Make a 55-Gallon Compost Tumbler Fast, Cheap and Easy

April 6th, 2014

Compost Tumbler

(RadyAnanda) - Good for the environment, composting may be the single most important supplement added to your garden soil. Compost is nutrient-rich humus that fuels plant growth, suppresses disease, and revitalizes depleted soils, all while recycling your kitchen scraps. Done right, it can boost your garden productivity, saving you hundreds of dollars in fresh, organic produce costs.

Rather than spend a few hundred dollars on a compost tumbler, below are step-by-step plans for making your own.

“Nice project if you can get 55-gallon barrels for cheap; look for them at local garden supply shops for ‘food grade’ barrels,” comments ReThink Survival. This is contrary to some of the suggestions below, but makes sense, and you can find food grade drums for cheap on eBay.


Step-by-step written instructions are at WikiHow, referenced in the video.

But note, Greg Seaman at Earth Easy points out some pros and cons to bins vs. tumblers:

Compost Bin Pros:

  • lowest cost for a composter
  • large volume for a small footprint
  • drain excess moisture more readily

Compost Bin Cons:

  • thinner plastic which can become brittle or chipped by tools
  • not as easy to access finished compost
  • can attract and harbor burrowing pests such as mice

Compost Tumbler Pros:

  • sealed, aerated drum speeds composting process
  • durable, robust construction will last many years
  • easy to access finished compost by inverting drum over a wheelbarrow
  • “continuous use” models keep fresh compost materials separate from finishing compost
  • 100% pest proof

Compost Tumbler Cons:

  • more expensive than compost bins
  • some models are difficult to spin when 2/3 full

His article is full of details making it worth the read. Also see his Guide to Composting.

Compost Junkie offers detailed plans for a very simple garbage can compost tumbler, and plans for a sturdier version. These are not food grade, obviously, but that may not be as important as some believe.

And, I guess you can’t talk about compost without mentioning compost tea. Sami Grover did his homework, providing different methods to try and even reports that the science is out on the benefits of compost tea. Still, people swear by it:

Elaine Ingham over at FineGardening.com has an easy-to-follow recipe for brewing compost tea. Using no more equipment than a bucket, some tubing, an aquarium pump and bubblers, and a strainer, she explains how soaking and bubbling a mix of compost, molasses and water over a 3-day period produces a biologically rich feed that spreads the benefits of a small amount of compost over your whole garden.

Different ingredients serve different plant communities. For example, molasses is good for grasses, while “fish oil or liquid seaweed boosts fungal activity, which is of more benefit to larger shrubs and trees.”

And, if you’re light on compost material, here are eight places to find whatever you need, from restaurants to coffee houses and on. Just bring your own five gallon pails, and ask. Most shops are happy to give up their scraps.

Rady Ananda is the creator of Food Freedom News and COTO Report, Rady Ananda’s work has appeared in several online and print publications, including four books. With a B.S. in Natural Resources from Ohio State University’s School of Agriculture, Rady tweets @geobear7 and @RadysRant. 

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