There are many options and considerations when it comes to compost tumblers and bins. They all work, so it comes down to budget and your personal preference. However, some composters do work better than others.
“Composting really is a gardener’s best kept ~dirty~ little secret.”
~Connie Oliveaux, gardener
Year Round Composting
Tending the compost in winter helps set the stage for success in spring through harvest. And well… it gives a gardener a change to connect with the soil and microbes… and to dream of the seeds to be sown and plants to be tended.
“The gardening season begins on January 1st and will end on December 31st”.NOTE: We do not know which Marie Huston originated this quote. If you know, please send us a note so we may give proper tribute.
~Marie Huston, gardener
Fact is we do miss our gardens during the off-season. It’s not just cabin fever-but “gotta get back in the garden-itis”. It’s a lot about being out in nature and connecting with the earth and soil… plants and growing things.
Winter composting is one way to fill the tedious time between the end and the beginning of our growing months. After all, compost is the black gold of the garden!
Nature is food for the soul and psyche.
Even when our gardens have gone into animated suspension for the winter, there’s still a lot we can do to get ready for the upcoming growing season. While the snows come and go along with the freeze and thaw cycles, one way to keep our garden momentum going is to continue making the compost that will kick start our veggies come planting and seeding time.
Wintertime Composting Tips
A member of the Planting for Retirement Facebook community recently asked for tips and shortcuts for managing the flow from kitchen scraps to the compost bin. The community had lots of great tips for Laura.
“I’m in Maine, during the winter months, what do you do with household compost stuff, when your compost bins are way down in the backyard and you don’t want to wade that far in the snow every day? I’m thinking of getting a trash can next year to keep near the house. Thoughts?“
~Laura Stubbs, gardener, soap & candle maker
Shortcuts for Processing Scraps to Compost in Winter
I use two big buckets with lids. I transfer my in-house container of compost to these buckets on the back deck. When they are full I make a trip out to the compost pile.
~Vivian J Gedeon
I used to do the 3 bucket method. 3 5/10 gallon buckets, one has sawdust or straw. Put in compostables, cover with sawdust until container full. Move that one to side, start on #2. When #2 full take #1 out back to the big compost pile and dump. Repeat. It works fine, but my big pile isn’t too far away, so I just keep a small container on the counter now and take it out back when it is full every few days.
See more tips from the community at the end of this article.
Compost is the black gold of the garden.
The Ideal Composting Method
In a previous article, we covered how to keep your composting microbes happy through the colder seasons. In another article, we looked at all types of compost bins from store-bought to DIY models, from kitchen counter compost containers to outdoor tumblers.
We built our own 3-bin system and were a little skeptical of the fancy rotating compost bins, but our readers who own them have commented how the ones they had worked great.
One of our reasons for skepticism is the issue of composting in a single container. When you dump in and mix fresh refuse in with the old so that there’s never a complete breakdown. With a multi-bin pile system, such as the 3 Bin Organic Composting Method, you can segregate the fresh, the mostly composted, and the totally composted material.
How to Make Compost Tumblers Work Well
However, we learned, this issue with the store-bought “machines”, can be solved in two ways.
For the single batch composter, just cease loading in fresh material for several weeks so as to allow it all to break down. Rotate the drum now and then and let nature do its thing.
The other approach is to procure a two-chambered compost maker that allows material to be filled in one chamber and then left to decompose while fresh material is loaded into the other chamber. The process then alternates back and forth.
The Pros and Cons of Compost Tumblers and Bins
We love our home-built three bin system, however, not everyone has the same needs and wherewithal to construct it, or to heap compost on the ground. Another drawback is that these open bins do sometimes attract wildlife.
Compost tumblers definitely solve the wildlife, space and simplicity issues. There’s often no one size fits all, to that’s why we’re all in favor of considering alternative systems. Here’s what we came up with in our survey of compost tumblers.
- Can be moved about-especially the ones on a wheeled frame
- Takes up less space
- Easy to load
- Easy to keep out pests
- Minimal odor when closed
- Some allow for liquid “tea” to drain out on demand
- easy to turn and aerate
- dark colored units can absorb solar heat (speeds the decomposition)
- moisture level can be controlled more easily
- generally does a faster job of composting (BUT not in 2 weeks time like some makers claim)
- Leaks at the seams
- Too small
- Hard to rotate when full
- Hard to assemble for some – bad instructions
- Difficult to empty
- Hard to move when full
- Unless insulated these stand=alone tumblers more suited to composting during warmer months
We perused our go-to resource (Amazon) and read up on every rotating, tumbling composter they had to offer. Our selection was based on a minimum number of 25 reviews, and a maximum 25 combined percent of 1 to 2 Star (bad) reviews. This is the way we buy for ourselves, but we strongly recommend you do your own research as a follow up to the recommendations cited below.
