nitrogen-rich matter, containing mostly of green leaves, leafy vegetables, grass clippings, (ii) ‘Browns’: These are carbon-rich matter, having brown leaves, paper, cardboard, etc.

Step 2: Layering

Start layering with browns to absorb excess moisture from the greens. After the initial layers, the order of greens and browns does not matter. However, the greens are always covered by browns to avoid pests and insects breeding on the tumbler. If the tumbler is to be turned immediately, layering does not matter. The tumbler is supposed to be filled to the top as the breakdown process compresses the materials, but it can be harder to spin; therefore, 2/3rd of the tumbler should be filled.

Step 3: Maintain the Ratio

Ideal carbon-to-nitrogen (C-N) ratio is 24:1 to 30:1. However, the ratio depends on greens and browns being used. Finding the perfect ratio is an elaborate process as different environmental conditions can dictate the process of decomposition. It would be more effective if the brown compost is added after being chopped as it can readily increase the process, although this is not a necessary step.

Step 4: Leave to Rest

The first batch can use activators like cow or horse manure, fertile soil, or old compost. After this, the tumbler is left alone with a closed lid. When the waste materials start decreasing in volume, leaving room for more, it’ll heat the tumbler. Decomposition is an exothermic process.

Step 5: Turn

This process helps combine microbes, organic matter, and fresh oxygen to speed up the process and maintain a steady decomposition throughout. You will be required to swing it around, rotate it, and give it as many turns as physically possible in every direction. The factors on which turning of tumbler depends are the size of the pile, Carbon to Nitrogen ratio, and the moisture in a pile.

Step 6: Monitor the smell & temperature

If the tumbler is giving off a foul, ammonia-like smell, it means that brown matter should be added more. If the smell is “green” or grass-like, it means that the compost needs some aeration. Check whether the tumbler is vented well or not and give the barrel some turns. The temperature should not go below 140 F, or 60° C. Use a thermometer to keep a check on this.

Step 7: Check the compost

Check the result of your process after a few weeks. Generally, 3-4 weeks are sufficient to provide good results.

Tumbler Care Instructions & Tips

Make sure to follow the following tips for better results.

  • Fill the tumbler up to the brim, ensuring that you can hold the weight.
  • Keep it in sunlight.
  • Do not turn it too much as it will scatter the heat.

Pros and Cons of Compost Tumbler

Pros

  • Since the container is sealed from all sides, the speed of the composting process is accelerated and gives satisfactory results in less than the usual time taken by other methods. If kept under perfect temperature and other required conditions, the composition can happen more quickly, resulting in a maximum of two weeks.
  • Tumbler keeps the compost safe from pests like rodents, raccoons, and many others. 
  • Place the container slightly upraised from the ground and is built with strong material that neighborhood pests can’t tread upon.
  •  It is less messy and is an easy method that only requires turning in regular intervals.
  • Requires less space and can be organized and maintained well. 
  • There is no problem with anaerobic decomposition because aeration is proper.
  • It offers results pretty fast. It will take about 3 weeks to get your compost ready.

Cons

  • In comparison to compost bins, compost tumblers are not pocket-friendly. 
  • Turning the tumbler can be an arduous task that demands great strength if the pile is high enough.
  • They are unable to heat up properly in winters. Therefore, it is said that they’re well suited for summers.

FAQs

1. Should dirt be added to a compost tumbler?

Ans: Add manure and biodegradable waste to the first two batches to speed up the process.

2. How frequently does the tumbler require to be turned?

Ans: A compost tumbler should be turned every 3-4 days, on average.

3. When should the tumbler be watered?

Ans: A compost tumbler should be watered every 4-7 days as a general rule. Of course, it is dependent on the weather, but an average idea of 4-7 days can be considered.

4. Should I put worms in the compost tumbler?

Ans: No, worms are not supposed to be added in a closed tumbler, as they can die. Earthworms can only be added to open pits.

5. Are horizontal tumblers better than vertical?

Ans: Yes, if the materials are closer to the pit of the tumbler, it is easier to use horizontal tumblers as they use the center axis to spin.

6. Should I place the tumbler in sunlight or shade?

Ans: Keeping it in sunlight is the best option as heat can speed up manifolds. Choosing a darker tumbler shade can also help, as dark colors absorb heat well. But sunlight can often affect the plastic; therefore, the ideal situation would be to keep it in partial shade or avoid placing it in direct sunlight.

7. Compost is wet and is not decomposing even after many days

Ans: This is a common confusion; the only solution is adding dry matter like leaves and twigs. However, the compost can be soggy if you alter the ratio and add more nitrogen-rich compounds than carbon-containing matter. Ideal humidity should be around 50-60%.

8. The compost is getting cool too fast, what should I do?

Ans: You will have to add nitrogen-rich content like manure in a pile to increase the process of composting.

9. What not to put in a compost tumbler?

Ans: You should not put these items in the compost pile: meat or fish, oils, anything treated with pesticides or containing preservatives or chemicals, any dairy products including cheese, butter, ash, pet poop. Dog or cat poop can take a lot of time to decompose in the mix. Also, fish, meat, or seafood can cause a foul stench. The whole concept of compost is to follow natural methods. Therefore, no chemicals should be added to the pile at any cost.

10. What to put in compost tumbler?

Ans: Along with kitchen waste, leaves, grass, paper products you can also compost hair, pet shedding, toilet paper, tissue paper, lint, non-edible popcorns (burnt), toothpicks, coffee, scrap wood.

Conclusion

Using pesticides and fertilizers is harmful to the environment and can lead to bioaccumulation. Using compost, manure, etc., can be directly and indirectly helpful to the environment. It would be considered a huge step towards sustainability. Other than environmental factors, it makes a gardener’s job comparatively easier. If you own a small garden, you can give it a try, too. It is extremely easy to use and maintain.

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