Now, casual gardeners – indeed, all gardeners – who want to compost but without the time, mess, or labour involved, can use a Compost Bin Tumbler.
Whether you buy it or make it, compost is essential for almost every gardener. While making compost the traditional way in an open heap is certainly more art than science, doing so in a bin tumbler is less art and more colour-by-the-numbers type of science.
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Let’s get started with our top pick…
It is rare to find any product that combines excellent functionality with elegant design and genuine aesthetic appeal – an out-and-out winner by Envirocycle.
Envirocycle boasts of making “the most beautiful composter in the world” and it is difficult to argue the point. This ‘designer composter,’ available in two colours, black and pink, would not be out of place in the garden of a Costa del Sol villa. But it’s not only about aesthetics. Made of BPA-free plastic, it adds ruggedness and durability to its vaunted looks.
Unlike almost all other tumblers that rotate around a pivot, this tumbling bin settles on a curved base that has four rollers on each side. The tumbler thus can be rotated over the rollers. Remember to close the hatch using the latch, which can be a little moody.
The science behind this tumbler is clearly good science because this baby turns cardboard, kale and kitchen waste into compost – fast. However, it may not make a fine, ‘fully-finished’ compost but a somewhat rougher kind.
It is also simple to use and easy to turn as long as you don’t fill it completely. It also makes ‘compost tea’ as a by-product and draining it and collecting it at the base is also a piece of cake.
The design makes it almost impervious to vermin. Another good design feature is that despite its relatively petite size, the hatch provides excellent access to the interior.
No assembly required; the Envirocycle tumbler is ready to go. It manifests excellent build quality and finishing.
Envirocycle’s tumbler has a capacity of 133 litres and dimensions of 64.5 x 54.6 x 70.4 centimetres. It weighs 11.2 kilogrammes.
- Super design, ingenious rollers, and excellent finishing.
- No assembly headaches as this unit comes ready to go in one piece.
- Such an aesthetic appeal that it could be mistaken for garden sculpture.
- The hatch’s latches could be improved
- Seen purely as a composting tumbler, it is pricy.
- Just duff black and duff pink colours – we feel they could’ve gone with antiqued beige, or steel grey, or bronze, or contrasty red.
While the lack of ruggedness and its flimsiness count against it, Gardening-Naturally’s tumbler is well-balanced, is very easy to tumble, and is very budget-friendly.
The internal action, which includes aeration and tumbling bars, is meant to speed up composting. Gardening-Naturally’s tumbler is also well-designed and well-balanced so that turning it is very easy. However, its actual composting capability is a separate question altogether. Although acceptable, it does not match up to the competition.
This composter requires a goodly bit of assembly. It is not difficult to understand how to assemble it but the actual putting-together is rather fiddly as you need to snap together all manner of pieces of plastic, which gets more and more awkward as you are completing the assembly.
This tumbler is not robust or durable, and as you fill it up more and more, the flimsier and flimsier it feels. The workaround is to only half fill it.
This may make for a good second or spare bin tumbler, and one that can be bought at a budget price.
Its dimensions are 95 x 60 x 84 centimetres and it has a capacity of 105 litres. It weighs 5.6 kilogrammes.
In spite of its flaws, at the rock-bottom price at which it is available, it is worth taking a chance on.
- The budget-friendly price.
- The design and balance are very good.
- Easy and effortless to tumble this kit.
- Does not look or feel sturdy or durable.
- As it is being filled with compost, it keeps betraying its flimsiness.
- The legs are weak and cannot take the weight of the filled tumbler.
Lifetime makes a mixed bag: awful to assemble and difficult to turn, this tumbler is quite sturdy and robust, and on a pounds-per-litre basis is downright cheap.
Lifetime’s tumbler boasts dark, double-wall panels to absorb and retain heat and it also has an internal aeration bar to mix compost, so they are clearly doing something right.
What they are doing wrong is that only the tumbler itself is delivered in three pieces and you have to bolt them together, in the process having to use plastic nuts. On top of that, you have to drill a couple of dozen holes in plastic panels and even in the metal legs.
So consider getting this kit if you can spare the time and energy to assemble it. Better yet, if you and a friend could spare the time and energy to assemble it! Don’t count on the instructions because they leave a lot to be desired.
The lid is very large and is removable, allowing easy access to the interior, and easy removal of the compost. When you have opened the lid to fill the tumbler a spring-loaded pin locks the tumbler, preventing it from rotating.
The tumbler has finger-sized hollows using which you are expected to turn it. This is quite doable when there is little compost inside the tumbler, but this becomes progressively more difficult the more compost is inside the tumbler, becoming very troublesome to do when the tumbler is more than half full. This is an instance of poor design that has not been tested.
