How to Build a Giant Compost Tumbler
Composting is one of the best and most important processes that you can do on a farm. It is a natural process that nature goes through to replenish resources.
What is Composting
Composting is the process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants. Anything that grows decomposes eventually; composting simply speeds up the process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria, fungi, and other decomposing organisms to do their work.
Compost contains three primary nutrients needed by garden crops: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also includes traces of other essential elements like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Instead of relying on synthetic fertilizers that contain harmful chemicals, composting offers an organic alternative. Research has shown the capability of compost to increase soil’s water retention capacity, productivity, and resiliency.
Reasons you should be composting:
- Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
- Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
- Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
All composting requires three basic ingredients:
- Browns – This includes materials such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs.
- Greens – This includes materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds.
- Water – Having the right amount of water, greens, and browns is important for compost development. You want it to be dampened, not soaking in water.
Your compost pile should have an equal amount of browns to greens. You should also alternate layers of organic materials in different sizes.
The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, the green materials provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.
A few of the items that you can compost:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Crushed eggshells
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
- Nut shells
- Shredded newspaper
- Shredded cardboard
- Shredded paper
- Yard trimmings
- Grass clippings
- Hay and straw
- Wood chips
- Hair and fur
- Fireplace ashes
There are a variety of ways to compost. If you farm or garden, then you have seen or tried many of them, as have I. Hot compost, cold compost, bins, piles; there are so many options.
There are two main types of backyard composting: cold (also known as passive composting) and hot (also called active composting).
Cold composting breaks down organic matter slowly, but it also takes the least amount of effort and maintenance. Anything organic decomposes eventually. Cold composting is just letting Mother Nature do her job with minimal intervention on your part. You do not need to worry about the ratio of compost ingredients, aerate regularly, or monitor moisture levels.
Cold composting is the best process if you have little organic waste to compost and not much time to tend to the process, and if you are not in a hurry for finished compost. However, depending on what kind of cold method you use, it can take 1-2 years before you get usable compost. Also, the cold composting process will most likely not get hot enough during decomposition to kill off pathogens. Depending on what you’ve put in the pile, there may be some lingering harmful elements in your finished product.
Cold composting is primarily anaerobic, meaning that your discards are broken down by microorganisms that thrive in an oxygen-deprived environment. In addition to being slower to break down, cold piles may be smellier or wetter than hot piles.
Hot composting is a faster, but more managed, compost process. This method requires attention to keep carbon and nitrogen in the optimum ratio to decompose organic waste. It also requires the right balance of air and water to attract the organisms that thrive in an oxygen-rich environment. Under ideal conditions, you could have the final compost product in 4 weeks to 12 months. If managed correctly, the high temperature of the pile will destroy most weeds, plant diseases, pesticides, and herbicides, plus any bug larvae or eggs.
What is a Compost Tumbler
A compost tumbler is a sealed container that is mounted on an axle or base and can be rotated with a handle. By turning the container, you are aerating and mixing the waste inside, which will create aerobic conditions to break down the materials and speed up the composting process. A sealed drum tumbler retains moisture and heat (note that you may need to monitor moisture more carefully to ensure it doesn’t get too wet). An aerated tumbler with built-in air vents, on the other hand, speeds up the composting process. With ideal conditions, compost tumblers can convert waste to finished compost in as little as 3 weeks, though a month or two is more common.
Compost tumblers are a good option because turning your compost is essential to speeding up the process. Tumblers make the turning easier but they are typically on the small side, not creating much compost at a time.
So, if you lean toward the ‘go big or go home’ motto, then you can put the two together! That is what we have decided to do here on Two Oaks Farmstead.
How we Built our Compost Tumbler
Our neighbor had what I have been calling a giant barrel behind her house that she wasn’t using. We bought it from her and it has become part of our gardening plan. My husband had to do a little work to it to get the giant barrel ready to become a giant compost tumbler.
He welded a cover onto a large hole on the end and cut out and constructed a door, welding on the hinges. Inside the barrel, we needed something to grab the compost materials and help turn them over when we spin the compost tumbler.
We had a long piece of very large pvc drain pipe that he cut in half lengthwise and bolted to the inside of the barrel. With these parts and pieces in place, it is a compost tumbler. But it still needs to tumble.
Our next step is to build a frame for the tumbler to spin on wheels. Rolling it across the ground is not easy. It gets very heavy when it has composting material in it and the ground is never completely flat.
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