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The Best Continuous Compost Tumblers for Easier Composting
With a video about Compost Tumblers for Beginners

A Woman Loading A Compost Tumbler.

Rotating compost bins (tumblers) are a way to make nutrient-rich compost with less work.  You can relax knowing you’ll never have to turn your compost pile with a pitchfork or shovel!  All you need to do is add kitchen waste and browns, close the door, and turn it 5 – 6 times every 3 – 4 days.  Using one of the best continuous composters can finish the job in as little as a few weeks.

Do you need to learn how to make compost?  See our article “How to Make High-Quality Compost at Home.” There you’ll find all the info you need for cold or hot composting. The info in that article also applies to making compost in a tumbler.

We also made it easy to mix the raw materials for compost. See our easy-to-use calculator for figuring out carbon nitrogen ratios for compost. That’s a handy tool for turning your garden waste, kitchen scraps, and other organics into top-quality compost.

Keep reading below to pick out your best continuous compost tumbler.  Your back will love you for it!  We don’t have these listed in any particular order since our favorite might not be your favorite!  Instead, we picked tumblers that many people rate highly.

Video – How to Compost with a Compost Tumbler (for Beginners)

What to do if liquid is leaking from your rotary compost bin

Sometimes, you might see a brownish or yellowish liquid leaking from a compost bin.  This is compost leachate, not compost tea.  It could be stinky or odorless, and there are three reasons why it happens:

  1. Rainwater leaks into the tumbler.  Keeping the covers closed should prevent this.
  2. Adding too much water to the compost.
  3. Too many wet vegetable scraps in the compost.

Compost should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge.  When squeezing it, tt shouldn’t be dripping wet.  If your tumbler leaks liquid, check for any of the above causes.  Drain off the excess liquid and add more browns to absorb the moisture.

Using leachate on plants can be risky, so the best option is not to use it at all.  Depending on the compost stage, leachate could contain toxins or harmful bacteria.  These could harm the plants or anyone who eats plants sprayed with leachate.

In its raw state, leachate needs diluting 10 – 20 times to get the right concentration to use on plants. All things considered, it isn’t worth the risk to use leachate. Let the compost finish aging.

You might find sources claiming that the leakage from compost piles or tumblers is compost tea, but this isn’t true.  Compost tea comes from finished compost so it’s safe to use. Raw compost still contains food waste and hosts different bacteria than finished compost.

To make compost tea, steep finished compost in clean, non-chlorinated water and then aerate it.  Compost tea has beneficial organisms that help plant growth.

Buyer’s Guide: What you need to know before buying continuous composters

Where will the tumbler go?

Keep the tumbler in the shade during hot, sunny days.  The hot sun could warp a thin plastic drum or kill the composting organisms. Without organisms, there isn’t any decomposition process.

What is the drum made of?

Plastic drums should contain plastic that’s BPA-free.  BPA can leech into the compost, and garden crops will absorb it.

Metal drums usually have some type of foam insulation.  The foam shouldn’t leech unsafe chemicals into the compost.  Also, UV-inhibited plastic drums have a longer life.

What kind of hardware should the tumbler have?

All metal parts should at least have galvanized steel to prevent rust.  Steel tumbler drums are often powder-coated, which provides excellent protection.

Some tumblers even have stainless steel supports.

How many drums should it have?

Dual-chambered drums allow starting two batches of compost at different times.  That’s what makes them continuous composters.

The second drum is still working once the first drum finishes a batch.  Empty the first drum and start filling it with fresh materials.

Will I have to move the tumbler?

Some gardeners have to move their tumblers for various reasons.  It isn’t easy to move a loaded tumbler unless it has wheels.  If it’s empty, the stands on most tumblers make it easy to slide along the ground.

What size continuous composter do I need?

Large tumblers are impractical for a small household.  Suburban homes can usually supply plenty of grass clippings or shredded leaves (the browns).

But you would need enough kitchen scraps or other organic material (the greens) to have a proper mix for composting.  Smaller tumblers work great in that case.

See our article “How to Make High-Quality Compost at Homefor more information about mixing compost.

Do I have to assemble the compost tumbler?

All compost bins need some assembling, except for simple roller bins.  User comments about assembling tumblers range from easy to difficult.

It all depends on having the proper tools (screwdriver, pliers, and wrench) and a basic level of mechanical ability.

Another helpful idea is reading the instructions.  I could write a book about all the people who get into a bind because they don’t read the instructions!

Handy Accessories to use with Continuous Compost Tumblers

Frequently Asked Questions About Compost Tumblers

  1. Can you put worms in a compost tumbler?

    Putting earthworms in a rotating compost bin isn’t a good idea.  Worms like stability, but a tumbling composter doesn’t have that.

    Look at it from the worm’s point of view.  You’re happily eating tunnels through some wonderful organic stuff.  Then, every few days, your world spins dizzily.  The next thing you know, your tunnels are destroyed, you’re trapped without air, and you have to eat your way out – if you survive.

    For a worm, that isn’t a healthy, fulfilling life.  Also, the heat from composting will kill the worms.

    Having worms in a tumbler is like using the wrong tool for the job.  Bacteria take care of all the composting; worms aren’t necessary.

    Composting with worms like red wigglers is vermicomposting.  It’s done with stationary compost bins or worm bins, not tumblers.

  2. How often do you turn the compost in a tumbler?

    Every 3 – 4 days, spin the tumbler 5 – 6 times. Turning it more often than every 3 – 4 days interferes with composting and takes longer to complete.

  3. What do you do about fruit flies or maggots in a compost tumbler?

    Insects of any type usually aren’t a problem in a tumbler as long as the doors stay closed.  Insect larvae can’t survive the heat in the tumbler.  To help kill the insects, put the tumbler in direct sunlight for an hour.  Please don’t keep the tumbler in direct sunlight because that will kill the bacteria.

    It’s a natural human response to want to kill maggots.  After all, who wants more pesky flies?  You could also look at this another way: the maggots help to break down the organic matter.

    If the compost is too wet, it could encourage insects.  In that case, add more brown material like chopped dried leaves or yard waste instead of kitchen scraps.  You can even shred unglazed paper and add it to the bin. See our article “How to Make High-Quality Compost at Home” for all the info you need.

  4. Can you use a compost tumbler in winter?

    If you have any finished compost in the tumbler, remove it and store it until spring.  Winter is when you can move the tumbler into the sun to keep it warm.

    It also helps to cover the tumbler with a tarp to protect it from the weather.  During frigid winters, the material can freeze and stop the composting process.

    Since composting speed depends on temperature, it can slow down or stop in the winter.  Check the temperature inside the pile with a compost thermometer.

    The pile makes its own heat, which will be 120o – 140o F during active composting.  If the temperature is 104o F or less, rotate the tumbler.

    If the pile freezes, wait until the tumbler warms up so composting can restart.

  5. Can I leave a compost tumbler in the sun?

    You can usually leave a tumbler in the sun during the winter.  That will help to keep it warm.  During the summer, excess sun exposure can warp the drum if it’s thin.  More importantly, the excess heat can kill the bacteria that composting requires.

    The best place for a tumbler during the summer is partial shade.

  6. What are the advantages of using a rotary composter?

    1. The compost is hidden in the drum and not exposed.
    2. The drum keeps the compost safe from rodents and other pests.
    3. Turning the drum is easy and quick vs. taking the time and energy to turn a pile.
    4. The compost finishes faster because the drum holds the heat from the compost.
    5. Insulated drums make it easier to continue composting in the winter.

Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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