This is a question that’s going to come up for anyone thinking of starting to make compost. Here, we will look at some of the pros and cons of a tumbler composter versus a static bin. We will also consider the advantages of having both and working them together.
So, let’s look at tumbler composters vs bins. Either system can work well for you. Either will convert waste into a very useful gardening material. You have to decide on a system that you feel comfortable with and fits in with your daily routine.
Time is always pressing and you don’t want to commit to something that may not be sustainable to you. Having a waste management system does require regular attention and it depends entirely on how much you want out of it. The alternative is to put your kitchen waste out with the rest of the garbage and allow it to become someone else’s problem.
Making compost in a bin
This is the simplest system of all. A bin composter with a lid. Making compost in a bin involves no more than throwing the waste in at the top, putting the lid on and walking away. To remove the formed compost, there’s a sliding door which you pull up to reveal the compost which you will have to dig out of the composter with a spade.
It will probably be several months before you will be able to do this. You have to be patient. Static bin composters are open at the base. This means that the waste is in contact with the ground. The ideal situation is to place the bin on bare earth. This will encourage microbial and fungal life that lives in soil to migrate into the waste. This will help enormously with the rotting process as the microbes and fungi will start the decomposition process. It’s all completely naturally occurring.
Another major advantage of the waste being in direct contact with soil at ground level is that worms have access to the waste. They will only be interested in the waste after it’s started to decompose. Worms can’t digest fresh waste straight from the kitchen. They will, however, graze on the fungi that grow on the waste in the early stages of decomposition. As the fungi and microbial life-forms break the waste down, the worms can start to digest the main waste material.
There will come a time when the bin will be completely full and that moment will depend on how much, and how often, waste is loaded in. This is when you will do one of three things. If the compost at the base of the bin has formed well enough, then you can start digging this out. Don’t try to empty the composter. Just take out material that looks like well rotted compost and leave the rest.
Doing this will create a void at the base. Over the next few days the material above will collapse down to fill the void. This movement is very useful because as it drops, bit by bit, it will mix with air. This will assist the decomposition of the organic waste.
Everything above this void from bottom to top will move downwards, breaking apart and allowing in air as it moves. You will then have more capacity at the topof the composter for more fresh kitchen waste. This cascading process may be enough to cope with the regular volumes of kitchen waste that are delivered to the bin.
Managing a bin composter this way is the best you can do to get the most from it but it does require the regular discipline of removing compost from the outlet port. The only issue with this is that what you take out may not be fully composted. If you fill your compost bin faster than the waste can adequately rot then it’s probably better to leave it where it is.
Multiple compost bins
This brings us to the second option when making compost in a static composter. Use multiple compost bins. This involves having a second composter bin which you start to fill when the first composter is full. This way the first composter, when full, can be left with no more waste being added. It will, effectively, be closed off and the contents will be allowed to rot down to a full conclusion, producing a fully finished compost.
Be prepared for this to take some time although there is an intervention that will make a big difference. This involves using a hand operated aerator designed to agitate the waste and draw air into it which will accelerate decomposition.
The aerator consists of a long probing device which you push down from the top into the waste in the composter. You then twist it as you pull it up. Then push it down again from a different position. Doing this every couple of weeks will open up the the contents of the composter bin and allow air to get into it.
Three bin compost system
The third option involves more work but you may find it to be worthwhile. Try the three composter bin system. Start with three composter bins and fill one of them. When full, open the base hatch door and dig out everything and load the whole amount into one of the other composter bins. This will fully agitate and aerate the contents of the first composter bin as you move it across to the second composter bin.
With the first composter bin empty you can now start filling it again. When it’s full, open the hatch door on the second composter bin and move the contents to the third bin. This will further agitate and aerate the contents as you move it. With the second composter bin empty you can now dig out everything in the first composter bin and move it into the second composter bin.
The first composter bin is now empty for you to start filling again. At this point you will have compost forming at different stages in bins two and three. By the time you fill the first bin the third bin contents should have compost that’s ready to use having been turned over twice. This whole procedure will undoubtedly be accelerated if you occasionally use a probing aerator at all stages.
Some may be constricted by space. A single composter bin or collection of composter bins does take up some room and it will take up a semi-permanent position. You also need maneuvering space to be able to work around it, mainly for removing compost when the time comes. If you go for the three composter bin option then you will need to think carefully about locating a convenient site.
