Are all compost tumblers created equal?

A:
Why, thank you for asking; I do have a preference! :)
 
When talking compost tumblers, my experience has been that larger generally equates to better. Better tends to equate to more expensive.
  • The smaller 2-chamber tumblers are too small to be self-insulating in our winters, unless you buy a double-walled model, whose insulation is built in.
  • Vertical tumblers - where the rotation is at the "waist" of the barrel - put you at a mechanical disadvantage to effect the tumbling, and aren't large enough.
  • I haven't tried those ground-based rolling composters, but I'd like to. These could be good if the plastics are thick enough and sunlight-stable enough. Be sure that mammals like rats, possums, and raccoons cannot find a way in. 
Important point: consider the sturdiness of the mechanics that allow the composter to tumble. I'm still using a tumbler that cost ~$400 new; I bought mine used about 25 years ago. That's what rugged supports and tumbling design will give you.
 
Caveats:
  • The composter will leak dark liquid, especially if food or grass clippings make up a large portion of the materials processed.
  • Tumblers raised off the ground are animal-proof, but not insect-proof. 
  • I find this a very slow process and always end up removing the partially-processed material and finishing in a turned hot compost pile.
Tips:
  • I use my tumbler for day-to-day food waste - keeping it moved out of the kitchen. To begin, I fill the tumbler with deciduous leaves bagged last fall, or straw. Then I add food waste as it is produced. the leaves or straw absorb some of the liquids being released. Food waste and grass clippings are largely water. 
  • One of the best things that ever happened to my tumbler was that it got infested with red wigglers, who happily feed on the decomposing waste, and enrich the final product with their castings.
I think the cheaper models that have weak legs and turning mechanisms are not worth the gasoline required to drive them home from the big box. 

Was this page helpful?

Related Content from OSU Extension

Ask an Expert

Have a Question? Ask an Expert!

Ask an Expert is a way for you to get answers from the Oregon State University Extension Service. We have experts in family and health, community development, food and agriculture, coastal issues, forestry, programs for young people, and gardening.

Ask Us a Question