Plastic Tumbler Compost Bins

Consider these important factors if you're planning on making a tumbling compost barrel.
Vertical Tumbler Composter

Vertical Tumbler Composter

Photo by: DK - How to Grow Practically Everything © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Many methods of composting require mixing the contents of a compost bin (“turning”) regularly. Stationary compost piles can be turned by mixing with a pitchfork. Specialized tumbling bins are enclosed circular systems that mix the compost as the bin turns along its side. Enclosed bins are great for hiding compost from sight and deterring bothersome rodents and raccoons.

There are some good tumbling bins that can be purchased online or from a local garden center or plant nursery, but these can be expensive. There are some plans available in composting manuals and online that detail how to make your own tumbling bin at home.These range in complexity. The most intricate tumblers rotate by a crank handle and gears.The simplest designs are for enclosed bins that can be rolled around the yard manually.

Strength

Moist compost is heavy – one cubic yard can weigh a ton! Compost needs to stay damp to support the organisms that help all the ingredients decompose. Rolling a DIY compost tumbler around the yard can be a good way to get exercise if you think you can handle mixing regularly. Otherwise, it may be better to build or invest in a crank operated tumbler or to build a stationary bin and turn with a pitchfork.

Capacity

Whether your DIY tumbler is made from a modified trashcan or some other repurposed drum, there is a finite amount of space to add ingredients. The more full the bin is, the more difficult it will be to physically turn the compost barrel and adequately mix the contents (sort of like how a clothes dryer takes longer to finish if it’s filled to the brim rather than halfway). If your home generates a lot of green waste, you may need more than one bin or an additional pile.

Drainage and Ventilation

The designs for a tumbler should include adequate ventilation and drainage holes. Many of these systems are designed to stand upright with larger drainage holes on the bottom of the bin and have smaller air holes on the sides and top so smaller contents don’t escape when being rolled on the side. If you don’t agree with the drainage or ventilation holes specified in your favorite plans, consider experimenting with your own modifications.

Bin Type

Some of the simplest DIY tumbler designs repurpose a round metal or plastic trash can. Bungee cords keep the lid shut while rolling on the side or turning with a crank. If you live in an area where raccoons get into your garbage, consider leaving the bungees on when the bin is upright too. Other designs call for a plastic drum (often used for rain barrels) with special doors with hinges. 

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