Compost Tumbler Questions

by Russ Watkins
(Winchester Va. Fredrick)

How ya doing? I live in Virginia, Zone 6b, Jan. 10,2013, temp 30 to 50 degrees F, dry. I have a four part question.


Airholes for my Tumbler

I have a horizontal tumbler. It has a one inch pipe with some one eighth inch holes running the length and down the middle of the tumbler. The pipe is open at both ends. The pipe gets covered with the material. My question is do I need to put more holes in the tumbler for more air?

I'd say no. Any holes you add will have the same issue as those already there. They too will get plugged. You are adding lots of air when you open the tumbler to add material and then turn the tumbler.

How Often to Turn the Tumbler

I have read two different opinions on turning the compost tumbler. One says to turn it often. The other says not to turn it often because it stops the process. What is the right way?

There are different stages to the compost process. During the first stage turning is okay and useful as it mixes the material together and it serves to add air to your mix.

Once your have a full tumbler another stage occurs. Here there should be active decomposition. It could be worth an investment in a compost thermometer so you can track what's going on. The compost will need a couple of days to heat up. You want to make sure it doesn't get too hot - anything over 150˚F and you want to turn the tumbler to cool things down. The best compost is one with lots of biodiversity and diversity can be killed off if things get too hot.

The last stage is the cure. Once the compost in the tumbler has cooled down and seems more or less ready empty it out. Then put this material in a pile somewhere to cure. You do not turn it at all during this time. A month or 2 or 3 will allow your compost to mature. Then put it to good use. Apply the compost as a mulch, don't dig it in.

Compost Greens

Do kitchen scraps and grass clippings lose their nitrogen characteristic after period of time?

I suppose eventually they will off gas the nitrogen but as a general rule no. They would still be greens. In fact green grass clipping are worth kind of drying out before you use too many of them so that they don't mat and go anaerobic.

Winter Issues

Is it possible to get more in the winter for the compost?

The cooler weather of winter can bring the whole composting process to a stop. In Sweden, a really cold country, they have developed a compost tumbler that is heavily insulated. They then jumpstart the process with hot water bottles to get things going. Even with that things will be slower during the winter.

Thank You, Russ for your questions and Good Luck.

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