How to Actually Use and Maintain Your Compost Tumbler

How to Actually Use and Maintain Your Compost Tumbler

How to Actually Use and Maintain Your Compost Tumbler


Composting is an excellent way to reduce food waste while creating nutrient-rich soil amendments for your garden. Compost tumblers are a convenient option for composting in small spaces. With a little bit of effort, you can make the most of your compost tumbler. Here’s how to use and maintain a compost tumbler properly.

Selecting a Compost Tumbler

When shopping for a compost tumbler, consider the following factors:

  • Size – Match the capacity to the amount of waste you generate. For a small household, an 8-10 cubic foot tumbler is sufficient. Larger households may need a 20+ cubic foot tumbler.

  • Material – Opt for UV-stabilized plastic or powder-coated steel for durability. Avoid wood tumblers which can deteriorate over time.

  • Design – Look for a large opening to easily add waste. Dual compartments allow you to have freshly added waste in one side while finished compost cures in the other.

  • Ease of Use – Compost tumblers with a frame or stand are easier to turn than freestanding designs. Gear-driven tumbling mechanisms make rotation nearly effortless.

Filling Your Tumbler

  • Add compostable materials in layers, alternating green materials (food scraps, grass clippings) with brown materials (leaves, twigs, paper).

  • Use roughly equal parts green and brown materials to maintain proper carbon-nitrogen balance. Too many greens can cause odor while excess browns slow decomposition.

  • Chop or shred large pieces to speed up composting. Materials should be roughly tennis ball-sized or smaller.

  • Toss in a couple shovels of finished compost or healthy garden soil to introduce beneficial microorganisms.

  • Moisten materials as you add them. The contents should be damp but not saturated.

Maintaining Your Tumbler

  • Turn or tumble the bin at least once a week to aerate materials. This promotes faster decomposition.

  • Check moisture weekly. Compost should feel like a wrung-out sponge, moist but not dripping wet. Add water as needed.

  • Monitor temperature. Active compost will heat up to 130-150°F indicating robust microbial activity.

  • Adjust inputs if compost is too wet, dry, cold or odorous. Getting the right mix takes some trial and error.

Knowing When Compost is Finished

Finished compost will exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Earthy smell – No sour, ammonia or rotten odor

  • Dark brown color – No recognizable food scraps or yard waste

  • Crumbly texture – Easily breaks apart in your hand

  • Temperature – Same temperature as ambient air

  • No weed seeds – Weeds and seeds killed off during heating process

Using Your Compost

  • Cured compost from a tumbler is suitable for all garden and lawn applications.

  • Mix compost into garden beds and pots when planting. Compost improves soil structure and provides nutrients.

  • Topdress lawns with a thin layer of compost. It feeds the grass naturally.

  • Make compost tea by steeping compost in water. Use it to fertilize plants or boost the health of your soil.

  • Mulch gardens with coarse compost to suppress weeds and retain moisture.

With proper use and maintenance, a compost tumbler can produce nutritious compost for your garden in as little as 4-6 weeks. Follow these guidelines to keep your compost actively cooking and your tumbler churning out finished compost.