When you want to start composting, one question will definitely come to your mind, which is: Which of the two types of composters is better – compost tumbler or compost bin? This post will help you understand the differences between the two and which one is better.
Here is the short answer: The most important factor when deciding which one to buy is time. And in terms of the time taken for composting, the compost tumbler is clearly the winner.
To learn more about the compost bin and the compost tumbler debate, keep reading.
Compost bins (also known as ‘compost digesters’), are structures that are enclosed on the sides and the top. They are also open on the bottom so that they are connected to the soil.
Given the right combination of air and moisture, ideal conditions are created for the aerobic organisms that raise the temperature; this finally results in organic materials turning into compost.
Compost bins, which are enclosed on all sides except for the bottom, make it hard for the rodents and pests to get at your compost. These bins cost very little, and you could even make one at home, all by yourself.
Yet, the real cost you pay for these is time, as it is difficult to turn the compost. That’s why it can take several months to produce compost.
Compost bins are best for:
1. People who have limited space in their yard.
2. Beginner gardeners who don’t want to spend much time or effort in the composting process.
3. Growers who want it to look neat and want it at a low cost.
Can you make a DIY compost bin?
Yes, you can make compost bins at home. And it is really easy for you to make one if you have the required materials. One of the simplest builds is made with wire mesh and wood, where the compost would be made of wire mesh with wooden stakes at each of the four edges.
How to use a compost bin
Compost bins are pretty easy to use. Just get one (or make one), put your waste in there. Check and stir it once a month or so.
When you are going to take out the finished compost, there are two ways to go about the process:
- You can use a shovel or a spade to dig out all of the materials to get to the bottom of the pile
- You can lift the bin off the pile, then use a shovel or a spade to separate the finished material from the rest of the pile; and then put the rest back in.
The second method is much simpler, as you will not need to dig through all the waste to get to the bottom. Then, after a few months, your compost will be ready.
Pros and cons of compost bins
Here are the pros and cons of using a compost bin:
Easy to assemble
Assembling a standard compost bin is really easy. You just have to align the sidewalls and interlace. After that, just put a clip on to fasten at the top.
Waste remains in contact with the ground
One of the major advantages of the bottomless structure is you get to reap the benefit of keeping the waste on bare earth. This is the ideal situation, as it will attract the fungal and microbial life that lives in the soil to the (fresh) waste.
The connection with the earth also greatly helps the process of decaying as the process of decomposition is carried out by the microbes and fungi.
Worms are not interested in fresh waste, but they are interested in wastes after the fungi and microbes have started to decompose those. As the waste is broken down, worms will start to digest the waste material.
Not much work is required
Compost bins are really low maintenance as you don’t have to turn the holding unit, though you might need to stir the waste so that all the waste decomposes properly. You also don’t have to worry about rain as the lid will prevent water from seeping in.
Compost bins incur very low costs, as you will easily find compost bins made out of plastic. And if you wish, you can even make your own compost bin home. These DIY bins can be made from wood or wire + wood mesh.
Compost bins are usually built to last. So even if the edges chip off, you will be able to use them properly for years.
Compost bins do not take up much space, yet they have a large volume, which allows you to compost quite a lot of waste in a given period of time.
Bins drain excess moisture with ease
The level of moisture in a composter is of high importance to the composting process. The high moisture level of wastes like kitchen scraps have to be balanced out by dry waste materials.
In this context, compost bins are much better than compost tumblers as they (compost bins) are bottomless, so they readily drain out excess water. This results in the ideal level of moisture for composting.
No bad odors
When you open the lid of the compost bin, you will get a composting smell, but it would not be unpleasant.
Composting takes a while
It takes a long time for the wastes to turn into composts: As the process of composting in a compost bin is completely natural, this process takes a long time; much longer than it would take in a compost tumbler.
Taking out the finished compost is a pain
The design of compost bins won’t help when you want to take out the compost from the bin. It will be very difficult for you to work a pitchfork or a shovel down there.
The edges can wear quickly
Compost bins may need some structural support after the sides wear off: Even though these bins are of sturdy build, they wear off at the edges. However, this is a minor con that is easily solved by using duct tape.
It needs to be stirred occasionally
Waste decomposition happens in the core, but the process is somewhat slower and inefficient at the sides. As such, you would need to stir it occasionally to make sure all the materials in the bin are composted. This gets difficult as the pile grows larger.
The compost tumbler is an upgraded version of the compost bin.
Compost tumblers are designed so that you can easily turn it to accelerate the decomposition process. Manufacturers claim that you will be able to turn your waste into compost in just 2-3 weeks.
However, it can be difficult to achieve this time frame. If you want to hit a 2-week composting time, you need to follow the instructions that come with the tumbler to a tee.
You will also have to strike the right balance between the nitrogen and oxygen. On top of this, you’ll need to monitor the temperature as well as the moisture level.
If you follow all of the steps perfectly, a 2-to-3 week composting period is possible. However, it’ll likely take at least a month to make a good set of compost with a tumbler.
