Barrel Composters

memo(Zone 4B Nebraska)February 5, 2006

I do not currently have a compost pile since I have access to mass quanities of straw and cow manure (well aged). I have been considering my needs for one and would like one that I don't have to physically turn with a fork to save on the ol' back. I have access to mass quantities of weeds that I could compost.

Do any of you use the rotating barrel composters?

Do you generate enough debris to keep it filled?

Does it work faster than a traditional compost pile?

Do they get "hot" enough to kill weed seeds?

I have a couple of 55 gal. drums here and DH said he'd make one (there are plans on the web.) if I will utilize it.

Looking forward to your replies!


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todancewithwolves(Z9 CA)

I started composting 4 years ago when I inherited a bin
with my home. I took a few classes given free by our
local waste managment company. The secret to good compost
is layers of browns and greens. The pile needs to be damp
at all times. The composter should be kept in a shadey
area. It will heat up and kill off seeds but it's not
recommened to put weeds in the pile (like I did one year)
Occassionally I find a strange plant growning out the vent.
I bought worms for my pile three years ago to help
break down the pile, now I have millions of worms.

You may want to check out the compost forum and ask advise
on the different types of composters. They are a fun and funny group of people.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 9:49PM
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Do any of you use the rotating barrel composters?
No, but a friend did. She had this one.

Do you generate enough debris to keep it filled?
My friend didn't, but it was just her and her husband at home.

Does it work faster than a traditional compost pile?
Yes, most definitely!

Do they get "hot" enough to kill weed seeds?
I really don't know, but would think so.

The main problem my friend had with hers was that the compost would clump at the bottom so heavily that she couldn't turn it herself. She had to get her husband to do it that first turn ~ once that first turn was done and the clump was broken up, it wasn't that hard to spin and was great. But the difficulty she had with that clumping was reason enough for me not to get one. It might not be that bad in a smaller one.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 6:20PM
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dayleann(z4 VT)

I can't turn piles either. My black plastic compost bin, which I got from our local waste district at a very reasonable cost, is very sturdy and has doors at the bottom where I can just scoop out the finished compost at the bottom. Good stuff, just takes a bit longer than a rotating bin. I use it mostly for kitchen veggie waste plus green weeds, with a layer of leaves in between (balancing the green and brown). I keep the pile moist and occasionally poke holes in it with a stick to aerate it (no fancy technology there).

I keep the leaves in a wire bin next to the compost bin. The leaves that don't go in the bin or used as mulch eventually break down into leaf mold, which makes great seed starter.

To kill weed seeds, you need enough mass to heat all of the compost enough to cook them. Most rotating bins are not big enough. My bin gets hot enough you can see the steam coming off, and a stick poked in feels hot to the touch. I haven't had any problem with weeds with it, but I learned the hard way not to put daylily roots in the compost bin. Now I put them in black plastic bags by themselves.

Dayle Ann

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 6:57PM
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Most of those barrels wouldn't be big enough for this 2-person household. Besides they actually seem like they're more work.

Dh built a 2-bin system about 20 years ago. Some of the wood is rotting and the lift off doors that were once on the front are long gone, but it works beautifully for my needs. He used to turn it a few times a year, now it's more or less my baby and it usually only gets turned once a year. I keep brown & green layers going and twice a year I'll dig out from the bottom what has already composted. What I don't use I store in old trash bins. Makes it easy when I just want a little for this or that.

The ideal setup would be 3 bins. One working (receiving raw materials), one for developing & composting, and one for finished & ready to use compost.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 8:05PM
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hag49(Tx z8a)

We have 6 going and there's only 2 of us. We eat LOTS of fresh veggies. We collect leaves all winter from peoples curbside and use them for our bins. We get coffee grounds from Starbucks weekly and grass clippings as soon as the lawn services start mowing. We are great lovers of the stuff. It has made HUGE differences in the health of the plants. They are much more disease resistant w/home made compost. Stronger root systems. We are a no spray totally organic garden.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2006 at 7:49AM
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memo(Zone 4B Nebraska)

Thanks everyone for your thoughts on this. Having had raised beds many years ago I know how important it is to keep the soil in them replenished with good compost and nutrient rich soil. I have composted for many many years using grass, leaves and kitchen waste but it's a little different out here in the county. While we have lots of trees, we also have vast amounts of open land around us which means that when the wind blows it carries the falling leaves off with it. They for the most part don't settle on the ground below the trees. There are not any buildings or solid fences and things to stop the flight of the leaves. I do on the other hand have masses of weeds that I could cut and compost. I appreciate knowing that this is not a good idea. I guess I'll stick to the straw and manure and continue feeding the kitchen scraps to the chickens then.

CampCreek, you live in the country...are you composting and if so what are you using to feed your bin?

Anyone else in a similar situation? I'd sure like to hear about your experiences.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2006 at 7:56PM
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todancewithwolves(Z9 CA)

I use kitchen scraps, mowed weeds before they've had the
chance to seed, coffee grounds, saw dust, leaves, egg
shells, shredded paper and prunings. I added worms to break
down the waste and add castings. I turn every few weeks
with a pitch fork.

Never add meats, dairy or breads.
Be sure to cover your foods scraps very well or your
pile will be invaded by the BSF, it's not a bad thing,
they work the pile really good for you but they are gross
to look at.

I make compost tea to fertilize my plants. By spraying
the foliage with the tea it helps with pests and disease
naturally. I scoop out a shovel full of compost, put it in
a bucket, fill to the top with water, leave in the sun
covered with plastic for a few days.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2006 at 10:38PM
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I have searched Mother Earth News and googled the web searching for a DIY rotating bbl. composter. Can anyone point me in the right direction?
Thank you very much

    Bookmark   May 27, 2007 at 11:17AM
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southshoregardener(z7 NY)

I have a rotating composter and will not be moving it with me. My neighbor will inherit it. I did not experience "speedy" composting. It is a pain to sift out the compost. Next time I am going with multiple bins. If you decide on that style, make multiple ones.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 8:18AM
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Todancewithwolves, what are BSF? I couldn't think of anything except Big Stinky Flies.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 12:05PM
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ninjabut(USDA z 8,CA)

Mine is not a rotating composter, but a "tumbler". I put everything into the tumbler and give it a tumble every once in awhile, trying to do greens and browns equally.
I got a new bin recently, and now turn the tumbled stuff into the new bin! The extra browns go into the old bin to be mixed as needed!
HTH Nancy

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 2:04AM
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aspen0(z5 MI)

IMO the vertical spinning ones are better than the horizontal spinning ones.

On youtube there is instructions here on making a vertical one with a used drum:

Here is someone doing the same but horizontally:

I think the vertical one works better, it just mixes better. But also, these drums are... whats the word... a little flimsy in the sidewalls, very thing, I would think the hole your drill for the axle needs to be reinforced in same way or it'll wear out eventually.

For purchasing I like the Organic Compost Tumbler, its what I have, spins vertical, and yes, is big enough to get hot. Sometimes in the summer its hot to the touch because of the black plastic, and also I have gotten it steamy before. If you're not handy enough to build it, or want something bigger and sturdier, thats the one I'd recommend.

Here is a link that might be useful: organic compost tumbler.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 11:01AM
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