Introduction to Tumbling Composters:
Using barrel composters in your backyard garden can lead to some surprisingly simple results with little effort. Every gardener knows the right soil can make or break their garden, and nutrient rich soil is not always readily available. How great would it be to have this black gold available in your own back yard whenever you needed it? Interested in barrel composters, but not sure where to begin? Read on below for valuable information!
The Basics: What is compost? This might seem like a strange question to ask, but you might be surprised at just how many people do not understand what compost actually is, or how it is made. The simplest answer is compost is little more than everyday plant material that has been decomposed and turned into a nutrient rich soil additive. You could quite simply pile up your yard waste outside and wait a year or longer, and nature would take its course and you would eventually have a form of compost. The reality is composting, like most things in life, is a lengthy, time consuming process that requires the right ingredients and environment to be accomplished properly. Tumbling composters take a lot of the guesswork out of this process and makes it easy for the end user. The decomposition of yard waste requires measured amounts of "brown" and "green" plant material, as well as controlled amounts of water and air to achieve an optimum compost.
Tumbling Composters Design:
The design of barrel composters is rather simple and can be built in an hour or two by anyone with a reasonable degree of skills, and with materials readily found at your local hardware store. The principle behind the tumbling composters is in its ability to rotate the compost and “stir” it, providing aeration which allows the bacteria to perform their function. In ground based compost piles, this process is handled with pitchforks and turning tools, which is not always easy on the back. The genius of a spinning barrel is it requires very little effort and more efficiently stirs the compost.
Constructing Tumbling Composters:
If the cost of tumbling composters is beyond your price range, you may decide to try and build your own. While there are many plans for these bins available, here are the fundamentals. The most important element is obviously the barrel itself which will serve as the composting bin. You should try to find a plastic drum anywhere from 20 to 55 gallons. If you ask local nurseries or paint supply houses, it’s likely they will have empties lying around and might give you one. Greenhouse supply companies also sell brand new ones, so they aren't terribly difficult to find. You will need a piece of pvc or steel pipe, that is at least 24” longer than the barrel, a few lengths of standard 2 x 4’s to serve as the frame, and a few small sheets of galvanized sheet metal to be formed into mixing blades.
Step 1: Drill two holes in each end of the barrel, just big enough for the length of pipe that the barrel will spin on.
Step 2: Insert the pipe through the holes to serve as an axle. You may want to consider reinforcing the holes with metal collars to act as a bushing, so the plastic holes won’t wear out prematurely.
Step 3: Take the 2 x 4’s and nail together an X-frame to hold the barrel, and allow the axle to spin freely. Be sure to connect the two legs in front and back for added stability. Then mount the barrel and axle on top. When in doubt, build the frame stronger than you think it needs to be. Depending on the size barrel you've chosen, it will need to support the weight of not only the barrel, but the material and water inside it.
Constructing Tumbling Composters cont.:
Step 4: Drill several holes randomly around the barrel for aeration, no less than half inch in diameter.
Step 5: Cut a trap door in the center body of the barrel, making sure the hole is big enough to get material in, and later shovel material out. You will want to use as narrow a blade as possible, and have as clean of a cut as possible because the cutout will be serving as the access door to the bin. Any basic hinges and latch from the hardware store will work well to attach and secure the door to the tumbling composters.
Step 6: take the sheet metal and bend them into 2 L-shapes, preferably with a 45 degree slant on the one side. These will get mounted through the walls of the barrel, on the opposite side of the access door.
Step 7: Painting the final barrel assembly either dark brown or black is a good idea, because it will cause the barrel to absorb light and heat, which is beneficial to the composting process. A couple handles mounted to the barrel or axle will also make spinning your barrel composters that much easier.
Draining Tumbling Composters:
Step 8: (optional) you will need to add water to the barrel should the mix become too dry, but you don’t want to risk overwatering it either. Another option is to build your frame at a slight angle to one side, and then installing a drain plug at the lowest point in the barrel. This will allow you to drain out the excess water, which can then be used as a natural fertilizer.
Now you’re all set to begin. Take your nice new tumbling composters out to a location that gets a lot of sun; composting works better with heat. Throw in your composting material, being sure to have a good mix of greens and browns, and make sure you spin your barrel composters at least once or twice a day to insure proper mixing. Before you know it, you’ll be pulling out dark nutrient rich soil in no time!
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