Several factors determine the amount of time needed to produce compost; these include the total quantity of compost pile, what kind of material it contains, temperature, moisture, and the number of times the pile is turned.
So, if you just keep on spinning the compost tumbler, it will hinder and prolong the composting process; because turning it more than once a day will reduce the temperature inside the bin. Therefore, you must let it take the proper amount of time, even though it might be tempting to turn.
Compost tumblers are better than compost bins for several reasons. If compost is to be considered “black gold,” then a compost tumbler is your gold mine, as it will let you harvest your black gold efficiently and within a reasonably short time.
Compost tumblers are best for:
1. Avid gardeners
2. Those who have a large quantity of waste to compost
3. Those who are willing to spend more money for faster decomposition.
Can you make DIY compost tumblers?
You can absolutely make compost tumblers at home, all by yourself. But it will require much more effort, materials, and work than if you were to make a compost bin.
This is true because of the complex yet strong structure of the Tumblers, and this is why they are more durable and are sold at a higher price than compost bins.
How to use a compost tumbler
If you go with a compost tumbler, then you will have to put the waste in, and turn the tumbler once every day or every other day. Just make sure that you don’t turn it more than once a day.
It is really tempting, as you may think that turning it more would get the work done faster. But it couldn’t be any further from the truth, as we have already discussed above, turning the barrel more often reduces the temperature, which delays the process of decomposition.
So, if you follow the above guidelines and also the manual that may have been supplied to you along with the composter, you will have your finished compost soon; much sooner than it would take a compost bin to give you the same.
Pros and Cons of a compost tumbler
Here are the pros and cons of compost tumblers:
Turning the pile is easy
Unlike turning the pile in a compost bin, it is really easy to do with a compost tumbler. In fact, the work is so easy that some people underestimate the significance of that.
It protects your materials from animals, rodents, and insects
A tumbler is held well off the ground, which prevents the waste material from being accessible to vermin. Also, you will be able to compost food wastes like parts of fish, meat, etc., as these will be broken down due to high temperatures as well as protected from vermin.
It takes much less time to produce compost
Composting with compost tumbler is time-efficient, as spinning the tumbler accelerates the process.
It readily drains moisture
A compost tumbler introduces lots of air, so even if you have large quantities of moist waste, it would not be a problem. The drainage holes will drain all the water so that you don’t have to fret about that. But keep in mind that dry materials would still be necessary.
It’ll spare you from back pain
If you choose the right tumbler, it will be really easy for you to turn the axle. This ease of use will even keep your back healthy, which is something the manual labor involved in using a compost bin can’t guarantee.
To decrease your risk of back pain as much as possible, you should choose a tumbler that is turned via geared cogs and a handle. Also, you should know that if a tumbler’s drum is placed horizontally on its axis, it’ll be easier to spin the drum even when the tumbler is nearly full.
Yes, it will be more expensive, but at the same time, it will likely reduce your medical expenses.
Small tumblers are not very good at composting
Small tumblers are not as efficient as their larger counterparts at composting. So if you’re looking for efficiency, you’re going to need to spend more.
Fortunately, spending more brings other benefits aside from efficiency. A higher-quality tumbler will last longer than the cheaper alternatives, which means you won’t have to spend money on a replacement down the road.
You must remove soil as you go
If you just keep adding more waste to the pile without removing previously composted waste, it will make the compost tumbler heavy. This heaviness will make it difficult for you to turn the tumbler.
You can’t add new materials mid-compost
Once a holding unit is full, you will have to wait for the process of decomposition to finish before you add more materials. The wait shouldn’t be that long, provided that you regularly turn the Tumbler and that the mixture is correct. Still, this is something that you should be aware of.
Also, keep in mind that you should not jam the container, or it will become an anaerobic composting system, which will emit a foul smell that will repel you and attract unwanted guests.
It is difficult to control moisture
As compost tumblers are not opened at the bottom, moisture cannot escape that as readily as it can in the case of compost bins. This feature could be really beneficial for people living in dry regions, but someone operating in a drier environment will have a harder time maintaining the proper moisture level.
It is more critical to balance browns and greens
In the case of tumblers, you need to put in brown materials (which provide carbon) and green materials (which provide nitrogen) in roughly equal proportion.
It’s harder to assemble
To assemble a compost tumbler, you will need tools, screws, nuts, and bolts. So, yeah, you will have to do quite a bit of work before the tumbler is ready for action.
It is difficult to turn some models
The ease of turning the handle varies from one model to another. We have already talked about what model of compost tumbler you should buy in the pros above.
It is difficult to make one of these at home
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As compost tumblers are more complex devices with many different components, it will be difficult to make a good tumbler at home that works as efficiently as the ones produced by the manufacturers.
They aren’t great in the wintertime
Compost tumblers need to have high temperatures inside them for the waste materials to decompose properly. If you want your tumbler to work as well in the winter as it does in the summer, you’ll need to buy a well-insulated model.