Dual Chamber Type
The BEST we could find in the dual chamber category- The JORA 70 GAL – was also one of the most expensive models. This higher stand saves a lot of backache by making it easily accessible for adding scraps and removing compost.
One of the more moderately priced (and better reviewed) was this Good Ideas Dual Tumbler – appears to be of good quality, American made, recycled materials.
Single Chamber Type
The Spin Bin tumbler pivots vertically. The design should allow for easier dumping of the contents.
The BEST we found in this category was the Mantis CT02001 (sounds like a hot rod) recommended by contributing writer, Kathie Chambers Underwood. In her article on fermentation, Kathie shares how they love their Mantis compost tumbler.
Our Choice of Best Compost Tumbler
If we had to choose just one of these models, we’d go with the Jora Model 70 – It’s insulated, double chambered, fairly large, sturdy, and looks like you could get a wheelbarrow partially underneath for loading in compost to spread.
The next best, is the single chambered Mantis CT02001 mentioned above.
Bins we would not choose:
There is one type of prefab bins we would NOT recommend – based on a used one we received as a hand-me-down. It’s a plastic single-bin slatted container with no bottom and a solid top that securely fastens. Many of these types are similar.
There’s very little to recommend them due to their limited size, limited output of compost, and being generally impossible to turn. The raw material just sits on top collecting bugs, smelling bad, and taking forever to “melt down” even when covered with dirt.
In our experience, you’ll do better with a tomato cage lined with chicken wire. But… if you have one and love it, please let us know and we’ll add that to this article.
Composting Year Round
No matter what time of year you’re reading this, it’s always a good time to make compost. You’ll be so pleased to have a ready supply of rich soil matter when planting time rolls around.
You know we love to hear from you and your take on this topic is no exception. Have you had any experience with compost makers? Any recommendations to add to our list?
Shortly after we shared this on our Facebook page, one community member—Connie Oliveaux—had this to say:
“We’ve spent the past 2 days turning the bins, and have so much black rich smelling dirt that we’ll be good to go for adding compost soil to the garden and all of the raised beds we have. Composting really is a Gardeners best kept, dirty little secret.“
More Composting Tips from the Community
5 gallon pail with newspapers in my house with 2 dozen worms and lots of coffee grounds and it composts itself for me (though I put all in the blender to chop up first then dump in with worms and add a newspaper on top…gets me through the 4 worst months here and then just dump in gardens come spring.
Oh, and any bait shop for the couple dozen worms.
Too close to the house draws pest animals to the house. Snow blow a path to the compost barrel.
Laura LaChance Stubbs replied to Lizabeth: I can put a trash can by the house, we never get unwanted pests. Snow blowing to compost bin is not an option. I’ve decided I can start this year, I’ll just use straw and newspaper, next year I’ll think ahead and start it with leaves and grass.
Lizabeth Osterholt replied: OK. I wish you the best. I had to get the raccoon family evicted. It was expensive to repair their damage. I hope you have a better experience than I did.
5 gallon buckets with screw on lids outside the kitchen door. Dump in compost as able.
Editors Note: This is what we do, but then we don’t get tons of snow here in NC, zone 7b.
We live near Ottawa, not far [from you].
We have a few big blue Rubbermaid totes. Maybe 20 gallons or so. On our back porch… we just keep tossing it in there. It freezes solid so no smell.
We don’t have animal issues, maybe most people would? You could make a little locked up area and have a tote in a more secure container.
Then when the thaw comes it all goes in the compost.
Seems like it would be good to get a wagon with a can in it. That way you won’t have to worry it’s getting too heavy.
Or a sled.
I live in snow country, BC mountains. I have a small container with lid on the counter. A larger one under the sink that the small one gets emptied into when I do the dishes. Then a larger one yet out in the “mud room” built onto the back of the house. This one gets emptied into the compost box in the yard when I snowshoe out to it. When I spread the compost on the veg. garden, after it has composted, I am always glad I took the time and effort.
I keep a tub under the kitchen sink; a 5-gal bucket by the garage, and a compost tumbler. So I go out less often. In your situation, I’d move it to where shoveling a path is easy and keep it clear. I had mine on the side of the patio, so that helped, when I lived in Indiana.
Wishing you rich compost and happy plants!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson