“Composting really is a Gardener’s best kept ~dirty~ little secret.” Connie Oliveaux
One of our most popular memes we ever posted on Facebook said:
“The gardening season begins on January 1st and will end on December 31st”.
We were amazed at the number of likes, shares, and comments received. There’s usually a nugget of truth embedded in every mirthful jest and we seemed to have struck a resonant chord with that one.
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”. So the following topic presents one way to fill the tedious time between the end and the beginning of our growing months. That topic is compost… the black gold of the garden!
Compost is the black gold of the garden.
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.
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 and dumping or mixing fresh refuse in with the old so that there’s never a complete breakdown. With a multi-bin pile system (such as the Three Bin method we cited in the earlier article), you are able to segregate the fresh, the mostly composted, and the totally composted material.
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
While we love our home-built three bin system, not everyone has the same needs and wherewithal to construct it, or to heap compost on the ground. There’s also the issue of attracting wildlife. That’s why we’re not averse to 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.
And… for the very best compost tumbler, and especially if you have a larger garden space, this Twin Compartment Composter Tumbler by Mantis, available from Gardener’s Supply, takes the prize.
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 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.“
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