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At a recent Scott County Grow Appalachia class we had an example of a compost tumbler displayed for our gardeners to see.  Some of the advantages of having a compost tumbler are:

  • Compost is created much quicker.
  • It is tidier and keeps things neat.
  • No worries about animals getting in compost.
  • Plus it’s just fun.

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I know we focus a lot on compost. I just cannot stress it enough to maximize the most from our gardens we need to have a foundation of good clean healthy soil.  By amending our soil with compost we introduce many healthy micro-organisms that create an ideal environment in our soil.  It lightens it up helping to avoid soil compaction.  It helps hold water longer. It’s a way to reduce, recycle and reuse scraps that we are going to throw away into a source of free soil amendment. With many more benefits than I have listed here, adding compost to our gardens is just good sound gardening practice.

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In the near future we hope to have hands on workshop where participants can construct their own compost tumbler.

For more information on compost:



Cathy Lackey

University of Tennessee Master Gardener


How to Build a Compost Tumbler

(From: http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Tumbling-Composter)

Things You’ll Need:

  1. One 20-55 gallon (72-200 liter) plastic drum
  2. One 48 inch (1.25 meter)length of pipe with a 2 inch diameter (5 centimeter).
  3. 2X4 treated lumber
  4. Nails
  5. Circular saw
  6. Drill motor, hole saw, and drill bits
  7. Basic hand tools. (hammer, measuring tape, square)
  8. Hinges

Compost Tumble

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Buy a plastic drum, between 20 and 55 gallons (75-200 liters), and a 48 inch length of 1 1/2 to 2 inch (3.8-5 cm) galvanized steel pipe.

Center Axis

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Drill holes in the center of the top and bottom of your drum, large enough for the pipe you are going to use for an axle.

Moving Along

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Pass the pipe thru the center hole

Building the Stand

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Build a wooden saw buck to support the compost barrel. Nail 2 sets of 2x4s (pieces of wood that are 1.5. × 3.5. or 38×89 mm in terms of height and width, respectively) in an x-frame, and nail two 2x4s across the feet at the bottom for support.

Add Tumbler to Stand

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Set the barrel with the pipe in the wooden 2×4 saw buck.

Aeration Holes

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Drill holes in the body of the barrel with a 1-inch (2.5 cm) bit for aeration.

Turning the Compost

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Rotate the barrel in the sawhorse frame using the pipe or post as an axle.

Creating Hinged Door 

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Cut a hole in the side and add simple hinges and a hasp to create a door with the piece you cut from the side of your drum. Or, you can simply use scrap wire to create three hinges, and use the same material and an old cabinet knob to effect a way to close the hatch.

Mixing Fins

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Create a Mixing Fin inside the Barrel to help turn the compost when the drum is rotated. A long spare piece of galvanized sheet metal bent into an L shape and bolted to the interior wall of the barrel will do this nicely. (Put the Fin opposite from the Hatch, so as to weight balance the empty container.)

Making Compost

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Fill your drum composter with leaves or other compostable material, and allow your new “garden helper” to do its job. You will want to rotate the drum a few times every day or so, depending on the outdoor temperature. (See Tips below for ideas on how to add a handle.)

Completed Compost 

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Check the contents occasionally, and when they are broken down by the bacteria in the drum, remove them to use for soil amending, mulch, and other purposes around your lawn and garden.


  1. If your barrel is a light color you might consider painting it a dark green, brown, or black. There are paints like Krylon that work particularly well on plastic. The dark color will absorb light and raise the temperature of your compost.
  2. If the contents of the drum are very dry, moistening them will accelerate the composting process, but do not saturate them with water.
  3. If you would like to add a handle to help you turn the barrel, drill a 1″ (2.5 cm) hole all the way through one end of the pipe. Slide a piece of rebar or other round steel tubing that is 1″ (2.5 cm) in diameter through the holes. The rebar should be about 2′ (60cm) long. Center it so that you now have two handles on the end of the pipe and can grasp them to turn the barrel. You can cover them with pipe insulation for an easier grip.
  4. Composting (decomposing) occurs more quickly in warm weather.
  5. You could also build the tumbler on a diagonal axis (enough to create a slope) and put a plug in the bottom of the drum, which would allow you to add water that will help the decomposition and create a liquid fertilizer when drained from the drum.