Testing Compost Tumblers

MOTHER EARTH NEWS shares the results of testing compost tumblers on the market, including tumbler styles, feature pros and cons, operating factors and test results.

| April/May 2003

  • MOTHER EARTH NEWS spends some time testing compost tumblers comparing the end product to that of a compost bin or pile.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS spends some time testing compost tumblers comparing the end product to that of a compost bin or pile.
    PHOTO: BROOK ELLIOTT
  • Testing on a roll around sphere composter.
    Testing on a roll around sphere composter.
    BROOK ELLIOTT
  • Testing on a base rolling drum composter.
    Testing on a base rolling drum composter.
    BROOK ELLIOTT
  • Chart: Results of MOTHER's compost tumbler tests.
    Chart: Results of MOTHER's compost tumbler tests.
    BROOK ELLIOTT
  • The ComposTumbler shown in the photo has a
    The ComposTumbler shown in the photo has a "little brother" called the Back Porch. It holds 3 cubic feet, has rollers on the bottom of the frame and sells for $199.
    BROOK ELLIOTT
  • The Envirocycle base rolling drum composter is easy to use and offered at a mid-range price.
    The Envirocycle base rolling drum composter is easy to use and offered at a mid-range price.
    BROOK ELLIOTT
  • The Urban Compost Tumbler (top photo) and the Tumbleweed, both axle-drum composter, rated second overall in ease of use and price.
    The Urban Compost Tumbler (top photo) and the Tumbleweed, both axle-drum composter, rated second overall in ease of use and price.
    BROOK ELLIOTT

  • MOTHER EARTH NEWS spends some time testing compost tumblers comparing the end product to that of a compost bin or pile.
  • Testing on a roll around sphere composter.
  • Testing on a base rolling drum composter.
  • Chart: Results of MOTHER's compost tumbler tests.
  • The ComposTumbler shown in the photo has a
  • The Envirocycle base rolling drum composter is easy to use and offered at a mid-range price.
  • The Urban Compost Tumbler (top photo) and the Tumbleweed, both axle-drum composter, rated second overall in ease of use and price.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has results from testing compost tumblers on the market and comparing them to compost created in compost bins or piles.

Testing Compost Tumblers

You've seen the ads: "Now you can have dark, rich compost in just a few weeks!" What an appealing message. Whether you grow flowers, vegetables, herbs or houseplants, compost is "black gold" in the garden. We never have enough of it, and can't make it fast enough. Compost tumblers, the ads say, can give us a steady supply every couple of weeks. Designed so you can crank, turn or roll the container to turn and aerate the compost, tumblers come in several sizes.

Before you run out and buy one, however, be aware that those headlines are advertising hyperbole at best. In our tests, tumblers did not produce finished compost any faster than a well-managed compost bin or open pile.

To be sure, the ingredients appear to be composting faster because you are likely to turn the contents more often in a tumbler, thus introducing air — one of the four vital ingredients (the others being nitrogen, carbon and water) — that is necessary to turn vegetable matter into compost. But if you build an open pile the same size as a tumbler's capacity, use the same ingredients in both and turn the open pile whenever you rotate the tumbler, they will produce compost in the same general time frame. So, why should you buy a compost tumbler?



Last summer we conducted a field test of various compost tumblers versus open compost piles. Although most of us at MOTHER use cold composting methods (substituting time for the work of maintaining a hot pile), we ran a hot pile as a control.

Under our environmental conditions, both the open (hot) pile control and the tumblers yielded rich, finished compost in about 10 weeks — a far cry from the 14 days some of the manufacturers claim. The tumblers were certainly easier to use than turning an open pile with a pitchfork, but they did not appreciably increase the speed of production when compared to a properly managed open pile. Ease of turning is probably the main benefit tumblers offer, but as you will see below, some are easier to turn than others.

Direct
6/1/2016 1:40:45 AM

Great article.Thanks for sharing.


BobbiMathias
3/23/2014 9:13:03 AM

We have skunks getting into our compost bin, no matter what we do to fortify the yard, thinking the tumbler would be the way to go as they are attracted to the compost pile.


GAYLE AND PAUL NAIMAN
5/6/2012 3:56:48 PM

I just purchased a Lifetime 80 gallon compost tumbler #60058. Very unhappy with this purchase for the following reasons: Broken fastener packages within a cheap cardboard container, with many fasteners missing. Assembly instructions misleading and frankly inaccurate in their diagrams. All metal fasteners are just flash cadmium plated. My experience is that these will rust within a year of outdoor exposure. My analysis: This is a cheaply made Communist Chinese product pandering to people interested in backyard gardening. DO NOT BUY THIS PRODUCT.




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