Sunday, January 3, 2010

Compost Tumbler

Last summer Peggy asked me to build a compost tumbler.  She had done extensive Internet research and found several nice pictures of compost tumblers that involved big drums and such.  But nothing to speak of that used easy-to-find and inexpensive materials.

I made a tumbler out of material that we had around the house, an old trash can, wood screws, nails, 2X4s and a chunk of 1" PVC pipe.


I first made a drawing of the tumbler, then I cut the wood to size and screwed it all together.  This link "Compost Tumbler drawing" will take you to Google Docs where I stored the drawing.  I added details to the drawing to make it easier to follow.  Just keep in mind that there is nothing sacred to the dimensions.  I made them for my trash can.  I used the same dimensions to make Kerry a compost tumbler.  I bought a trash can at the hardware store for hers, it was about $16.  It was a little shorter, so I just drilled the axle holes a little lower in the can.

I like to use sheet rock-style screws instead of nails.  I found that sometimes, especially in 3/4"-thick wood, it helps to drill a pilot hole to keep the wood from splitting.  If you like nails, then use nails.  It takes four 2 X 4 studs for the wood.  If you have 2 X 4 scraps around the house, just buy three.

Here are more pictures:

I drilled a hole in the PVC and put a cotter pin through it to keep the axle in place.  For Kerry's I drove a screw through it.




For my tumbler I soaked the grommets in hot wax so they would not decompose with the compost.  For Kerry's I used cedar.  I'm not even sure the grommets are needed, but I figured that they couldn't hurt.

This is the type of latch I used for Kerry's tumbler.  It was difficult to get the two latches exactly 180 degrees from each other.  So she has to be careful about which way the lid goes on.


One of these days we would like to put a tray under the tumbler to catch the small bits that fall out to turn into compost tea.  But it's actually surprizing how little falls out.

We made a starter compost to get us going. We mixed (by volume, not weight) a bag of peat moss, coarse grade vermiculite and blended compost (Shout out to "Mel Bartholomew and Square Foot Gardening"). We dumped in about a five-gallon bucket of this mix to get it started. The rest of the mix we put into our garden.

Compost needs carbon, nitrogen and oxygen (about a third each, total):
  1.  Carbon things: dry things like leaves (dry and mowed over several times to chop it up), sawdust; straw (like cornstalks).
  2. Nitrogen things: Horse, cow, pig, chicken manure; kitchen vegetable waste, dried grass clippings (no more than a third); Juicing pulp residue; egg shells (crushed well).
  3. Aeration: (oxygen).

 Check the moisture level, there should be a small amount of moisture to the touch, but not dripping.

Someday we'll add a tutorial. Unless someone around here has major surgery again. :o

We'll be adding to this as we think about it through the week. Right now it's bedtime. Happy composting!

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