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What Is a Compost Tumbler?

Is taking out the trash a dreaded chore in your home? If you’re still throwing out your kitchen scraps, chances are it is.

If you’re like most American households, food waste represents up to 55% of your weekly haul of trash. And it’s what’s largely responsible for the unpleasant qualities of garbage – nasty odors, leaks and weight.

Separating out and composting your food waste and other compostable material makes taking out the trash a breeze. Composting safely breaks down this material and leaves you with rich, dark compost that will make your garden and houseplants thrive. It also helps save precious landfill space and cuts down on the amount of climate-changing methane caused by improperly-breaking-down organic waste. But composting in traditional compost bins has its own set of problems.

You see, things don’t rot very well without air. Composting in bins requires that the pile be turned periodically with a pitchfork or shovel to introduce oxygen into the mix– a messy, backbreaking job. And unless you’re a fanatic about pitchfork wielding, your pile probably won’t get turned often enough to turn your garbage into compost in less than a season. Most piles take several months to a year to mature once you’ve stopped adding to them. That means you’ll eventually need two bins – one for your maturing compost and one to add new material to.

Enter the compost tumbler. A compost tumbler is a type of compost bin made with the user in mind. Instead of laboriously moving the material within the bin, the user turns the bin itself, usually by turning a crank on one end.

Many homeowners find compost tumblers preferable to traditional bins, for the following reasons:

  • Compost tumblers are much easier to use. If you’ve never tried to turn a 500-pound pile of potato peelings, coffee grounds and dead leaves upside down inside a great big wooden or plastic compost bin using only a pitchfork - without spreading the whole rotting pile all over your lawn and then having to somehow gather it all back up again, you can’t begin to imagine the difference. Compare that scene to simply turning the crank on your compost tumbler a few times each time you add to your pile. Much cleaner and infinitely easier. Plus, kids love it – you might find they’ll beat you to the job!
  • Compost tumblers get the job done in a fraction of the time. Because the compost tumbler’s frequent turning keeps the pile aerated, you’ll get finished compost you can use in your garden or for your potted plants in just weeks instead of months or years – so you don’t have to wait for results.
  • Emptying the compost tumbler is a piece of cake compared to shoveling out a compost bin. Most compost tumblers are elevated in a frame, so all you have to do is set a bucket or small wheelbarrow under it and open the hatch – gravity does the hard work for you!
  • Compost tumblers discourage animal pests. Most compost bins allow easy access to rodents, skunks, stray dogs and other critters you may not want hanging out in your yard. Compost tumblers eliminate this problem. Their sealed bins keep unwanted visitors out and compostable materials in, so your yard stays neat and clean.

And here’s a space- and money-saving hint: you might want to look for a compost tumbler with a double drum design. This feature allows you to harvest finished compost from the same bin you’re adding to – so the average homeowner need only buy one once. Although who knows – you may find yourself enjoying your composting hobby so much that you buy a second one anyway – and make taking out the trash easier for your neighbors, too!

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