Cheap DIY Compost Tumbler

Cheap DIY Compost Tumbler

DIY Compost Tumbler

When I was growing up, we had a “compost pile” that was nothing more than a pile of weeds and vegetable scraps that had no special recipe or maintenance.  Once a year we would pull the fresh stuff off the top and when we got to the part that was completely broken down, we shoveled it on the garden and tilled it in.  It was a slow but simple process with okay results for our needs.  My parents still do it that way.  When I finally settled down and started my own garden, I also needed a way to recycle lawn, garden and kitchen waste; and it made sense to start with what I already knew to work.

Over the years I have become more impatient with the process and my need for compost has increased; so I have researched and experimented with faster, more efficient ways of composting. The methods outlined below will result in a high quality, and more abundant product that is useful throughout the landscape.

Cheap DIY Compost Tumbler

The easiest composting agents to work with are microorganisms (as in old fashioned compost piles or tumblers), and worms.  The product they turn out is similarly useful although not exactly the same, and I believe they can be used interchangeably though there are plenty of opinions on the subject. For the sake of this post I won’t differentiate. Instead, here are a few examples of how the composting process can work for you, depending on your available space and amount of raw material to feed the process one of the three should be useful.

An efficient compost pile will turn out a batch of finished compost in a couple of months or less.  The raw materials should be categorized as either “greens” which are generally fresh and high in moisture and nitrogen content; or “browns” which which are dry and higher in carbon content.  Examples of greens would be weeds, vegetable scraps, and grass clippings. Browns would include fall leaves, spent vegetable plant stems, newspaper and coffee filters.

We created our Compost Tumblers for about less than $20 per bin. It’s an easy DIY project that can be completed in about half an hour.

Supplies Needed:

  1.  One 15 Gallon trash can with lid (black)
  2. 2 bungees
  3. A drill and 5/16 bit

Step 1:

Punch air holes on the bottom of the trash cans and in the sides of the can every eighteen inches or so.



Step 2:

Fill the can with the 1:2 ratio of browns to greens (about 3/4 full), adding water after each layer.


Step 3:

Put the lid on and bungee it to the handles.


Step 4:

Once a week or so, lay the can on it’s side and roll it across the yard to stir up the composting material inside.


After about a month, open the can to check progress and add water if needed.  The compost should be finished in about 4-6 weeks.

If you don’t have a yard, have no fear, worm composting will work for you.  Red worms are available in many garden centers or online, and they are amazingly active and efficient composters.  Keep them in a recycling bin or plastic tote and feed them your raw vegetable waste as well as non-glossy paper products, and they will provide you a constant supply of castings to be used on houseplants or patio container gardens.

What to do with your compost

Now that you will be making fresh compost, the applications are endless.  Use it to replenish the soil in vegetable or annual flower beds between crops.

  1. Use it to mulch perennials or shrubs.
  2.  Use it to top-dress heavy feeding vegetables for an extra source of nutrients.
  3. Use it to enrich the soil in houseplant containers.

One of the most interesting uses is making compost “tea”.  Place about a quart of compost in a fine mesh bag, close the bag and suspend it in a five-gallon bucket of water for about 24 hours.  Agitate the brew with an aquarium aerating stone while it steeps.  It will turn frothy around the edges and this is a good thing.  The tea can then be used as a foliar fertilizer and disease preventer throughout the lawn and garden.

5/5/14 Update

Just wanted to share a picture of the compost in progress:

Not too bad after 2 weeks!

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27 thoughts on “Cheap DIY Compost Tumbler

  1. Wow I did this this weekend (before seeing your post) bit after smelling the aweful plastic smell as I was drilling the holes I became worried about the potential of plastic toxins leaking into the compost. Have you any ideas around thus. I have everything ready to go but am nervous about starting now …

  2. I live in Arizona. It is very hot. Do I put my compost bin in the sun or shade?

  3. For the active red worm compost. Do you still tumble? Or leave it be the whole time?

  4. what is your feeling on doing it open air/ covered and putting in meat and bones?

    1. Melissa,

      I do not recommend putting in meat and bones for two reasons:

      1)the compost doesn’t get hot enough to break it down properly in this type of composter
      2)the meat scraps will attract scavengers

  5. My question is can I add to the compost trash can through out the week as I collect scraps or do I start the can and leave it for 4-6 wks. What do I do with my scraps while can is composting… am I making any sense?

    1. Liz,
      you can just throw your daily scraps on top of the pile each day. I’ve been composting for years, I currently use two Square upright bins with lids. I throw in shredded paper Grass and plant clippings, leaves and daily house scraps (Coffee grounds, potato peels, fruit peels, Etc.) The only thing I avoid throwing in is dairy and meat scraps.

  6. I am trying this now! Have my holes done! Plenty of stuff to go in it so I guess I’m ready!!

  7. We bought all the material for this..will let u know the progress. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Such a “why didn’t I think of that” alternative to regular compost tumblers when on a tight budget! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great idea thank you! We’ll be trying it this season💗

  9. Just made your compost tumbler and it turned out great! I’m wondering if you can compost over the winter and will the compost still be useful in the spring? Hope to get a response soon as it is now November and turning cold here in Idaho. Thanks for your great idea! Dianne

    1. Fantastic, Diane! We don’t get as cold in Georgia as you do in Idaho, but it can work just fine until temperatures stay well below freezing for extended periods. I would place the tumbler in a sunny, sheltered location to keep the microbes from going dormant due to cold. Keep the mixture moist (like the feeling of a wrung out sponge) and if you have a few handfuls of already made compost, throw them into the first batch to condition the tumbler – although this is not a requirement. Under ideal conditions (30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen, particle size of two inches or less, consistent moisture, regular tumbling, etc.) a batch can be completely processed in two or three weeks. In winter it will take longer. Good Luck!

  10. I love this idea of a tumble composter…. why dont we think the obvious when we have stuff lying around or are turfing it into the land fill. Thanks for this I will definately do this.

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