Plastic Turn Bins
January 28, 2014
Question from a Master Composter: I’ve never used one of those plastic turn bins and don’t plan to get one. But I often have friends ask me about them. Since I don’t have experience with one, it’s a hard question to answer. I’ve gotten a vague impression that expert composters don’t like them, but I’m not sure. I was wondering what you guys think about them and what I should tell friends when they ask about getting one.
Answer by PB: I also do not have one but have gotten plenty of feedback about them. The most frequent criticism is that the material tends to compact and it ends up clanking around like drying tennis shoes in a dryer. Also this is definitely a batch type Composter so does not meet the needs of a dump and run type of person. Another comment is that it is hard to keep the right moisture levels.
Answer by JH: This type of bin was my introduction to composting because it was advertised to make compost in 2 weeks! Boy, was I a sucker!!!
* Takes up little space
* Looks tidier than a pile on the ground
* Relatively easy to turn even when full
* Easy to move if on wheels
* Regular turning of the bin contents and maintenance of proper moisture will eventually be rewarded with a small amount of compost
* Initial cost is significant
* Capacity limited
* Frequent turning of tumbler required – much more than advertised
* Doesn’t seem to be any more efficient than other methods
My advice: a tumbler is a quick way to compost a few hundred bucks. I would recommend vermicomposting instead of a tumbler for those with limited materials. For those needing greater capacity, you just can’t beat straw bales or the handmade wire bin held together by clothespins. Even with the cost of the tarp needed to line and cover this kind of homemade system, it’s much less expensive while also being easier to manage.
Answer by JZ: I bought a big tumbler, secondhand. Then I filled it with wet horse manure and bulking material. Now its too heavy to turn it! JH and PB have some good points. Purchased new, I think they come with instructions. Best thing for a friend considering a composting method is to attend one of our classes. My preference, so far, is the dump-n-run bin with a flip door on top and a opening at bottom to harvest finished product. It’s neat, great for static (no turn) composting and produces humus.
Answer by RR: I started serious composting using a compost tumbler I got passed down from my father-in-law. I thought it was great. Granted, it is a batch process, but it worked great. When it rusted out, it cost big bucks for replacement parts. Then I got a bigger used one on Craig’s List, and it rusted out, also. So I had some stainless steel parts made and rebuilt it for less than half of what it would cost for the new parts. They are not for everyone. I use it in addition to my wire ring (lined with cardboard) batches, but I also have a lot of room to store materials while the batches are working. I like it, and I think it makes better compost, but the initial investment is a lot higher than homemade. Plus, like I said, you have to have room to store the materials for the next batch. But that’s the method I use, and it works well for me.
Answer by RB: My husband and I have two of the plastic turn bins – as JH said: pricey! I have had poor luck with them which mostly has to do with laziness. We do have the directions which are quite specific (and accurate) about the amount of moisture. It was easy to let it dry out–way too much ventilation for this climate. The result is the tennis balls in the dryer effect. JZ suggested taping over the ventilation screen and adding bulking material. That combination helped a lot in preventing the lumps from forming. We used the dump, add water, turn, then run method rather than a batch method, but once a barrel is full, you are stuck which no place for waste materials a few weeks (of turning and watering) until the composting is complete. As JZ says, the barrel is very heavy and hard to turn with it’s full, and as JH says, there is a pathetically small quantity of finished compost when you’re done. The bottom line is the barrels are effective if used properly, but the process takes a lot of work and fussing over – in my opinion, more that turning a hot pile every week!
Answer by SB: I’m with RB. I have two different barrels in addition to a tower. The barrels are faster but do take more attention, watering and turning (which can’t be done in the winter when my barrels freeze up). The compost is good if I remember to turn them but, as has been already said, they are heavy. My tower used to shut down in the winter but now I have some red wrigglers in the tower, it works all winter. The only problem with the tower is I have to get on my knees to dig out the finished compost, putting as many red wrigglers back as I can, while I can just tip the barrels into a wheel barrel to sift.