Inspired by Life Less Plastic’s excellent Step By Step Composting Guide and info about her Compost Tumbler, and also after many questions from readers about my experiences composting with my Urban Compost Tumbler, I thought I’d post a quick update.
Back in August I wrote a detailed post about the various composting options for someone in an urban environment without access to a yard: Compost Tumbler: a solution to the potting soil problem? So I won’t rehash every option and the reasons why I chose a compost tumbler instead of worms or bokashi. But I will reiterate that I ultimately chose the Urban Compost Tumbler over other tumblers because it is made from 100% recycled plastic rather than new plastic. And I had heard about rust issues with metal compost tumblers.
I’ve now been using this one for over 7 months, and I’ve found it’s not as wonderful as I’d hoped. It’s a little over half full now, and because of the shape and the way it tumbles end over end, it has become extremely heavy and difficult to flip. I can no longer do it myself, and I assure you, I have really, really tried. Fortunately, I live with a very strong Michael. But if I lived alone, I’d have to stop using it.
Another issue is the importance of making sure to have enough brown material in there. My experience has been that with a traditional composter that sits on the ground, making sure the green/brown/water mix is perfect isn’t as important as with a tumbler where the materials are sealed in and don’t have access to elements and helpful critters like worms. Let me give you an example.
Before we bought the Urban Compost Tumbler, we had a traditional plastic composter (non-tumbling) on our roof. We managed to do that by putting down a sheet of black plastic and then a wooden pallet that the composter sat on. The composter had a bottom with holes in it so air could get through from the bottom. And it had some tiny holes in the top so rain could get in. For the first couple of months, I was diligent about adding the proper amounts of greens (food scraps & plant clippings) and browns (mostly shredded newspaper) and water. But I never turned the compost. And then over time, I became less diligent about the ratio of greens to browns, and when winter came, I gave up altogether and just let it sit.
When I opened it up in the Spring, I was surprised to find beautiful, sweet-smelling soil that was full of fat earth worms. They must have gotten in when I added some dry leaves from the sidewalk. The compost was beautiful. So why did we give up this system and opt for the tumbler? Because I was worried about the roof. As I’ve said before, we are renters. And I was worried about what was happening to the roof under the wet plastic. It was yucky under there. And I thought having a system where the composter doesn’t touch the roof would be better for us.
But you can’t accidentally get fat juicy earthworms in a compost tumbler. If you do, they’ll die from the tumbling. And you don’t get natural air flow, which is the reason you have to tumble it to begin with. So my compost is not developing as beautifully as I would have liked. Right now, I’ve stopped adding green material and am only adding shredded newspaper because the compost had started to smell bad, an indication of too much nitrogen and not enough carbon. Fortunately, we have a “green bin” system in Oakland, and our food and yard waste are picked up curbside and taken to a commercial composting facility. So I’m not wasting my food scraps. I’m putting them in the green bin and sending them away instead of using them myself right now.
My recommendation is that if you have a patch of ground where you could put a traditional composter, you should go that route before considering a tumbler. It’s easier AND those composters cost a lot less. I don’t have that option.
If I were more diligent about composting, I’d probably get a worm bin. But I’m not, and I just don’t want to have to worry about letting worms die. Worms, unlike kitties, don’t pounce on you and bit your nose and cry to let you know they’re hungry. Also, I don’t have any shaded place to put it, so they’d probably fry in the summertime.
I still wouldn’t buy a composter made from virgin plastic. So at this point, I’m not sure what I would try if I weren’t using this one. Overall, it’s fine for someone who is strong or who lives with someone who is strong and willing to turn it periodically. I’ll write another update when I finally take the compost out and show you the finished product.
Next week: more updates on shampoo bars and soap and plastic-free deodorant. Stay tuned.