Compost Heap Or Tumbler?

You might assume that a high quality expensive compost tumbler will give you better compost than a regular traditional compost heap, right? Well, it’s not quite so cut and dried as that. A tumbler does have a few advantages. But… probably not as many as you might think. Read on to find out why.

First, let’s look at the pros of a compost tumbler.

compost tumbler

Easier to turn. If you get a good quality tumbler with a gear and ratchet system, then a few turns of the handle every couple of days is all you need. Compare that to manually forking over a compost heap.

Keeps smell in and vermin out. With that said, a well maintained heap won’t smell, and if you don’t add material to a heap that will attract rats and mice, then that won’t be a problem.

Easier to empty. You just need to place a wheelbarrow under the hatch, open the door and turn the tumbler. Definitely easier than shovelling compost from a pile on the ground.


With those advantages out of the way, let’s look at the disadvantages. And it comes down to one simple fact that the makers of compost tumblers simply don’t address (or even acknowledge) in their promotional material.

A compost heap can produce better quality compost in less time than a compost tumbler.

Here is the results of a study that confirms this.

  • A compost heap turned once a week will produce good compost in 10 weeks, compared to a tumbler that will take 14 weeks.
  • A tumbler will produce rougher, less rotted compost.
  • A tumbler will not have worms in the compost.
  • Unless you want to spend the money to buy a tumbler with multiple compartments, you have to wait until it’s empty before you can begin more compost. Whereas you can have multiple compost heaps at varying stages of completion (if you have the space).

The lack of worms is a big problem in a tumbler. You can’t just add some in, the heat generated will kill them. And worm castings is a big component of great compost. But it’s not just worms, there are all sort of insects and bugs that get into your compost heap and work their magic on the rotting material. That simply can’t happen in an enclosed space like a tumbler.

Of course there are times that a tumbler will make more sense. It depends on your particular circumstances. Perhaps you don’t have the room for a compost heap, or you want to have it close to the back door so it’s easy to add kitchen scraps. Maybe turning a compost pile is just too difficult for you. Whatever the reasons for having a tumbler, it WILL produce good compost for you. Just maybe not with the same “crumble quality” as a well maintained heap, and not quite as quickly.

Overall, I would opt for the traditional compost heap. It produces better compost in less time, and I can have several on the go at once. I just can’t justify spending several hundred $$ to get a tumbler that won’t do as good a job.