Composting has become an essential part of gardening, and really for modern living for many people across the world. Not only does it help get rid of some of that unwanted kitchen and garden waste in an environmentally friendly way, it also creates some of the best fertilizer your garden could ever hope for. And because composting become so popular, the number and designs of different composters (such as the compost bin and compost tumbler) available to buy has also risen quite significantly. This article will compare and contrast two compost designs in particular, and looks at the Compost Bin vs. Tumbler product lines.
If you’re new to the world of composting or even if you’ve been doing it for years, you may not realize all the great features and benefits that both compost tumblers and bins have to offer. Here you will find the information to give you a solid footing on compost bins and tumblers, and to help you pick the right composter for your needs.
What is a Compost Bin?
A compost bin (such as the Redmon Compost bin shown here, and reviewed here) is a stationary enclosure in which to put your compost (leaves, food scraps, garden clippings, etc.) These kinds of bins require you to mix the product by hand with a pitchfork or shovel, and come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
Up until recently, most ground-based compost bins have been made out of wood in a bed setup. Now, more commonly these bins are made of recycled plastic, in various more vertical forms.
You may find that some of these structures have a hinged lid for easy access, while others are equipped with removable slats to allow for easier turning. Some are expandable, like the Geobin compost bin we reviewed.
Not only are compost bins relatively inexpensive to buy, but they’re also quite easy to make if you don’t mind a little DIY.
The main problem with ground-based compost bins like the Garden Gourmet (reviewed here) is that the open-bottomed setup, designed to let worms and bacteria break down your compost materials. This access point is the Achilles heel of the compost bin, as rodents, bugs, bees, and other unwanted pests can get in at the same point.
Ground-based compost bins require a good deal of work to mix, as well — especially during the winter composting season. You’ll need to mix everything by hand, using a shovel or pick, to ensure that the compost gets fully broken down. This can be a lot of work, especially for those who are getting on in years, and don’t want to be regularly doing a lot of shoveling.
What is a Compost Tumbler?
A compost tumbler, such as the Mantis Compost Tumbler shown here and reviewed here is a different kind of compost bin structure in which to recycle much of your garden and kitchen waste. It’s fully a fully enclosed container that can be rotated. The rotation mixes the composting ingredients inside.
While most tumblers are stationary, some are on wheels to make for transporting compost across the garden easier. Also, these bins are raised off the ground, so emptying the compost into a bucket or wheelbarrow is pretty easy.
The main selling point of a compost tumbler is the fact that it can be easily rotated, which speeds up the composting process considerably and requires significantly less work than a ground-based compost bin.
They’re also very easy to access and are completely rodent-proof and odor-resistant.
The biggest downside to these designs is that they tend to be significantly more expensive than compost bins.
For more information on Compost Tumblers, see our article on the best compost tumblers.
Compost Bin vs Tumbler. Which is Better for Me?
There are a lot of similarities between compost bins and tumblers, but there are also a lot of differences. In the following section, we’ll take a look at some of their attributes of each to see which may be better for you.
As a general rule of thumb, compost bins are usually much bigger than tumblers, and will hold anywhere between 5-20 cubic feet (150-600 liters) on average. This compares to 3.5-15 cubic feet (100-400 liters) that most tumblers hold.
Typically the footprint of the tumbler and the bin will be pretty similar, but the bin will hold more.
The smaller size of the compost tumbler is balanced out by the speed in which compost is produced in a tumbler. Typically compost tumblers can produce compost twice as fast as a compost bin, which is a big help!
Better air circulation, better material mixing, better heat, and an enclosed design all work make a significant difference in compost production.
Compost tumblers are almost universally more expensive than compost bins, in some cases costing twice as much. Dual chamber tumblers (see below) are typically even more costly.
This can be a real problem for compost bin owners. While bins are fine for warding off raccoons and dogs, having an open bottom means they’re susceptible to rodents burrowing in from underneath, bees setting up shop, and the like.
Compost bins are very traditional structures and not designed to make composting easy. It can be difficult getting a pitchfork into the compost to turn it at times.
And, if trying to access the compost from the bottom, you have all that extra weight of the composting materials above to deal with.
Many owners of compost bins simply let the mixture rot on its own accord without turning it, due to the hassle involved. But just be aware that not aerating the mix frequently will take longer for the compost to break down.
Because compost tumblers are designed to be turned, most of the hard work is taken away from you. You only need to turn them a couple of times a week and it speeds the composting time up quite significantly. But, don’t be fooled, as they do still require some effort and once they get ¾ full, they can become quite hard to turn.
Some compost tumblers, such as the Mantis shown above, have a handle to make rotating the compost bin easier. Others, like the Lifetime 60058 (reviewed here), have hand grips to aid rotation (think the big wheel on the Price is Right)
For information on using tumbling composters, see our comprehensive guide to using a compost tumbler.
Dual Chamber vs. Single Chamber Compost Tumblers
One of the major distinctions when it comes to compost tumblers is how many chambers are provided. Some compost tumblers have two chambers (such as the Jora JK270, reviewed here), which adds a great deal of utility to the tumbler. Due to the easy-mixing design, once a tumbler chamber is full, you can’t add new material to it without resetting the compost clock for the whole tumbler.
However, with dual batch compost tumblers, you can stagger your batches, making more frequent small batches of compost. While Side A is cooking, you add your scraps to Side B. When Side A is done, you empty it out and start Side B composting, while you add new material to Side A.
Both compost bins and tumblers are pretty good at containing smells. You may get a slight whiff when the lid is off, but when closed you’ shouldn’t get any foul odors escaping from either.
However, if your ratio of ingredients is way off, or you’ve added some inappropriate materials like cheese or meat, things can get nasty. In these cases, compost tumblers are generally better at dealing with odors.
Assembly of a compost tumbler is often quite a bit more difficult and taxing than a compost bin. If you hate to assemble objects, then you almost certainly want to choose a compost bin over a tumbler.
Often compost bins can be simply snapped together, while tumblers may require hours of work screwing things together, making sure everything is balanced, and messing with diagrams.
If assembly difficult is a concern, compost bins are a much better choice than tumblers.
Compost Tumblers tend to be quite robustly constructed. They need to be, in order to take the weight of the composting material in an elevated fashion.
Compost bins, on the other hand, are open-bottomed and only need to contain the composting material, as opposed to supporting its weight.
And for that reason, they’re usually made from much thinner plastic which may become brittle in colder weather or direct sunlight.
Composter tumblers were made for a reason – to make your life easier when composting.
They’re more robust, easier to work with, and provide better aeration. Tumblers are better for keeping pests out, and many of them are portable which helps when it comes to fertilizing the lawn.
However, they’re often quite a bit more expensive and more difficult to assemble, so you’ll have to weigh how much you want to spend on your compost container vs. the ease of use and the life of the structure.