My Slow Goat: A DIY Compost Tumbler

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Nature Magic – Compost

With spring coming on, its a good time to talk about growing food and gardening. We can take a break from comics for a minute. I am trying to branch out on what I include on this blog. After all, thats why it’s called SCLeccentric and not SCLcomics!

I want to introduce you to my goat. I made it myself. It is called a slow goat, because it does in six months what a goat does in six days. It takes green grass and vegetation, and breaks it down into compost for your garden. There are many different ways to compost, and I chose this method because it has several advantages:

  • It is tamper proof – we have possums and kids nearby, and don’t want them in the compost.
  • Smell Proof – bonus considering its right by the house.
  • You can tumble it without getting your hands dirty – no need to open it at all if you don’t want to.

I can tell you’re sold already. Let’s get into the building and composting!

Make your very own goat!

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This picture shows the materials and tools I used. I did not make up this design. It was in Urban Farm magazine, and here’s a link. They do not have the directions online, so I will give you some of the details on how it was constructed. Many designs will work, and there are also compost tumblers that you can buy. But where’s the fun in buying stuff?

The goat consists of a 6.5 gallon hdpe bucket with a piece of pvc pipe going through the center. This sits on top of a wooden 2×4 frame, allowing the bucket to tumble end over end.

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Here is the construction process. I was able to do most the work with a hand saw and power drill. You don’t need to be too precise. Hopefully these pictures will be enough to give people the idea. If you want specifics, comment or email me and I would be happy to tell you the exact process.

You can also see the fall season garden in the background, where the compost is going to end up.

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The frame and bucket are shown here. Finding the bucket was one of the hardest parts of this project. They do not have buckets larger than 5 gallons at the Home Depot or Ace. The only place I found online is an industrial supplier, Globalindustrial.com. This is the bucket I bought.

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The interior of the bucket. The PVC is designed to give air access and drainage. This was actually biggest construction challenge. My drill was not ideal for plastic, and slivers of it get in all the grooves of the drill bit. If you go slowly and clean out your drill bits, it cuts pretty smoothly. You’ll need hole cutters for the sides and bottom of the bucket.

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There are three tubes of PVC going through the bucket. The largest diameter (2″) PVC is inside, vertically passing through the center of the bucket. Halfway down the height of the bucket is a 1″ PVC pipe. The bucket turns on this axis, so placement is important. The final piece is about a quarter of the way from the bottom of the bucket. This piece provides more airflow and stability. Make sure you have clearance room to let the thing tumble!

If anyone has been constructing the tumbler as they read along, now is the time to crack open a beer and congratulate yourself. You deserve it.

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A drainage hole in the bottom is crucial – who wants a bucket of mud?

Making the compost

The main things to consider are air flow and drainage. You don’t want your compost to get too compacted, so tumbling it every few days is best. A full bucket of fresh material will yield about a quarter bucket of compost.

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As the bucket tumbles, the compost inside forms small balls which look like goat poop. That’s where I got the name.

This is after five months of composting. Everything except the twiggy parts has broken down, and it smells like dirt. You may have flies in the compost at different times, but it does not seem like they cause a problem. Keep it outside so ants can explore it. When you work with nature, insects are your allies.

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Break the balls down with a trowel, and it will continue composting. This batch has been cooking for five months, and appears about ready.

Notes on Composting

Composting is like magic. It’s magic that you do not notice often, because it is happening under your feet all the time. With a compost tumbler like this, you can really appreciate the magic of nature. Through composting, all things that were once alive are recycled and nourish growth of the next generation.

Compost banana peels, grass clippings, paper, and humdreds of other things. There are many resources that will tell you what to compost, so you should buy, borrow, or steal a book on that. I’m no expert. Here’s a link to start you off.

One of the main reasons to have a compost tumbler like this is to recycle household waste, so we should talk about that. Admittedly, this is not that efficient. I removed about 6.5 gallons of biological waste materials from our trash. This was trash for about two weeks, and then it takes 6 months to process. Not that efficient. In order to get the most out of this system, I would want to use three buckets. One could have freshly recycled materials that are green, one could be in the process of breaking down, and one could be for finished compost. That seems like an ideal way to continually remove things from the trash flow and convert them to black gold for the garden.

That’s my process for constructing a slow goat to compost. It will have to hold me over until I get a real goat.

Written by Sam Laughlin
Edited by Taylor Devarie