How Often To Turn a Compost Tumbler (For Perfect Results)
Turning compost is one of the key ways to speed up the composting process.
The simple act of turning aerates the organic waste materials and allows air and oxygen into the mix. Oxygen is necessary to support the beneficial microbes responsible for decomposition.
This is essential for good results.
And, of course, tumblers are designed for easy turning!
But how often should you “tumble” your home compost?
This can depend on a variety of factors! Many things affect whether or not your rotting organic mixture is ready to be turned.
How often should I turn a compost tumbler?
As a general rule of thumb, you should turn a compost tumbler every 2 to 3 days for the first two weeks, then less as the compost matures. But, how often you spin the tumbler chamber for the best results is influenced by several considerations.
It mainly depends on the condition of your lovely compost at any particular time 🙂
Learning to evaluate the status of your compost is a valuable skill, and it’s not difficult to do. If you can read the signs that compost needs turning, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort.
For example, if the compost is wet and slimy or has an unpleasant odor, it’s time to turn it.
If the compost is dry and thirsty-looking, you’ll need to add moisture and turn.
If the compost is taking too long to break down, this is a sign that you need to turn it more often.
Some of the essential things that affect when to turn compost are:
- The temperature of the compost inside the tumbler.
- How often you add new material to the tumbler.
- Size of the tumbler chamber.
- The ratio of green to brown ingredients you put inside.
- The stage of decomposition.
- The moisture level inside the container.
- The location of the tumbler in the sun or shade.
- The climate and weather conditions(time of year)
Let’s consider each of these things in turn…
When to turn a compost tumbler
The temperature inside the tumbler and the heat generated by the busy microorganisms is a helpful indication of when to turn the compost.
When the internal temperature of the tumbler reaches around 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit (60-70 degrees Celsius), this is an excellent time to turn.
High temperatures indicate that composting organisms are working so rapidly that the oxygen in the compost is being used up too fast. As a result, the tumblers’ aeration system can’t deliver enough air.
The drop in oxygen creates a poor quality composting environment for the microbes.
It’s time to turn!
Use a thermometer like this one to gauge the heat level inside your compost (Amazon link). Then, plunge it into the center of the compost since this is where the organic matter is hottest.
2. Rate of adding new materials:
If you add new material to the tumbler often, you will turn the chamber each time to create an even mixture. The compost is being constantly mixed and aerated by the new additions.
But, if you’re only adding new material every week or two, you’ll still need to turn the compost regularly at first. This is because the center of the compost heats up more than the outer layers. So to make sure everything gets a chance to decompose uniformly, turn the compost every 2 or 3 days.
When the tumbler chamber is nearly full, you can leave the mixture to cure, turning the drum only every week or two.
3. Size of the chamber:
A larger chamber contains a bigger mass of the organic waste. This improves the decomposition rate of the materials.
The bigger the volume, the larger the thermal mass, and the lower the surface area.
If your tumbler is small, you may need to turn it less frequently to allow thermal activity to build in the center of the pile.
4. Compost tumbler ratio green to brown:
A compost mix with a higher ratio of green ingredients to browns composts more quickly. “Green” ingredients are wetter, which can limit oxygen. You’ll probably need to regularly turn this kind of blend to prevent the ingredients from collapsing and forcing air out of the pile.
The high carbon content of the brown ingredients, such as dried leaves, wood chips, or straw, helps to stabilize the nitrogenous materials from the greens and create an ideal environment for microbial growth. But too many browns will slow down composting.
So if your compost mixture is looking a little dry, add more green ingredients and turn the pile.
6. Stage of decomposition :
The stage of decomposition indicates how long it will take for the compost to be ready.
Suppose the compost is in the early stages of decomposition. In that case, you need to turn it more often because there is a lot of unfinished work going on.
In the later stages of decomposition, you don’t need to turn it as regularly because the microbes are already well established and doing their job. After a while, microbial activity lessens, and the mixture enters a maturation stage.
7. Moisture level inside the container :
If the compost is too wet, turn it to allow more air in. Unfortunately, damp compost doesn’t heat up as much as dry compost, so you’ll need to use your common sense to determine whether the compost needs turning.
If it smells sour, there is too much moisture. If it’s dry to the touch, there is not enough moisture.
8. Location of the tumbler in the sun or shade :
If you have put your compost tumbler in a sunny spot, and climate temperatures are warm, you will need to turn it more often. This is because warm sunny conditions typically accelerate the decomposition process.
Compost tumblers in full sun can reach temperatures up to 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit (71-77 degrees Celsius).
9. Climate and weather conditions :
Seasonal changes in temperature and the “wind chill” factor affect the compost temperature in the tumbler. Decomposition will automatically slow down during this time, so turn your tumbler less frequently.
In cold winter weather, the compost will take longer to decompose, so you can turn it less often.
Can you use a compost tumbler in the winter?
As you can see, temperatures are a critical factor for fast compost. Some gardeners use insulated tumblers to increase efficiency and keep composting in all seasons, even during the winter.
This Mantis back porch composter is an excellent example (Amazon).
Can you turn compost tumbler too much?
Yes, you can turn your compost tumbler too much. The more often you turn it, the more you will disturb the essential microorganisms doing the work. Turning too often can also dry your mixture too much.
Turning a tumbler is a balancing act! You don’t want to turn it too much or too little. Instead, use your common sense to determine when and how often the compost needs turning.
How often you need to turn your compost tumbler really depends on the individual factors affecting your compost. But, as a general rule, you should turn it every 2 or 3 days when you are adding new materials, every week or two when the chamber is nearly full, and less often when the compost is in the later stages of decomposition. Use your common sense to determine whether the compost needs turning.
Related: a complete guide to getting started with tumblers.
Experiment a little, and find the turning schedule that works best for you and your compost tumbler!
How often do you turn yours?