DIY Compost Tumbler
Many people believe that composting in an urban setting is a bad move. It’s true that you don’t want to lay out a picnic for rats and other undesirables, but there are some excellent ways to compost in an urban setting without smells, messes, and unwanted critters.
One method of urban-composting that has become immensely popular is vermiculture or vermicomposting, where you basically keep a giant container of pet-wormies and feed them your food-garbage. The worm-method is supposed to be phenomenally efficient, gaining momentum even in uber-cities like New York. However, the types of worms that do best in in vermiculture are an invasive species, so if you intend on putting your worm-compost-soil in your garden… you’d better figure out a way to keep your wormie friends in your compost bin and not in the great outdoors.
One worm-free option for urban-composting is to invest in heavy duty pre-made plastic composter unit. These come as free-standing units or as mounted “tumblers.” You can read reviews for yourself to see the pros and cons of each product. I’ve heard a range of opinions. Across the board, though, these units can cost a pretty penny and you’re lucky if you can walk away with one for under $150.
Vermiculture doesn’t fit my composting goals, and the price-tag on the pre-made composter units was mighty steep…. so I set out to see what I could do DIY-style. And you know what? I managed to build my own tumbling compost unit for about $30!!! And the price could definitely go lower if I had put more planning into it.
Overview: I used scrap materials we had on hand and found the rest (nuts, bolts, screws, locks, etc) at a local salvage yard. The most expensive elements were the barrel locks and spray paint, which were purchased at Home Depot. I used these plans and these plans for inspiration, but incorporated some of my own ideas. It’s a very adaptable project, so there’s plenty of room for creativity. I must say, though, that it is probably a very tricky project without the necessary power tools… so if you don’t have them, buddy up with someone who does.
Instead of building a frame structure like in the plans linked to above, I built a post-and-beam version by sinking my two 4×4 posts in concrete footings. Using a special 2″ drill bit that cost $4 at Home Depot, I drilled through the posts and the barrels. I then threaded the metal fence post through the whole shebang, and wallah. Here’s a doodle of the structure:
- Two 4 ft lumber posts- (dimensions should be 4×4, but if you don’t have 4x4s, you can screw together 2x4s to get the necessary width.)
- scrap ply wood or 2×4 for “plates” on either end of barrel
- One 55 gallon plastic barrel (often given away or sold cheaply by soda-bottling companies or car washes)
- two door hinges
- two barrel locks (somewhat optional)
- One 4ft length of metal fence pole
- 6-8 heavy duty nuts and bolts
- 1 bag of quickcrete
- various screws (long)
- black spray paint (the kind that sticks to plastic)
- electric drill
- Miter saw
- 2″ boring-bit for drill
Here are the steps in more detail:
- Rinse out your barrel. Mine was full of Mountain Dew syrup, which is okay for compost, but some barrels might have other not-so-nice things in them, like car wash soap.
- Cut your flap door to your liking with the sawzall and re-install it with hinges and locks, etc.
- Drill plenty of air holes throughout the barrel to allow for air circulation (which is essential for composting.)
- Install “plates” on either end of barrel with nuts and bolts. These “plates” will help distribute the weight of the loaded barrel (diagram below).
- Using your special 2″ drill bit for boring, drill hole through center of the sides of the barrel.
- Drill holes through support posts
- Sink support posts in ground. Level posts and pour concrete footings.
- Thread your barrel on the metal fence pole, and the fence pole through the lumber posts….
- Paint the thing black, if’n'ya like.
NOTE: Many people add a “fin” to the pole that runs through the barrel, which helps to break up compost as you turn it. I intend on adding spokes of some kind in the near future…. just haven’t reached that point yet!
Let me know if you give this project a try!