Making a Compost Tumbler


If you're tired of spending hours turning your compost heap manually with a manure fork, you may want to look into making a compost tumbler. Also called turning units, compost tumblers allow you to aerate your compost by turning the entire bin that contains your compost. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, compost turning units have the added advantage of producing compost more quickly, often in as little as eight weeks. Deborah Martin, co-author of "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide," suggests that you first try tumbler composting with a portable plastic trash can before investing a lot of time and money into constructing a raised compost tumbler.

Step 1

Remove the lid from a plastic trash container and set the trash can upside-down on the ground. Drill 10 to 15 3/8-inch holes in the bottom of your trash can for draining liquid, positioning the holes so they're evenly spaced throughout the entire base of the garbage can. Drill five rows of four holes each in the sides in your trash can to provide aeration holes for the compost. Space the ventilation rows equally apart in the sides of your trash container.

Step 2

Shred and tear organic waste materials into small pieces that are about 1 inch in diameter. Mix an equal amount of high-nitrogen waste (typically green materials, such as fresh grass waste, horse or cow manure and vegetable peels) and high-carbon waste (typically brown materials, such as shredded newspaper or cardboard, dead leaves and straw) together and sprinkle it into your compost tumbler.

Step 3

Gently spray the organic waste with your garden hose to moisten it until it's about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Fill the compost tumbler up to within 2 to 3 inches of the top with the remainder of your organic waste. Thread a piece of twine through the handles on your compost tumbler to secure the lid in place. Tip the tumbler onto its side and push it three to five complete rotations across the ground at least once every two weeks to produce finished compost within approximately two months.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never compost manure from meat-eating animals, since it could contain pathogens that may survive hot composting temperatures to infect humans. Verify that your plastic trash can has never contained chemicals or other toxic wastes, which may have leached into the plastic and could contaminate your finished compost product.

Things You'll Need

  • Cylindrical plastic trash can with lid
  • Drill
  • Garden hose
  • Twine


  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Composting Methods
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide"; Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
Keywords: tumbler compost, trash can composting, fast composting

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.