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Make a compost tumbler

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.

Here’s how to tumble your way to rich compost for your garden and plants.



  • Sturdy plastic 55-gallon (or so) food barrel
  • Drill
  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Adjustable wrench
  • 8 3⁄8-by-3 1⁄2-inch carriage bolts
  • 8 3⁄8-inch nuts
  • 8 3⁄8-inch washers
  • 16d galvanized nails
  • 2 bungee cords (If barrel has a locking lid, you won’t need the bungees.)
  • 5 2-by-6-inch boards (Lengths will be determined by the size of the container.)
  • 3⁄4-inch galvanized pipe, threaded both ends (You can get a standard-size pre-cut threaded pipe. The length will be determined by diameter of the barrel.)
  • 2 3⁄4-inch galvanized pipe caps


Prepare the Barrel

1. Wash out the barrel and drill two 7⁄8-inch holes halfway between the top and bottom. These holes are for the 3⁄4-inch galvanized pipe.

2. Drill 1⁄2-inch holes evenly spaced around the barrel.


Build a Sturdy Frame

3. Cut the 2-by-6-inch boards and assemble the frame as shown, using the hardware listed. The feet should be almost as long as the legs are high.

compost-24. Drill 7⁄8-inch holes at the top of the legs and pass the 3⁄4-inch steel pipe through the hole in one leg, into the barrel and out through the leg on the other side. Screw on the pipe caps.

5. If the lid needs to be held in place, drill small holes around the lid to hook bungee cords.


Layer yard waste into the tumbler. Alternate green materials like grass clippings with brown ones like hay or fallen leaves. Put in some garden soil and kitchen waste such as veggie scraps, fruit peels, cereal, bread, crushed egg shells, tea bags, and coffee grounds and filters. Never use meat, poultry, fish, dairy or pet waste. That stuff can attract unwanted critters.

Bacteria breaks down the materials in your tumbler and turns it into rich organic compost. The decomposing material will become hot as the bacteria does its work. The material in your tumbler should be about as moist as a damp sponge. Spin your tumbler one or two times a week to mix the contents and keep it aerated.


Food barrels are used for things like juice or pickles. Try checking with large restaurants or food distributors. Also, there are companies that sell used food barrels.

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10 Comments on Make a compost tumbler

  1. HprseHpckey // April 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm // Reply

    Manure from horses, cattle or chickens will work great. Seriously. You need to use three times as much brown leaves since it’s so concentrated…
    Don’t use dog or cat poo though, they can have human diseases.

  2. Good Stuff! Clean neat and tidy, but coffee grounds and broken egg shells come right out the half inch vent holes making a big mess, cut the hole size down, and put more of them to get rid of moisture!

  3. Lazy gardener // April 18, 2009 at 5:30 am // Reply

    This is a great idea! But its one disadvantage is that the barrel is not resting on the ground, so you don’t get all those worms coming in and holding a party!

  4. Countryboy96 // April 9, 2009 at 5:46 pm // Reply

    Sounds really cool,but can you use horse manure with it?

  5. ladies man // March 29, 2009 at 1:38 pm // Reply

    it was cool

  6. Hi this is very cool!But if you don’t have a barrel
    you can us a Garbage Can

  7. Cool i plan to do it for my mom.

  8. LOVE IT

  9. this is a really cool project and i hope 2 see more like this one. I hope u guys keep thinking of ways to help the Earth!!!!

  10. this looks like a really good project for my den to try! thanks so much.

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