If you really are pushed for space then consider composting with worms. There are some compact but effective wormeries out there. These will convert any green waste from the kitchen into worm compost. Find out more at: ‘Worm composting’.
Position your compost bin in a shaded area. Some will tell you that a compost bin placed in direct sunlight will perform more efficiently than in the shade. This is not so. There may be a very small benefit from the sun’s heat warming the contents and accelerating decomposition but it will only affect a thin layer of waste that’s touching the inside of the container.
The main reason for parking the compost bin in the shade is that the ultraviolet light from the sun may deteriorate the plastic bin. You can’t be sure that the bin is made from plastic that has been UV stabilised. Any construction made from plastic will have a longer working life if you keep it away from sunlight.
If you can’t use an area where there is plenty of shade and your bin has to be more out in the open, then try to source a bin that is made from UV stabilised plastic. This type of plastic will survive and will most likely do so for as long as you want it.
Having a bin out in constant strong sunlight won’t normally affect the material inside. Only the material pressed against the inside of the bin on the sunny side will be stressed but this will be minimal. Any high temperatures generated by the sun will not easily conduct through the rotting waste. The heat won’t reach the most inner part of the compost.
Do I need to add water to my composter bin?
You may need to add water in prolonged periods of very hot and sunny weather, there is a risk that the waste material may become dry. If the rotting material becomes too dry, it won’t rot. It will just stay preserved through dehydration. This is when you do need to add water to your composter bin. The amount of water that you add will depend on the general moisture content of the waste in the bin. You may find it necessary to add water from a bucket or watering can to ensure adequate moisture.
Any excess water will drain out at the open bottom of the bin into the ground. This will ensure that the area under the compost bin remains damp. Soil that dries out won’t have a vibrant population of microbial life, ready and waiting to work on the organic waste in the bin. |
Making compost using a tumbler
If you have a static compost bin, most of the time you just lift the lid and throw in some kitchen waste, put the lid on again and leave it. It’s only when the bin is full that you have to intervene and see about removing compost from the port at the bin’s base to make room at the top. Making compost using a tumbler requires regular attention to keep it moving.
Feeding kitchen waste into a compost tumbler is just as easy as throwing it into a compost bin but there are some advantages of a tumbler over a static bin. A compost tumbler managed properly will make compost much faster than a static bin, especially if you compare a tumbler with a bin that just fills up without any agitation intervention.
But don’t expect miracles. Some will tell you that black, crumbly fully formed compost can be made in the space of three weeks in a compost tumbler. This is complete nonsense. You can take out what’s there after three weeks but it won’t be as described.
Whatever system you choose for turning organic kitchen waste into compost, it will take time. All that can be said about compost tumblers is that the process will be accelerated because tumblers, by their nature, introduce air into the rotting waste by regular rolling.
You will hear some say that a compost tumbler needs extra ventilation holes drilled for air to get into the vessel. This shouldn’t be necessary. Out of all the compost tumblers that I’ve seen I haven’t found one that can be described as ‘air tight’. The lids on compost tumblers are generally loose enough to allow air to get in and this will be enough air for kitchen waste to turn into compost.
When feeding waste into a compost tumbler you will have the same issue as with a static bin in that, at some point, it will fill up completely. When this happens you have to make a decision. You could empty the tumbler completely and start again by adding fresh kitchen waste but the question is: what can you do with the contents? This will be a mixture of well made compost, depending on how long it’s been in there, and fresh kitchen waste that may have been loaded in yesterday. This won’t be the finished product.
One option here is to dig out the entire contents of the full compost tumbler, load it into a static bin and just leave it there. Maybe you could have a go at it occasionally with an aeration probe device to keep it opened up.
Because it’s been rolled over many times in a tumbler this material is off to a good start. It should complete the process in a static bin and uniformly rot down into a fully converted compost. There will probably be the natural addition of worms which will come up from the ground through the open base of the compost bin.
Another option is to have a second compost tumbler or use a compost tumbler that has two separate chambers. Load waste into one chamber, when it’s full you close it off and don’t put anything more in it. You then start loading waste into the other chamber and keep rolling the tumbler as often as is needed. The theory here is that by the time you’ve filled the second chamber the contents in the first chamber should be fully converted into compost.
