How to Build a Compost Turner


In the world of composting, air is good. In fact, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, the oxygen-loving bacteria in your compost heap need air for a range of essential activities, including energy production, growth and rapid waste consumption. You can introduce fresh oxygen by turning or mixing your organic compost materials by hand with a manure fork or garden rake, a time-consuming, laborious job that many gardeners dread. However, if you have an old cylindrical trash can available, you can convert it quickly and inexpensively into a compost turner to make your aerating job easier.

Step 1

Find a 30- or 45-gallon cylindrical plastic trash can that has never been used to hold toxic chemicals. Look for a trash container with a tight-fitting lid. Purchase a new trash can, if necessary, but don't forget to check with friends and relatives to see if any of them have an old trash container lying around that you can recycle.

Step 2

Take off the lid of your trash can and invert the garbage can upside-down on the bare ground. Drill 10 to 12 evenly spaced holes in the base of the garbage can with a 5/8-inch drill bit to allow excess moisture to drain from your compost turner.

Step 3

Place your hand firmly on the bottom of the trash container to brace it. Drill 15 to 18 holes in the sides of the garbage can to provide adequate ventilation for your organic waste. Scatter the holes evenly across the sides of the container to ensure that fresh oxygen enters the compost turner from all sides.

Step 4

Move your garbage container to an upright position and fill it with organic waste for composting. Add nitrogen-rich materials, such as cow manure, fresh grass waste, fruit peels and vegetable scraps, but make sure those materials makes up less than 50 percent of the volume of organic waste in your compost turner. Mix carbon-rich organic waste (such as dead leaves, old straw, shredded newspaper and cardboard) thoroughly in with your nitrogen materials to provide the decomposing bacteria with adequate energy. Sprinkle several handfuls of plain topsoil on top.

Step 5

Moisten the organic waste in your compost turner until it's about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Place the lid on top of the container. Secure the lid by stretching a piece of sturdy string or a bungee cord across the top and fastening the ends to the two handles on your compost turner.

Step 6

Tip the compost turner onto its side and turn it five to seven full rotations across the ground to aerate the organic waste. Repeat this process once every seven to ten days to produce finished compost in as little as two months with your compost turner.

Things You'll Need

  • Cylindrical trash can with lid
  • Drill with 5/8-inch bit
  • Nitrogen-rich organic waste
  • Carbon-rich organic waste
  • Plain topsoil
  • Water
  • String/bungee cord


  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide;" Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
Keywords: compost turner, turning compost, compost tumbler

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.