Worm Bin versus Compost Tumbler

>> Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When we did the Start Composting challenge a few months ago, I decided to put my worm bin out of service for awhile and try a different composting method. I'd been eying a compost tumbler at Home Depot (Lowes?) for $100, but then decided to try Craigslist, where I found this bad boy:

It's twice as big as the one from Home Depot (Lowes?) and cost half as much, though perhaps it's not quite as quality. I'm pretty sure the people I bought it from made it themselves, and after we got it home, we had to do some minor repair work to the frame. All in all though, I've been satisfied with the purchase.

So now that I've tried both methods, which do I like better? To be honest, both have their downsides:

  • The compost tumbler takes up a huge amount of space. It's as big as our trash can, but with the frame, sits much farther out from the wall.
  • The compost tumbler stinks. I don't remember ever noticing a stench coming from the worm bin, but if I did, it definitely wasn't as strong as the tumbler. Luckily, the smell is mostly contained inside the tumbler and is only really strong when I open it up to add food scraps.
  • Because it's so large and stinky, the tumbler sits way over on the side of the house by the trash cans - not nearly as convenient as the porch where the worm bin was.
  • Food takes much longer to decompose in the tumbler.
  • The worm bin leaked! And attracted fruit flies!
The Verdict: I hate composting!

I've heard so many people wax poetic about the joy of watching their waste turn into useful compost that I really expected to like it. But the truth is that I really really wish my city would start collecting food scraps, turn it into compost for me, and sell it back for a cheap amount. They already compost yard waste - why not food scraps?

In the meantime, our plan is to continue using the tumbler until it's full, and then go back to using the worm bin while the compost in the tumbler finishes. According to Pragmatic Environmentalism, we could solve our fruit fly problem with the worm bin by freezing the food scraps before putting them in the bin. And I've also read that we could solve our leaking problem by putting the bin up on bricks with an extra lid underneath to catch the dripping worm tea.

The compost in our worm bin is coming along nicely:

And here's a bonus picture of our garden:

How is your composting going?

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Julia (Color Me Green) May 18, 2010 at 10:19 AM  

these kinds of stories are exactly why i am afraid to compost. luckily in my city i can drop it off food scraps at my farmers market to be composted. your garden looks nice!

Anonymous,  May 18, 2010 at 10:29 AM  

We compost using just a big bin that sits directly on the ground that we add our scraps to. I've never noticed a smell. Are you adding the proper ratio of green (scraps and grass clippings, etc.) to browns (wood shavings, coffee filters)? The ratio is something like 8:1 in favor of brown material. If you have to much green it might be stinky. We use to add nothing but scraps in a huge pile and it would take forever to break down, but now that we are adding more fiber to the pile, it's really cooking. I'd say get rid of the tumbler and just get a compost bin with a lid. It'll attract fruit flies, but if you have it just off your porch, that shouldn't be a problem. Good luck! Keep composting! It's so important to keep biodegradable food out of our landfills.

cpcable May 18, 2010 at 11:19 AM  

I really like composting, but I also have a pretty big yard, so our bin sits a ways away from the house. Like Astrid, I just use an open bin. There hasn't been any smell problems, but it also hasn't gotten very hot, so things are taking a long time to break down. I'm trying to pay more attention to it though (turning more often, maintaining the proper green to brown ratio) with the hopes that it'll break down faster.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper May 18, 2010 at 11:43 AM  

@Astrid - According to my research, I'm adding the right ratio of browns vs greens, but it definitely stinks. Maybe if I could get my hands on some sawdust...I definitely like the tumbler better than a big pile though. It's so easy to turn and looks more presentable, considering that I have a tiny yard in the middle of the city.

A Green Spell May 18, 2010 at 12:48 PM  

I LOVE composting. There's something so primal about it. And I love that we aren't throwing away food in the garbage.

I no longer have access to a compost pile, and didn't think a tumbler would work well for our purposes, so we have a worm bin - in the kitchen! And we love it. We are noticing fruit flies now that the hot weather has finally hit, and we may move it outside, but I have a fear that it will attract wasps. We have MAJOR wasp nest problems in this area. So I may try freezing everything first to see if that helps. I kinda like having it in my kitchen.

Our garbage service recently added curbside compost pickup to the yard debris service, which is so exciting! We don't have yard debris service, and I kinda like composting on my own, so I'll keep doing that. BUT, my point is, they started it because so many people called and wrote to them requesting this service. Start a campaign, and maybe you will be able to have curbside compost pickup, too! Yay! :)

Brenda Pike May 18, 2010 at 4:19 PM  

I didn't put any holes near the bottom of my bin. I don't care much about collecting "worm tea," and as long as I continue adding shredded newspaper, it doesn't seem to get too wet. It may not be the absolutely perfect environment for the worms, but they're definitely multiplying and munching away.

Wonder-ful May 18, 2010 at 4:32 PM  

I laughed so hard when you said you hated composting! I was so excited about starting my bin, but lately, I'm almost afraid to go and turn it. It does attract fruit flies, but doesn't stink like my family was afraid of.

Anyhow... the bin sits on an old playset in the middle of the yard. Twice a week it gets turned and... well... when it gets turned it smells like poo. Afterward (when the smell is stuck in my nose) I'll walk around wondering if I really did step in dog poo or if I'm just smelling the compost still. I don't know. I do know it needs more dry stuff right now so (while I'm thinking of it) I should go out and tend to it.

Anonymous,  May 18, 2010 at 8:32 PM  

Our bin is closed, with a lid, and so isn't any more unsightly than a tumbler is - we get a rebate through the city, so it's really affordable to compost and definitely in the city's best interest to make composting as easy as possible. Turning the compost is a bit of a hassle in a bin - we have a special implement for it - but I like how much you can get into the bin. We are a bit obsessive about composting every last bit, so we actually have two bins side by side.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper May 18, 2010 at 10:19 PM  

@A Green Spell - Right now I'm involved with getting community gardens and improving transit, but then maybe I can start a campaign for composting. But you're right, I should write a letter at least!

Shona~ LALA dex press May 19, 2010 at 9:41 AM  

I have a tumbler a friend made using a 50 (55?) gal drum bought at the Coca-Cola plant + a found bed frame (he has welding equipment). Honestly I love the pile method of composting better, but the tumbler is more tidy, which my boyfriend prefers.

I'm a disaster with vermacomposting.

Liz May 19, 2010 at 11:43 PM  

Why not add some worms to your tumbler?

Composters October 25, 2010 at 10:22 PM  

This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work.

Anonymous,  February 18, 2014 at 1:14 PM  

The smell from your tumbler is likely because it's going anaerobic since there isn't enough air flow. I don't see any holes in your tumbler to allow air.

I have 3 Rubbermaid trash cans that I drilled a bunch of 1/2" holes all along the sides. As long as I use a good mix of browns and don't let it get too wet and dense (which would prevent airflow) then I don't get any bad smells.

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