A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Use a Compost Tumbler Effectively

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Last Updated on June 17, 2023 by Abigail

How to Use a Compost Tumbler

Composting is an excellent way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. Among the various composting methods available, a compost tumbler offers convenience and efficiency. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore how to use a compost tumbler effectively. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced gardener, this step-by-step tutorial will help you harness the full potential of your compost tumbler.


Maximizing Your Compost: Tips on How to Use a Compost Tumbler


1. What is a Compost Tumbler?

A compost tumbler is a specialized composting bin that allows you to easily mix and aerate organic waste, expediting the decomposition process. This cylindrical container is designed to be rotated manually or mechanically, ensuring the proper distribution of air and moisture throughout the composting materials.


2. Choosing the Right Compost Tumbler

When selecting a compost tumbler, consider factors such as capacity, durability, ease of use, and available space. Look for a model that suits your composting needs and fits well in your garden or backyard. Opt for a tumbler with features like adjustable air vents, sturdy construction, and a secure locking mechanism.


3. Setting Up Your Compost Tumbler

Before you start using your compost tumbler, ensure you have a suitable location. Choose a level area with good drainage and access to sunlight. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to assemble the tumbler properly, and make sure it is stable and secure.


4. Preparing the Composting Materials

To achieve a balanced and effective composting process, gather a variety of organic materials. Include “green” nitrogen-rich materials like kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and fresh plant trimmings, as well as “brown” carbon-rich materials like dry leaves, straw, and shredded paper. Chop or shred larger materials to accelerate decomposition.


5. Loading the Compost Tumbler

Start by adding a layer of brown materials to the bottom of your compost tumbler. Follow this with a layer of green materials, ensuring you maintain a balanced ratio of carbon to nitrogen. Continue layering brown and green materials until the tumbler is approximately three-quarters full, leaving some space for aeration.


6. Turning and Maintaining the Compost

Regularly turn the compost tumbler to facilitate proper aeration and decomposition. Aim to rotate the tumbler at least once or twice a week, ensuring the materials mix thoroughly. Monitor the moisture content of the compost, keeping it damp but not waterlogged. Adjust the moisture levels by adding water or dry materials as needed.

Turning and Maintaining the Compost


7. Troubleshooting Common Issues

a. Foul Odors: Foul smells may indicate anaerobic decomposition. To remedy this, ensure proper aeration by turning the tumbler more frequently and adding dry materials like shredded paper or straw to improve airflow.

b. Excessive Moisture: If your compost becomes too wet, add dry materials to absorb the moisture and improve drainage. Alternatively, you can turn the tumbler more frequently to increase aeration and evaporate excess moisture.

c. Slow Decomposition: If your compost takes longer to decompose, check the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Adjust the balance by adding more green materials if the compost appears too dry, or more brown materials if it seems too wet.

d. Pests and Rodents: To deter pests and rodents, avoid adding meat, dairy products, oily foods, or pet waste to your compost tumbler. Securely latch the tumbler to prevent animals from accessing the contents. If pests persist, consider using a compost bin with a rodent-proof design.


8. Harvesting and Using Your Compost

After a few weeks to several months, depending on the composting process and materials used, your compost will be ready for harvesting. Look for dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling compost. To harvest, stop adding new materials to the tumbler and allow it to sit for a couple of weeks to stabilize.

To extract the compost, open the access door or remove the compost chamber from the tumbler. Use a shovel or gardening fork to scoop out the finished compost. Spread it in your garden beds, mix it with potting soil for container gardening, or use it as a top dressing for existing plants.


Can You Put Worms in a Compost Tumbler?

Adding worms to a compost tumbler is not recommended. Compost tumblers are designed for aerobic composting, where the decomposition process relies on oxygen and a specific balance of carbon and nitrogen materials. The tumbling action helps provide the necessary aeration for efficient decomposition.

Worms, on the other hand, thrive in environments with higher moisture levels and prefer a different set of conditions for composting known as vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is a method that involves using worms, typically red wigglers or Eisenia fetida, to break down organic materials into nutrient-rich castings, also known as worm castings or vermicast.

Compost tumblers typically do not provide the ideal conditions for worms. The tumbling action can be too vigorous and may harm or stress the worms. Additionally, the high oxygen levels and faster decomposition process in a compost tumbler may not be suitable for the worms’ survival and optimal composting activity.

If you want to incorporate worms into your composting process, it is recommended to use a dedicated vermicomposting system such as a worm bin or worm composting tower. These systems provide the appropriate environment for worms, including sufficient moisture, temperature regulation, and a suitable carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.

By utilizing a separate vermicomposting system alongside your compost tumbler, you can enjoy the benefits of both methods. The compost tumbler will efficiently break down larger organic materials, while the worm bin will process smaller food scraps and create nutrient-rich worm castings.

Remember to research and follow proper guidelines for vermicomposting to ensure the well-being of the worms and achieve optimal results. With a combination of compost tumbler and vermicomposting, you can effectively manage your organic waste and produce high-quality compost for your garden.

Worms in a Compost Tumbler


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: How long does it take to compost in a tumbler? A: The composting time can vary depending on the materials used, turning frequency, and environmental conditions. Generally, compost in a tumbler can be ready in as little as a few weeks to several months.

Q2: Can I compost kitchen scraps in a tumbler? A: Yes, kitchen scraps like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells can be composted in a tumbler. Chop them into smaller pieces to speed up decomposition.

Q3: Can I add weeds or diseased plants to the tumbler? A: It is generally not recommended to add weeds or diseased plants to a compost tumbler, as it may not reach temperatures high enough to kill weed seeds or pathogens. It’s safer to dispose of these materials in a different manner.

Q4: Can I compost in a tumbler during winter? A: Composting in a tumbler during winter is possible, but the process may slow down due to colder temperatures. Consider insulating the tumbler or using an insulated composting bin to maintain optimal conditions.



Using a compost tumbler is an efficient and convenient way to transform organic waste into nutrient-rich compost. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can maximize the composting process and create a valuable resource for your garden. Remember to choose the right tumbler, prepare your composting materials correctly, maintain proper moisture and aeration, and troubleshoot any issues that arise. With patience and care, you will be rewarded with rich, homemade compost that nourishes your plants and contributes to a sustainable lifestyle. Start composting today and reap the benefits of a healthier garden and environment.