Mar 19 , 2019
Finding and customizing the composter tumbler drum
You can buy drum composter tumblers online or at any garden center for as little as $150 for the smallest units and up to $400 for the large fancy rigs. They all follow the same basic design—a drum on a stand. Our version of a compost barrel is an adaptation of that using a plastic 55-gallon drum. The compost tumbler drum and stand together cost about the same as the low-price models, but our composter is built stronger and has more features. It takes a full day to customize the drum and build the stand. We used rivets to speed up the compost bin tumbler assembly, but screws, nuts and lock washers work too.
Ask for free, used 55-gallon polyethylene drums at car washes and food processing and industrial manufacturers. Since beggars can’t be choosers, you’ll probably wind up with a white, green or blue drum. If that doesn’t fit your backyard color scheme (paint doesn’t stick well to polyethylene), contact a container firm and order the color you want. We ordered a black ‘tight-head’ drum (top permanently sealed to the drum) for $52 from a local supplier.
How a compost barrel works
Waste becomes compost thanks to millions of hungry microbes, which break it down and convert it to nutrient-rich fertilizer. Those microbes need oxygen to thrive, and turning the drum daily creates fresh air pockets in the mix. You can accomplish the same thing by churning a pile of compost with a shovel, but a drum composter makes it easier. And the more thorough mixing speeds decomposition.
Rotate the Compost Tumbler Daily: Screw the bung caps into the holes to prevent compost from leaking out. Then grab the handles and rotate the drum several times in either direction to stir the mixture. Drop, Roll and Dump: Park your wheelbarrow under the drum and open the door. As you roll the drum downward, the compost will dump right into the wheelbarrow.
Reinforce the compost tumbler door opening
Clamp aluminum strips in place so 1/2 in. extends into the door opening. Fasten the strips with rivets or nuts and screws. Next, use a jigsaw to cut a door panel slightly smaller than the width of your wheelbarrow. The next step takes the most time and isn’t mandatory, but it adds strength and stability to the entire door assembly: Bend 1/8-in. x 1-in. flat aluminum stock around the drum to form side reinforcements for the door opening. Cut the bent aluminum slightly longer than the door opening and mount it to the drum. Then cut flat aluminum pieces for the top and bottom of the door opening and the hinge side of the door. Mount the top and bottom door opening reinforcements in the same manner. Mount the hinges at the bottom of the door opening so the door hangs down when you empty the drum. Finish the door by adding the latches (Figure A).