Buying a Compost Tumbler
The Board of Supervisors for Santa Cruz County, CA, where I live, recently began requiring residents to separate food scraps from trash to control odors and reduce the plethora of seagulls who congregate in the county’s dump sites.
The new rules sparked a renewed local interest in compost tumblers, which offer the easiest, most efficient way to dispose of food waste.
Compost needs a good balance of nitrogen and carbon to decompose. But it also needs oxygen, and the best way to aerate a compost pile is to turn it regularly.
Gardeners who maintain large piles do this with a pitchfork, but homeowners who generate less waste are better off with a compost tumbler (AKA a batch composter). It can be as simple as rolling a drum on the ground, but most homeowners are better off purchasing an actual compost tumbler.
When shopping for the best compost tumbler, consider the following:
- Size: Volumes range from 15 gallons (two cubic feet) to 80 gallons (10.7 cubic feet). There must be air space around the organic material for it to properly decompose, so make sure your tumbler is big enough. However, if you’ve got a tiny yard and must do your composting on a porch or patio, a smaller one will have to do.
- Pests: If you keep your tumbler outside, you’re guaranteed regular visits from raccoons, rodents and insects. The tumbler needs a secure seal to keep them out. A swinging door that locks, a panel that slides on a track or a cover that screws on all work. Make sure the door is sturdy, easy to operate and seals completely.
- Ease of rotation: As the tumbler fills with organic material, it becomes heavier and more difficult to turn. Most tumblers have handles or handholds to make this easier. Ease of rotation is important, because if you don’t turn the tumbler enough, the compost starts to smell.
- Compartments: A basic tumbler features a single compartment, but better ones have two, allowing one batch to fully compost while you add material to the other one. Some models have a single bin internally separated by a barrier, while others consist of two bins rotating on a common axis.
- Base: Some tumblers have a hollow base that collects the liquids leaching from the mixture. You can turn this into compost tea, a nutrient-rich brew for watering your garden.
Best Utility Compost Tumbler
With its two internal compartments and 37-gallon capacity, the axel-mounted FCMP Tumbling Composter is the no-nonsense favorite of online reviewers. Constructed of black, UV-resistant, rodent-proof plastic, it features a sturdy panel that slides off the drum to provide access to both compartments at once.
This compost tumbler has a strong steel frame, molded hand grips for spinning and aeration vents. It requires assembly, but it comes with easy-to-follow instructions.
Best Garden Compost Tumbler
The Miracle-Gro Dual-Chamber Compost Tumbler features two 18.5-gallon bins on a sturdy steel frame. Because the bins rotate independently, each one is lighter and easier to turn than it would be if they were connected.
The bins sit low to the ground, making it easy to load and unload them with a shovel. Each bin is made of durable black, rodent-proof plastic and has a sliding panel door. And this tumbler even comes with a pair of gardening gloves.
Best Compact Compost Tumbler
If you lack space in your yard for a full-size compost tumbler, you can probably fit the Miracle-Gro Small Tumbler.
Similar to Miracle-Gro’s garden tumbler, this one features a single 18.5-gallon bin with a sliding panel. Made from durable, rodent-proof BPA-free black plastic, it’s perfect for handling food waste and plant matter from a small yard.
Best Metal Compost Tumbler
If you prefer the dependability of metal, the Mantis Compact Composter is for you. It weighs 570 pounds when empty, so once placed in your yard it isn’t going anywhere. And despite its name, the bin holds 88 gallons of material.
Turning a heavy bin like this one can be difficult by hand, so the unit features a geared handle to make it easier. The lid swings open and detaches, making adding and removing material easier.
Best Aerating Compost Tumbler
The Spin Bin Outdoor Compost Tumbler features a single compartment with a 60-gallon capacity. The unit spins vertically on its axis rather than horizontally, allowing the compost to fall farther and mix more thoroughly.
The bin, with a twist-lock lid, is made from 100 percent recycled plastic. A central mixing bar inside the bin separates the compost as you spin. Vents on the lid and all sides offer complete aeration.
Best Ergonomic Compost Tumbler
The RSI-Maze Two-Stage Compost Tumbler comes with a single 65-gallon drum separated into two equal-size compartments. It sits high enough on a rugged zinc-coated metal frame to let you empty it into the cart supplied with tumbler.
The best feature is its ratcheting handle that makes turning much easier than other models. Each compartment has its own door that opens vertically into the drum, and the unit features venting holes for aeration.
Best Odorless Compost Tumbler
The Lifetime Dual Compost Tumbler features two independently turning spherical bins on a single axis. Each bin holds 50 gallons, and the double-wall, black plastic panels retain heat and odors.
An internal aeration bar separates the compost when you turn the tumblers. After every complete rotation the bins lock back in place with the sturdy swinging doors at the top, where they should be. The large doors easily accommodate a shovel.
Best Tumbler for Compost Tea
The Good Ideas Compost Wizard sits on a base rather than hanging from an axel, and bearings in the base allow for easy rotation.
Each of the bin’s two compartments feature an eight-inch screw-on lid, which is more secure than a sliding panel. The hollow base collects up to five gallons of liquid that can be turned into compost tea, and the wheeled base permits easy transport to wherever you need it to go.
Like the Compost Wizard, the Envirocycle Composter sits on a base that collects liquids for compost tea. But the design is more compact (only 28 inches high) and more appealing overall. You can even get it in hot pink! Of course, the extra style it adds to your garden or patio comes with a higher price.
This composter ships with a 35-gallon or 17-gallon drum. The door swings back to uncover a shovel-size opening, permitting easy addition and removal of material.
Best DIY Compost Tumbler
If you’d rather save some money, this is our favorite DIY compost tumbler. You can usually find free 55-gallon polyethylene drums at food processing facilities, making this tumbler more affordable.
Cut an opening in a plastic barrel and mount the barrel on a wooden stand with casters for support and easy turning. Install stirring paddles made from PVC pipe and drill holes in the sides of the drum to aerate the mixture as you turn.
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