This is the ideal approach to using any composting system but it will depend on the composting process happening fast enough to stay ahead of the volume of waste that’s constantly being added. Most compost tumblers are a batch process. When a single tumbler or a chamber of a twin-compost tumbler are full then this has to be left alone as one batch. No more fresh waste should be added because it will effectively contaminate the content that’s in an advanced state of becoming compost.
This means that, unless you off load it into a static bin, the tumbler chamber is tied up for a while so that the composting process can go to completion.
There is an alternative option
An ideal compost tumbler would be a system where the fresh kitchen waste is fed in at one end and emerges at the other end. This is what the Rolypig compost tumbler does. The Rolypig compost tumbler sits on the ground and you simply feed fresh waste in at the mouth. When you can’t get any more waste in you have to roll it over, maybe just a half turn, and this will move the waste away from the mouth end making room for more waste to be fed in.
The head swivels in relation to the body so you can pull it upright for feeding in more waste. This is an ongoing process. Every time the Rolypig is rolled, even if it’s just part of a full roll, the waste inside it will become stirred enough to encourage decomposition.
To get things off to a good start it’s recommended that you add a shovel of soil before feeding any waste for the first time. This will ensure that there are plenty of microbial life and fungal spores that will work on the fresh kitchen waste.
Because the Rolypig tumbler is sitting directly on the ground, there is plenty of opportunities for worms to find their way in. When they do they take up residence and multiply very quickly. The occasional rolling of the Rolypig tumbler to make room for fresh waste doesn’t appear to bother them.
To get the best performance from the Rolypig compost tumbler it’s advised that you allow the barrel to become as full as possible before removing any compost. This will give the waste plenty of time to fully convert to compost especially if there are worms involved. If no worms turn up from the ground then it’s advisable that you import some worms as they will make a big difference. You can buy composting worms which are also known as ‘Tiger worms’. These breed very quickly in the right conditions and there are no conditions any better than in a Rolypig compost tumbler.
Because the Rolypig compost tumbler is a genuine ‘in one end and out the other’ composting system, the fresh waste will always be at the mouth end and the oldest, and therefore mature, compost will be at the rear end. This is where there is a convenient port through which the compost is removed.
You simply pull out the scoop that doubles as a door. When you do this you will see some really high quality compost. You may also see a selection of worms in the compost that you remove. These will be a very small percentage of the entire population of worms so don’t worry about removing them with the compost from the tumbler.
Most of the time the Rolypig tumbler will stay in one place as you only need to roll it occasionally. You have to roll it in one direction, there are arrows at the head end to indicate this. When you need to, you can swivel it around to go back the way it came. This makes it usable in a small area.
What should I put in my compost tumbler?
You can put any organic waste in a compost tumbler. For best results you should chop or shred the waste before loading it in. Smaller particles will always rot faster than larger pieces. As with any compost system you will need to check that the material in the tumbler is moist enough. If it’s too dry then it will stay dormant and won’t rot.
The chances are that any organic waste that comes from the kitchen will be moist enough. If it looks very wet then add some shredded paper, news paper is ideal, as this will soak up and retain moisture which will be nutrient rich. This will be worth saving to add to the overall value of the compost.
The tumbling action of a compost tumbler will ensure that any dry matter that you add, will become fully mixed in.
If the contents look too dry then, as with a dry compost bin, just throw in a bucket of water. Compost tumblers are porous enough to allow any excess water to drain away.
Compost bin or tumbler, here’re some tips
You can make compost all year round. Which is highly convenient because we tend to generate kitchen waste throughout the year. There are times when the conversion rate from waste to finished compost will be at the highest level. This will be through the summer and into the autumn when the air temperature is usually higher compared to the winter months.
Whatever system you use, always remember that fresh kitchen waste tends to be acidic. If the acidity is too high then the waste won’t rot down very quickly, in some cases it will stay in a preserved state. This is when it is more likely to smell and attract flies.
The best way to avoid this is to add hydrated lime. You could also use ground limestone. Either of these will reduce and neutralise the acidity, almost eliminate the smell and very much reduce the fly numbers. The lime powder will not adversely affect the worms. They actually make use of small particles of lime when digesting waste.