For many gardeners, having only a small garden, or even just a balcony, can be frustrating. You may find yourself looking at plants, schemes, and ideas, wishing that you had the space to accommodate them. One of the most useful things to any gardener is a healthy compost heap. It’s also one of the most difficult things to achieve with a limited amount of space. If this is the case, then a compost tumbler is the solution you’ve been waiting for.
By following the steps laid out in this guide, you’ll transform a plastic trash can into your own compact, discreet, compost heap. These easy-to-use compost tumblers help to reduce your waste, and are ideal for almost every space. Whether your tumbler is discreetly tucked away on a small balcony garden, or one of a few handily spaced throughout a larger yard, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
The Benefits of Composting
Not only is composting really easy, but there are also a number of benefits. These include:
- Improving the condition of your soil by adding nutrients. This means that your growing season will be far more successful.
- With nutrient-rich soil, there’s little need to buy chemical fertilizers to feed your plants. Not only will this save you money, it’s also better for the environment.
- Speaking of saving money, making your own compost is cheaper than buying it.
- Composting also reduces waste, and both food and yard waste are compostable. Regularly composting waste means that you send less to landfill each year, which is great for the environment.
What you Need
Now that you know how beneficial composting, you can start your own compost pile. A compost tumbler is a great place to start because it’s easy to both set up and maintain. To make your own, you’ll just need a few, easy-to-acquire items.
The most important thing that you need is a plastic trash can or container. Ideally one with a lockable lid. If your chosen container doesn’t have a lockable lid, use a bungee cord to secure it in place. I suggest using a metal garbage if rats are a problem in your area.
The size of can is entirely up to you. A larger one will provide you with more compost, but will take up more room and can be difficult to manage.
You’ll also need a platform to raise the tumbler off the ground. A couple of bricks is easy to arrange and makes functional stand. Alternatively, a plant stand on wheels allows you to move your compost tumbler around with ease.
Finally, you’ll need a drill with a drill bit to make holes no more than 3 inches wide. If you don’t have a drill you can use a sharp knife to punch the holes.
How to Make a Compost Tumbler
With either a drill or a sharp knife, make holes 2-3 inches wide, all around the container. This includes the bottom, and the lid as well as the sides. Don’t make the holes too big, as compost will ooze out of larger holes.
How many holes your compost tumbler needs will depend on the size of the container you are using. The spacing of the holes is also dictated in part by the size of the tumbler. Use your own judgement when it comes to spacing, but the holes can be anything from 1 and a half inches to 6 inches apart.
Try to make as many holes as possible without damaging the solidity and structure of the container. Remember: the more holes the compost tumbler, has the better air will circulate through the container.
While compost and liquid oozing out of the holes shouldn’t be an issue, if you are concerned cover the holes, on the inside of the compost tumbler, with a patch of window screening. Wire mesh or hardware cloth can also make effective ooze guards. Secure the screening inplace with silicone caulk or epoxy.
A compost tumbler takes up very little room, meaning that you can place them pretty much anywhere. However, for the sake of convenience, try placing yours near the kitchen door. This makes it easy to dispose of food scraps. Alternatively, placing your compost tumbler in or near your garden makes it easy to toss any garden waste inside.
Wherever you choose to place your compost tumbler, you’ll need to raise it off the ground. The easiest way to do this is to place it on some bricks. Raising the tumbler allows for drainage from the compost. It also helps air to circulate, and prevents the compost from becoming stagnant.
Filling Your Compost Tumbler
Place an even mix of brown (carbon-rich) and green (nitrogen-rich) materials into your compost tumbler.
Brown materials are things like leaves, wood chippings, and twigs, as well as newspaper and cardboard.
Green materials include grass clippings, coffee grounds, egg shells, and fruit and vegetable scraps.
Then, add a small amount of water to the tumbler. You are aiming to just moisten the materials, not drown them.
Secure the lid, using a bungee cord if necessary. Roll the tumbler around, mixing the contents. If the tumbler is difficult to move use a trowel or spade to mix the materials and the water.
Once the materials have been mixed place the tumbler on the bricks. Congratulations, it’s now ready to use.
What can I put in my Compost Tumbler?
Generally speaking, you can add the same things to a compost tumbler that you would add to a normal compost pile. Most types of biodegradable material can also be added.
What can I Compost?
As long as they don’t have salt or butter on them, all fruit and vegetable scraps and peelings can be composted. Chopping the scraps into smaller pieces will encourage them to break down more quickly.
You can also compost:
- Nut shells
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea leaves and bags
- Crushed egg shells
- Grass clippings
- Leaves, weeds, and flowers
- Ripped up newspaper and cardboard
- Cold ashes from the fireplace
What Can’t I Compost?
The Environmental Protection Agency provides a complete list of items that can, and can’t, be composted. However the most common items you can’t place inside a compost tumbler include:
- Meat or fish bones
- Dairy products (These will spoil and smell, attracting pests. They can also introduce harmful bacteria potentially making you ill.)
- Pet waste
- Diseased plants (This can cause disease to spread throughout your garden.)
- Large sticks and twigs (These will be slow to break down.)
- Clippings and cuttings that have been treated with chemicals.
Maintaining your Compost Tumbler
Now that your compost tumbler is set up all you need to do is keep adding your waste to it.
Some people like to occasionally add a shovelful of garden soil to their compost tumbler. Soil contains all kinds of microorganisms that can help to break the waste down. While this will speed up the process, it’s not necessary.
Roll your compost tumbler every couple of days. This encourages air circulation and helps the composting process. If the tumbler is too heavy to move, use a shovel, fork or trowel to mix the compost by hand.
How to Maintain the Correct Ratio
You may read that you need to use a specific ratio of green to brown material to create the perfect compost. Generally, if you have a large compost heap you can usually get away with ignoring these ratios. However, in a smaller compost tumbler you’ll need to pay careful attention to what materials you’re adding.
The ideal ratio is for a tumbler is 4:1 of browns to greens. If your mixture is too far off this ratio it may become overly wet or too dry.
Adding too many green materials, things like peelings, weeds, and grass clippings, will make the pile overly wet. It can also make the pile smell. If your compost does become too wet add brown materials to the mix. This will help to dry out the mixture.
Adding too many brown materials, things like leaves, and coffee grounds, will dry out the mixture. A dry mixture will be slow to compost, or may not even compost at all. If you fear that your mixture is too dry, add some water to the mix.
When is my Compost Ready to use?
Ready-to-use compost will look and smell like soil and will be dark in color. Depending on the size of your pile and the materials you use, this process can take anything from a couple of months to a year.
If you’re unsure whether your compost is ready to use, place it in a small plastic bag and smell it before sealing the bag. Place the bag in a dark place, like a drawer, for a couple of days. When you reopen the bag it should smell exactly as it did when you placed it in there. If the compost smells gross, it needs more time to mature,
When it’s ready to use, simply add it to your garden.
Note that it just gardeners with limited space who will benefit from a compost tumbler. Gardeners with a larger plot to manage may find that having a few placed around their garden makes disposing of garden and food waste a far simpler task.
Whatever your situation, even the smallest tumbler will allow your garden to enjoy the benefits of fresh compost while significantly reducing waste.