How To Empty A Compost Tumbler: A Quick Guide


Compost in wheelbarrow

One of the most taxing aspects of composting is turning the pile. Enter the compost tumbler. These devices make turning your organic waste into compost much simpler. By allowing air to enter the system, you improve the rate of decomposition. However, once in, how do you get the compost out again? Here is a quick guide on how to empty a compost tumbler.

There are various compost tumblers on the market, so emptying one is directly related to the style of tumbler you have. For most models, the simplest method for emptying is to tilt the bin so that the opening faces the ground, then, using a spade or rake, pull the contents out and downwards.

Emptying a compost tumbler is more or less as straightforward as that. However, not all tumblers are created equally; some designs require more effort in removing compost. Below are some examples of different tumblers and how to empty them.

The In’s And Out’s Of Compost Tumblers

The practice of composting your garden, kitchen, and other organic wastes has increased in popularity over the last few years for several reasons.

  • Firstly, it is a responsible practice to reduce the amount of waste we send to dumpsites.
  • Secondly, it can save us money by reducing the waste we send with trash trucks.
  • Thirdly, and related to the other reasons, we are rewarded with healthy, well-developed, homegrown compost for our gardens!

 By using a compost tumbler, we expedite and simplify the process of turning waste into usable compost by allowing the most amount of air to waste ratio. This improved airflow will enable bacteria and other micro-organisms to break down the organic material more efficiently and effectively.

The most significant benefit of these tumblers is how mixing compost is simplified through mechanical advantage.

The only catch is trying to remove all that lovely compost once it has finished its course of fermentation.

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A Quick Guide To Removing Compost From A Compost Tumbler

Although there will be some slight variations as to the procedure of compost removal, pending the design of your tumbler, the simplest and most effective method of retrieving your “brown-gold” is as follows.

1.     Preparation Before Emptying A Compost Tumbler

As with all things, preparation is critical. Before you get started, make sure you have all the tools required to avoid getting stuck along the way.

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You will need:

  • A location to work in. This goes without saying, but make sure that you don’t mind getting some compost on the area you are working in. Ideally, in a location away from the house or things you would prefer not to smell like, well, compost.
  • Something to catch the compost in. Another “no-brainer,” but when you get the compost out of the tumbler, it needs to go into something else. The most preferable would be a wheelbarrow so that once you empty the compost, you can transport it to where it is needed. Whatever you choose to use, make sure that it is big enough to catch the required amount of compost.
  • The wearing of gloves is recommended. Due to the fact that compost is organic material full of bacteria, there is a hygiene concern. By wearing gloves, you add a “layer” of protection against whatever is inside the mix.
  • The correct tools are paramount to the affair. At the least, you will need a small spade and a type of small rake or some other handheld device for scraping and scooping with.

2.     Removing Compost From The Tumbler

Once you have your tools ready, work spot chosen, and catching tray, the next step is to decant compost.

  • Start by setting up your catch tray/plastic/wheelbarrow under the composter. Make sure that when you position the receptacle, it is in the best place to catch the most amount of compost (there will always be spillage, but that’s why we chose a permissible spot to work in!).
  • Once the positioning is completed, turn the tumbler once or twice to loosen up the compost inside.
  • After loosening the compost, find the lid/opening’s cover and remove it (the tumbler should still be in a more or less upright position).
  • Once the lid has been removed, turn the tumbler so that the opening points downwards towards the compost receiver. Make sure that you don’t go too quickly, as the velocity could spew compost all around the container instead of inside it.
  • At this point, a fair amount of compost should dislodge and make its way out.
  • Continue tilting the tumbler until the opening faces vertically down. This should evacuate the majority of compost that is poised to fall.
  • When there is no longer any compost falling out from the tumbler, tilt the unit back towards you and upwards so that the opening is more or less horizontally in front of you.
  • At this angle, you can now take your spade/rake/scoop and dislodge the compost that did not come out immediately.
  • You have two options of removing this dislodged compost.
  • You can scoop out a spade full at a time and drop it down to the other compost.
  • Or you can dislodge some compost, scrape it more or less to in line with the opening, tilt the tumbler downwards again, and pour the compost into the container.
  • Whichever method you use, there will be a fair amount of repetition to remove the desired amount of compost from the tumbler.
compost tools

3.     Actions To Take Post Compost Removal

  • Once you have removed the desired amount of compost from the tumbler, turn it upright and replace the lid.

This is important if there is still an amount of compost remaining and even if there is not. If there is compost, then this will prevent it from drying out. If there is no compost, this should preserve some bacteria and other micro-organisms for the next load of compost to be made.

  • You are now free to throw the compost onto your lawn/plants as desired.
  • Make sure to clean up the area around the tumbler where some compost may have spilled to prevent excess weed growth from occurring.
  • Clean your tools and wash your hands. By doing so, you prolong the functionality of your equipment and your own when practicing good hygiene!