Comparison of Compost Tumblers and Compost Bins
Both compost bins and compost tumblers take up about the same amount of ground space (considering that both of them have the same capacity).
On average, a composter takes about 4-6 square feet of space. You will be able to use either of the two composters even if you do not have a lot of space. Therefore, space should not be one of the major factors influencing your decision.
Compost tumblers have much less capacity compared to Compost bins, and remember, they take up the same amount of space.
Compost tumblers hold somewhere between 5-15 cubic feet, while bins taking up the same amount of space can provide you with nearly 30% more capacity.
Working and functionality
We have already discussed how much effort is required to take out the finished compost from a bin. Now, let’s see how the compost tumblers do in this area.
If you want to remove finished compost from a tumbler, all you need to do is turn the tumbler, place a wheelbarrow underneath it, and open the hatch.
As long as you don’t add too much weight, tumblers make it really easy for you to turn the barrel. Just make sure that you don’t buy a Tumbler that is placed vertically on its axis, as it would make it very difficult for you to spin it when it gets nearly full.
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Generally, compost bins are not as strong as compost tumblers. That’s because tumblers have to stand on supporting legs and carry the load of all the waste you put into them. Also, the axle has to be very strong because it will have to hold a lot of weight for many years.
On the other hand, a compost bin is made up of comparatively lower quality plastic as it just needs to merely hold the waste materials; all of the weight is centered on the ground, as opposed to the metal arm apparatus that a tumbler uses.
So even though a bin is made of plastic, it will have an easier time handling higher weights, which will help it better withstand the test of time.
The amount of time it takes to compost
In this regard, compost tumblers are far superior to compost bins because tumblers have been specifically designed with the time element in mind. We’ve mentioned this a few times now, but as time is one of the most important factors in the composting process, we felt it was important to reiterate.
Two more crucial factors determine the time it would take to produce the finished compost: the balance of moisture and the carbon to nitrogen ratio.
Just as we have discussed above already, put in the moist content along with enough dry ones. Also, make sure you keep the brown and green materials’ ratio close to 1:1.
It does not matter which one of the two you choose; you will not face any odor issues. You might smell a bad odor when you take the lid off, but if the lid is on, you will not even realize that you have a composter nearby.
Although both compost bins and compost tumblers are really good at staving off vermin from reaching your waste materials, there is still a bit of difference that might change your decision in favor of tumblers
Compost bins can provide somewhat good protection against insects and local animals like dogs and cats, though keep in mind that the bottom would remain open for rodent attacks from the soil.
This problem does not arise if you use a tumbler instead, because it is placed above ground level. Even if a rodent were to climb on top of the tumbler, the hatch would keep it from accessing the interior.
On average, tumblers cost significantly more than bins. They provide numerous benefits, though, so the decision will likely depend on how serious you are about composting.
Q: Are compost tumblers worse than compost bins?
A: Some people say that despite the numerous benefits of the tumbler, the bin is ultimately the better option. They say so because compost bins are in direct contact with the ground due to their bottomless structure, whereas the compost tumblers are not.
It’s a valid point, so it deserves proper attention.
Being in contact with the soil provides the pile of waste with natural agents of decomposition like worms, bacteria, fungi, etc., that are immensely helpful for the process of decomposition. And yes, the tumblers do not have that benefit.
However, contact with the ground is not the only factor that impacts compost quality and speed.
The main edge that tumblers have over bins is the ability to rotate. When a tumbler spins, it turns the waste materials inside it, which accelerates the process of composting. Nature simply can’t provide that kind of motion.
That is the reason why you will see tumblers composting waste in nearly half the time it takes a bin to compost the same amount of waste materials. If you don’t believe us, buy a tumbler and a bin and try it for yourself – you’ll see that the tumbler works significantly faster.
Q: Is it really possible to compost in just 2-3 weeks?
A: It is improbable, but not impossible. When you buy a compost tumbler, make sure you get (and read) the user guide. It will tell you how to complete a composting cycle in that time frame.
Even if you are unable to get the finished compost in such a short time, you will have it faster than a compost bin user can. If you have read the entire article properly, then you are armed with the knowledge you need to compost quickly.
Q: What if I have to add new waste materials to the pile?
A: To do that, you will need to cycle the waste materials properly. If you just add new materials to the same pile, the mixture will slow down the whole process. So, it is advisable that you don’t do that.
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People who use either tumblers or bins will face this problem. Fortunately, there are two simple fixes to the issue of adding waste:
- You can add more bins/tumblers to do the job. When you add more containers, you will be able to add new waste materials to one container while another keeps composting the old waste materials. That way, the composting process goes on smoothly, which means you will get the finished compost sooner than you would have otherwise.
- You can buy a continuous-use tumbler or bin. The continuous-use tumblers/bins work in the same way as the normal ones do; the only difference is they are dual-compartment composters. Companies like Jora have launched such products. You will be using it in the same way as you would use two tumblers/bins, i.e., if one is already composting, use the other one.