This tumbler is quite sturdy and robust but the tumbling mechanism and balance are poor, making it difficult to turn.
It weighs 19.1 kilogrammes. It has dimensions of 90.2 x 101.6 x 109.2 centimetres and has a capacity of 305 litres.
The price is a moving target but it varies between reasonable and costly. On a pounds-per-litre calculation, it is the cheapest tumbler in this review.
- The cheapest tumbler relatively speaking, that is on a pounds-per-litre calculation.
- A smart design that locks the tumbler in position and stops it from turning when the lid is opened.
- Sturdy and robust.
- Putting this thing together is a lengthy, tedious chore, especially for one person.
- The tumbling mechanism and balance are poor.
- It is hard to turn because there is nothing which one can get a firm grip on and no way to get much leverage.
Replete with design and construction hits and misses, Draper’s unusual end-over-end tumbling design makes for troublesome tumbling but great compost-making.
Draper’s tumbler is palpably light for its size and that is because it is made of lightweight polypropylene material.
It does not rotate around its own axis but instead tumbles end-over-end. This design works against the user. When the tumbler is half full it becomes heavy and is difficult to tumble; three-quarters full, and it is well nigh impossible to tumble. At the same time, this design results in very effective tumbling of compost.
The tumbler hangs too close to the ground on this bandy-legged kit. Also, if the tumbler is up to three-quarters full the struts bend and splay, especially while tumbling. You’ll need to put it on a split platform so that the drum is clear off the ground and there is a gap in the middle.
The tumbler has holes at its ends that work as both air vents and drainage holes. The fluid that is a by-product of composting (‘compost tea’) drips and seeps from these end-holes or from the central seam.
The ‘brake’ – really a catch – which engages when the tumbler is opened, is a good idea. Unfortunately, the execution is poor as the catch is flimsy.
The lids have no handle – protruding, recessed, or otherwise – they just have sprockets. As a consequence, it is very difficult to unscrew them.
The prongs and spikes inside the tumbler to break up large pieces is very good design.
Draper’s machining and finishing are unsatisfactory.
All caveats done, if you persevere and exert yourself with the tumbling (provided you get your carbon:nitrogen balance right) this unit is tops at making a fine compost, and it does so in four to six weeks.
Assembly is not difficult at all, just somewhat time-consuming. Putting the thing together is made worse because the instructions mislead and lull you into believing that assembly is quick and easy – not!
It has dimensions of 77 x 75 x 75 centimetres and a capacity of 180 litres.
All said, it sells at a fair price.
- Thanks to the design, this rig is excellent at making a fine compost.
- Prongs and spikes in the interior really help in breaking up large pieces.
- All in all, in view of its functionality and capacity, the price is very fair.
- The more materials are put inside the tumbler, the more difficult it becomes to tumble it, so that when it is three-quarters full tumbling it is a real struggle.
- The tumbler is set too close to the ground due to the short and weak struts.
- The lids are difficult to screw and very difficult to unscrew.
Built like a tank and even more difficult to assemble, Joraform’s ‘Norse Thunder’ is very expensive but it frightens all its contents and turns them into fine compost.
Joraform’s product is a single insulated tumbler with dual chambers. The interior foam insulation helps the composter to attain high temperatures, including over 65° centigrade. It is made of galvanised steel.
Two chambers give you the flexibility of preparing one batch while ‘cooking’ another.
Assembling this thing is one long, hard slog best done with a friend. The foam insulation that is so useful during composting makes for padding and resistance between parts during assembly.
As a result of poor machining and indifferent packaging of parts and screws, putting it together can be even more aggravating than it already is. Stay away from it if this kind of manual labour is not your thing.
If you go for it, be aware that the instructions are no help; you’ll have to watch a video.
This is a solid, heavy-duty rig that withstands all attacks not only by rats and mice but also by bigger beasties. The latches are very effective at keeping the hatches shut.
The design makes it very easy to turn. Because of its design and construction, Sweden’s most-popular bin tumbler is excellent at making a fine compost from any and all kinds of material.
Because it stands high and the rig is designed well, it is very easy directly to empty the compost into a small wheeled bin or small wheelbarrow.
It leaks and drips ‘compost tea.’
Joraform’s ‘Norse Thunder’ tank-job of a tumbler can rust here or there but it is remarkably robust and durable.
It has a capacity of 125 litres and dimensions of 121.9 x 81.3 x 20.3 centimetres. It weighs a heavy 28.1 kilogrammes.
An extremely expensive composter on a pounds-per-litre computation but bearing in mind its materials, durability, and import status, one may term it just ‘costly.’
- It is excellent at making fine compost and is sporting about accepting any and all materials.