Design Issues With Compost Tumblers And Compost Removal

Some compost tumblers (especially homemade ones) may have designs that do not lend themselves to tilting the unit downwards and pouring out the compost.

This could be because the hole is too big, or the tumbler itself is already on the ground.

In situations like this, the unfortunate truth is, more effort will be required to remove the compost.

Depending on the size of the opening, either a full-sized spade could be used or a bucket/scoop.

Caution is, however, necessary when using bigger implements because the risk of damaging the tumbler with the tool increases.

If the hole is too small for a conventional spade, you can use a hand spade, smaller bucket, or another scoop.

In the worst-case scenario, a pair of gloves means that you can scoop the compost out by hand.

Either way, in these instances, you will most likely need to bend/get down on your hands and knees to remove the compost.

Be Prepared To Get Dirty When Working With Compost

When removing compost, there will always be a portion that remains steadfastly in the tumbler.

Depending on the tumbler’s design, you will probably need to stick your arm in at best or your head and shoulders in at the worst.


Different Compost Tumbler Designs And The Associated Removal Methods

Check out my post where I share my opinion about a couple of the best compost tumblers you can purchase.

Single Chambered Tumbler Set Horizontally On A Stand

Straightforward removal. You simply open the lid and tilt the tumbler. Then scoop out what doesn’t fall out.

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Two Chambered Tumbler Set Horizontally On A Stand

Straightforward removal. You select the partition you wish to remove from, open the sliding lid, and tilt the tumbler. Then scoop out what doesn’t fall out.

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Many store-bought tumblers have very similar designs. There are, however, exceptions to the rule. The EZ Compost Wizard Jr. is a compost tumbler that lies horizontally on a stand on the ground.

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When emptying this tumbler, you need to scoop out the compost with a spade as there is no way to pour the compost out into a receptacle.

Issues When Opening And Emptying A Compost Tumbler

Although technology is designed to make our lives simpler, this is not always the case. Sometimes there are issues when trying to open and empty a tumbler. These include:

  • A stuck lid. The most common of issues would be a lid that no longer opens. The likely cause for this is sun damage and plastic warping.
  • Too much moisture in the compost. If your ratio was incorrect and there was too much water added, you may end up with nutrient-tea slurry instead of well-structured compost.

This tea is still usable but may make a mess when emptying the tumbler, as it sloshes all over the place.

  • The compost is stuck. If there are substantial-sized items inside the tumbler, such as sticks, they can sometimes get stuck. This may reduce the tumbler’s efficacy, but they could also make emptying a challenge by blocking the exit for the compost.

Fortunately, removing the stick/obstruction should be sufficient to solve the problem.

Some Additional Considerations When Emptying A Compost Tumbler

Below are some extra things to think about when composting.

  • Timing is everything. Make sure that your compost is fully matured before taking it out. Some organic material that is not fully composted may burn your plants/grass or add unwanted micro-organisms.
  • Take enough for your need and use it. There is little sense in taking compost out of the tumbler, only to leave it in a pile somewhere else. Unless, of course, you need the space drastically.
  • Wear “compost compliant” clothing. Although there is no such thing, it’s a great idea to make sure the clothes you wear are alright to be sullied, because sullied they will become! This includes proper footwear.
  • By making sure you composted correctly, to begin with, your compost should be of a consistency that lends itself to being removed with relative ease.  

Compost should have the appearance of crumbly dark-brown to black soil, with an “earthy” smell. By adding the correct ratio of “green waste” to “brown waste,” this texture should be effortlessly achieved.

How Long Is Long Enough? When Should You Empty A Compost Tumbler?

How long it takes to turn organic waste into compost depends on several variables. These include:

  1. The type of waste being composted. Large waste takes a longer time to decompose than fragmented items in the same way that things that are more fibrous take longer to break down than softer materials.
  • The season and climate you are in. Composting occurs quickest in warmer temperatures with higher humidity.
  • The amount of oxygen. The micro-organisms responsible for composting need a fair amount of oxygen, so by regularly turning your tumbler, you speed up the natural process.
  • How moist the compost is will also determine the amount of time taken. More moisture (within reason) will generally speed up the process, but too much water could hamper it.

Realistically speaking, you could probably plan on around one month to convert organic waste into compost. It may go quicker, but it may also take a bit longer.

Working on a month is a good guideline. The beauty is, at any point, you can open up your tumbler and check on the progress.

Conclusion

Compost tumblers speed up the composting process by mixing air, micro-organisms, and organic waste. Once fully composted, the removal process from most tumblers is relatively straightforward. Titling the tumbler into a receiving container, followed by scraping what compost remained behind, should yield the desired amount of compost leaving the tumbler, which can be reused immediately or left for another day.

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Harold Thornbro

Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Public Speaker, Teacher, Homesteading and Permaculture Enthusiast. If You're Looking For Me, You'll Find Me In The Garden.

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