Garden Compost Tumblers

Before you decide what sort of compost tumbler to buy, take a look at this expert advice.
Horizontal Tumbler Increases Airflow in Compost

Horizontal Tumbler Increases Airflow in Compost

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

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

If you are looking for a quick and simple way to make your own compost, a tumbling bin is a fantastic option. A compost tumbler is an enclosed bin that may rest on gears or wheels, or may be suspended by an axle. This feature makes turning compost (adding air by mixing contents) a breeze. There are quite a few tumbling bins on the market, and some can be easier to operate than others. Here are a few tips to consider when you’re deciding what sort of tumbler to buy.


Tumbler Compost Bins

Tumbler Compost Bins

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

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

A big attraction of tumblers is that they’re supposed to be easier to turn than stationary systems. However, some tumblers are easier to turn than others. A tumbler that is suspended on an axle is a good option if you don’t mind a bit of a work out or if you have a friend to help you spin. A crank operated system with gears would be a better choice for folks who prefer to turn their compost quickly without breaking a sweat. If you don’t mind stooping over a bit, a tumbler that spins on wheels is also relatively easy to use.


The warmer the compost is, the faster it will decompose. When compost gets to about 135 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days, the heat will kill many garden pests and plant diseases. Heat is a natural by-product of the bacteria that decompose green waste. 

Tumblers will usually get pretty warm (about 100 degrees), but not all systems will get hot enough to kill pests and diseases. If “hot” composting is important to you, be sure to look for temperature specs in the product description. As a rule, black plastic compost bins tend to get warmer than other tumblers – especially when they’re sited in a sunny spot.


Nearly all product specs will list the amount of compost the bin can hold, either in gallons or cubic feet. If your household generates a lot of green waste, it would make sense to buy a larger bin, right? Not always. 

When deciding on the size of your bin, you should consider ease of turning and speed of decomposition. A smaller bin that is easy to turn, that you’re able to turn frequently, and that stays relatively warm may be a better choice than a large bin that is difficult to turn and, as a result, stays cooler because you’re not able to mix regularly. Why? In the first scenario, composting will be quicker and more efficient, which means you’ll have a faster turnaround. 

A tumbler that is completely full is more difficult to turn than one that has a bit of air for two reasons. First, compost is heavy, which makes turning more of a chore. Second, a full bin will need to be turned more to adequately mix the contents (like when clothes take longer to dry in a completely full drying machine than one that’s only half full).

Adding and Harvesting

Composting Garden Beds

Composting Garden Beds

Photo by: DK - Learn to Garden © 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Learn to Garden , 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Bins on stands or axles should have enough space to easily scoop finished compost into a wheelbarrow below. Some bins can actually be rolled off of the stand and across the yard to wherever you’d like to add your compost. This saves the hassle of scooping compost twice. Also consider the size of the opening. The smaller the opening, the more difficult it is to add garden waste and scoop finished compost out of the composter.

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