- The galvanized metal and internal insulation raise the composting material’s temperature to levels higher than other tumblers as well as making the rig impervious to vermin.
- Has sturdiness and durability in spades.
- Assembling it can be anything from a nuisance of a chore to a pull-your-hair-out Sisyphean experience.
- Poor machining, indifferent packaging, and hopeless instructions.
- Very expensive, and on a pound-per-litre basis it is far more expensive than even Envirocycle’s garden sculpture.
How To Use A Compost Tumbler
Though you can certainly compost using either method in a bin as well as in a tumbler, composting in a bin, especially one that can open from the bottom, lends itself to the As-You-Go style of composting whereas making compost in a tumbler is more suitable for the Batch method.
As suggested by the name, in the Batch method a single batch of to-be-composted materials is deposited into the tumbler or bin. Even though one and the same Batch method may be used to make compost in a bin and in a tumbler, the two styles require different Carbon:Nitrogen ratios or, colloquially but inaccurately, ‘brown-green’ mixes.
However, in addition to the obvious, you need all the following ‘ingredients’ for your ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ to turn into rich, black compost: starter soil, water, aeration, tumbling, bacteria, and summery weather.
As a general rule, the optimal Carbon:Nitrogen ratio for a tumbler is 30:1. Be aware that ‘browns’ contain widely varying high ratios of Carbon to Nitrogen. For example, while dry leaves are 60:1 C:N, sawdust is 325:1 C:N. In contrast, ‘greens’ (garden trimmings, vegetable refuse, food remnants) have a narrow C:N ratio between 15:1 and 25:1. In view of the widely varying C:N ratio of ‘browns’ it is difficult to nail that 30:1 C:N ratio. Fortunately, that is only an optimal ratio so as to ‘cook’ compost as quickly as possible. If you’re off at about 20:1 or 35:1, you’ll still end up with compost.
That aside, thinking in terms of ‘browns’ and ‘greens,’ simply collect a good, varied jumble of ‘browns’ and then make a 1:1 mix of ‘browns’ and ‘greens.’ This trick will put you right around that optimal 30:1 C:N ratio.
First, add a generous quantity of starter soil in the tumbler so as to get those helpful bacteria and microbes ‘in the mix.’ This starter soil could be fresh organic compost or plain garden soil.
Next, deposit your ‘Batch’ into the tumbler – everything from wood chips and shredded newsprint to yesterday’s broccoli that your 12-year-old adamantly refused to eat. Close the lid. The tumbler can be up to two-thirds full but certainly no more than three-fourths full.
If the tumbler’s air vents are adjustable, adjust them so that they are open enough for air exchange but not for vermin to enter the tumbler. If not, then ensure that they are impenetrable by vermin and also flies by sticking wire netting over the vents.
Give the whole thing a few good tumbles. Then tumble it some more. Tumbling in the bin with the air vents open aerates the compost, somewhat similar to using a compost aerator tool in a static bin.
Do so again the next day.
Return to your tumbler after three days and check the compost for dampness. If the compost is dry and not distinctly damp to the touch, add water sufficient to make the given quantity of compost damp after it is tumbled. In either case, tumble it several times.
Do so again after three more days.
Next, return to it after a week. Open the lid and make sure that the centre of the compost pile is warm and ‘cooking.’ If you are not squeamish, lean over and thrust your hand into the centre of the compost otherwise use a thermometer. The temperature should be between 35° and 55° centigrade. Tumble the compost several times.
Do so again after a week.
Repeat on a weekly basis and in two or three weeks you ought to have usable compost.
How Long Does It Take To Make Compost In A Tumbler?
It depends on various factors including, but not limited to, the type of tumbler bin, the size of the tumbler bin, the amount of composting material, how often you tumble it, the green-brown mix, how moist you keep it, the degree of aeration, and more!
That said, it typically takes six to seven weeks but if you and your bin tumbler do everything right, it can take as little as three weeks.
Can You Put Weeds In Your Tumbler?
The short answer is you can, if you want to take special time and trouble to do so, but you really shouldn’t. The reason is that most weeds find nutrition-rich composting environment hospitable and take root in nascent compost. Another reason is that weeds gone to seed would result in your compost having weed seeds. Then, when you lay or spread such compost, you would be sowing weeds!
You can put weeds in your composting tumbler if you turn it frequently, use batch composting until everything is decomposed, and ensure that your compost stays at a temperature of at least 65° centigrade at its centre. Otherwise pre-bake the weeds by putting them on tin foil or inside a black plastic bag and setting them in the open for several days in hot, sunny weather. Do not use pernicious weeds (e.g. crabgrass, oxalis, Bermuda grass, Bishop’s weed) at all.