Composting is a natural process, and whatever you do, it will happen, but, people new to composting still sometimes run into problems that make the process harder than it needs to be. Here are some of the most common issues.
There are two ways things break down, with the help of aerobic organisms (those that use oxygen) or with the help of anaerobic organisms (those that do not). Compost works best, and fastest, with aerobic organisms, which is why it is recommended that you turn your compost pile regularly, or just buy a tumbler that makes it easier to turn, to keep it aerated. Without enough oxygen anaerobic bacteria take over and they compost material more slowly, and produce smelly results. Anaerobic decomposition is what occurs in stagnant swamps, aerobic deomposition is what occurs on a forest floor, you want the forest floor.
Why does anaerobic deomposition take place in stagnant swamps? Because water has less oxygen in it than air, and stagnant water has far less than running water, so the swamp water is a very low oxygen environment, hence anaerobic decomposition. These bacteria create smells because they produce methane and really are just fermenting.
So, if you build a swamp in your compost tumbler with too much moisture, and too much nitrogen, it will smell like a swamp, and compost slowly, and that is a problem.
The solution is to immediately stop adding water if you do so normally, really, with our compost tumblers, usually you get all the water you need from kitchen scraps because the lid prevents overt evaporation, and so you do not need to add extra. Additionally, you need to add more brown material, stuff that will mix in well. My favorite is shredded leaves, but shredded newspaper or straw works as well, add a little bit, spin, add a little bit, spin, etc until it is well mixed. Then, in the future, always add brown when you add green. Consider taking your kitchen scraps out in small brown paper lunch bags, then toss the whole thing in. The bags are a good source of brown.
For more on the science of composting see here.
We sell big tumblers, we want you to get your money's worth, and used correctly they are fairly easy to turn for the average adult, used incorrectly they can become hard to turn and even break.
The problem with weight is usually one of density, compost tumbler are NOT meant to hold material as dense as garden soil, and our 9 cu/ft tumbler could technically hold nearly 500 pounds of soil if it was filled with soil, that would not only break the axle and possibly other parts, but would be a challenge for anyone to turn.
Compost will eventually turn into soil, but when finished it is as dense and light as potting mix, letting it get denser and heavier and closer to being finished soil will increase the weight.
Additionally, our compost tumblers are NOT designed to hold 9 cu/ft of finished compost. They are designed to hold 9 cu/ft of uncomposted organic matter (and really, you shouldn't fill it to the top, so lets say 2/3rds to 3/4ths full) which is even less dense than finished compost. Then you put the lid on and let it cook for a few weeks and when it is done it will have shrunk in size by atleast half, at this point you should harvest it, if instead you reload and add more stuff, you're unnecessarily increasing the weight, and in fact dealing with say 2 loads instead of one. If you wait a few more weeks, let the ingredients compost and shrink, and then top off again, you're now spinning three loads. Eventually it can break or warp and you'll be unable to turn it.
In an ideal situation you would fill your tumbler up to 2/3rds or 3/4ths full, tumble it daily until it reaches about 1/3rd full, and then harvest and use it (or store it, but don't store it inside the tumbler if you'll be adding more). Then start again.
Extra weight can also be from extra water, which I talked about above under smelly compost.
Composting speed varies greatly based on a variety of factors.
1. Ingredient Mix Too much green and wetness and you get anaerobic activity which is slow and smelly, too little green and too much brown and you get aerobic activity, but not enough of it, it will depend on your specific ingredients, BUT you need typically much more brown than green, anything to 1 part green to 3 parts brown to 1 part green to 10 parts brown. What works for you specifically will require some trial and error.
2. Temperature Aerobic composting produces heat, so it helps itself a little bit, but ambient temperature also matters. You want it to be hot, both because heat makes things go faster, but also because heat sterilizes any pathogens in the compost. Compost will happen faster in Florida than in Maine. Also, our compost tumbler is not black for style reasons, it is so it will absorb more heat from the sun, so putting it in the shade will also be slower than putting it in the sun. It'll still work in the shade, it'll still work in Maine, it just will work slower, and you need to be prepared for that. Consequently, it'll also work slower in the winter.
3. Particle Size The size (surface area to mass ratio) of what you put in your tumbler has a large impact on how fast it will decompose, a large impact. If you can pregrind or preshred materials they will go much much faster. even giving materials a course tear with your hands before putting them in helps. Serious composters will blend or food process all kitchen scraps before adding them, and shred and grind all brown materials using various garden chippers on the market. In such a situation compost happens very fast, and you also get a finer end product. You can use unshredded leaves and small twigs and unblended or chopping kitchen scraps of course, but then it will take longer.
4. Oxygen Oxygen matters for much the same reasons as ingredient mix, you want to encourage aerobic bacteria, which need oxygen, so you need to oxygenate your compost. People with piles need to go out with a pitchfork and turn them regularly, people with compost tumblers just need to tumble, and our tumblers also have patented core aerating tubes to help as well. Turn at least once a day for best results.
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