How to Make a Tumbling Composter


Composting provides nutrient-rich humus for your gardens and flowerbeds in as little as two weeks or as long as three years, depending upon the composting method you use. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, turning units, such as tumbling composters, produce finished compost in a fairly short time frame, typically less than two months. Many tumbling compost units rotate on an elaborate, raised framework and are rather complicated to build. However, Deborah Martin, co-author of "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide," shows how to use a cylindrical plastic trash can to make a simple tumbling composter that rolls directly on the ground.

Step 1

Find a 30-gallon, cylindrical plastic trash can with a tight-fitting lid. Recycle an old trash can or purchase a new one. Avoid using a trash container that has held toxic waste in the past, since the toxic chemicals could contaminate your organic compost waste.

Step 2

Turn the trash can on its side and poke ventilation holes in the sides with a 6-penny nail. Place the point of the nail firmly against the side of the trash can, locating it approximately 2 inches from the top edge. Drive the nail straight into the plastic side, perforating it completely.

Step 3

Remove the nail from the hole and hammer it into the side of the trash can again, locating the second hole approximately 6 inches below the first hole. Repeat this process to create two more ventilation holes in 6-inch increments in the same row. Create four additional, evenly spaced rows of identically spaced ventilation holes in the sides of your garbage can to provide adequate air penetration for your compost.

Step 4

Take the lid off your garbage can and invert the can on the ground. Sink the nail into the base of the trash can eight to 10 times to create evenly spaced drainage holes.

Step 5

Sprinkle a 2-inch layer of finely shredded carbon-rich organic materials, such as dead leaves, straw, shredded newspaper and cardboard, into the bottom of the trash can. Wet the waste until it's about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Spread a 2-inch layer of finely shredded nitrogen-rich organic materials, such as cow manure, green yard waste, vegetable scraps and fruit peels, atop the carbon layer.

Step 6

Add additional alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen materials until your compost tumbler is approximately ¾ full. Moisten each carbon layer with water. Toss several handfuls of plain topsoil on top of the organic waste before putting the lid on the compost container. Secure the lid in place with a piece of twine.

Step 7

Lay the compost tumbler on its side and roll it across your yard three to five complete rotations. Repeat this process every five to 10 days to create finished compost available for use within two months.

Things You'll Need

  • 30-gallon cylindrical plastic trash can with lid
  • 6-penny nail
  • Hammer
  • Carbon-rich organic waste
  • Nitrogen-rich organic waste
  • Water
  • Plain topsoil
  • Length of twine


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