Garden Level-Up: Make this Simple Compost Tumbler from 1 Bucket (with Pictures!)

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My Slow Goat: A DIY Compost Tumbler

No matter the season, it’s 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, that’s why it’s called SCLeccentric and not SCLcomics!

I want to introduce you to my goat. I made it myself. It’s called a slow goat, because it does in six months what a goat does in six days. It takes 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 three advantages:

  • Tamper-proof: possums and kids are nearby and we don’t want them in compost
  • Smell-proof: bonus considering it’s right by the house
  • Mess-proof: 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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The materials and tools I used

I didn’t create this tumbler’s design. It was in Urban Farm Magazine. They don’t have the directions online, so I’ll 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 (high-density polyethylene) bucket with a piece of PVC pipe going through the center. This all sits on top of a wooden 2×4 frame, allowing the bucket to tumble end over end.

The Construction Process

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In the background, you can see the fall season garden where the compost will end up.

I was able to do most of 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. Comment below or email me for details; I’ll be happy to tell you the exact process.

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Tumbler frame and bucket

Finding the bucket was one of the hardest parts of this project. They don’t have buckets larger than 5 gallons at the Home Depot or Ace. The only place I could find one is online through 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 promote air flow and drainage. This was actually my biggest construction challenge. My drill was not the most ideal for plastic, and slivers of it got in all the drill bits’ grooves. If you go slowly and clean out your drill bits though, a drill cuts the plastic pretty smoothly. You’ll also need hole cutters to cut the side and bottom holes in the bucket.

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Make sure you have clearance room to let the thing tumble!

There are three tubes of PVC going through the bucket. The largest diameter (2″) PVC is inside, passing vertically through the center of the bucket. Halfway down the height of the bucket is a 1″ PVC pipe that makes this tumbler “tumble.” The bucket turns on this axis, so placement is important. The final piece is about a quarter of the way from the bucket’s bottom. This piece provides more airflow and stability. And don’t forget to make a drainage hole in the bottom:

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

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. You’re on your way to making black gold!

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 has broken down, and it smells like dirt. There may be some twigs that didn’t compost fully, and you may have flies in it at different times, but it does not seem like these 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 compost down with a trowel until you have a bucket of dirt

At this point, you can let your black gold continue composting if you like – but this batch has been cooking for five months and appears about ready for the garden!

Notes on Composting

Composting is like magic. It’s magic that you don’t notice often, because it’s 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 to nourish the growth of future generations.

Compost banana peels, grass clippings, paper, and hundreds of other things. There are many resources that will tell you what to compost and why, 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. Again, not that efficient. In order to get the most out of this system, I would want to use three buckets. One bucket could be 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 make your own compost. It will have to hold me over until I get a real goat.

Written by Sam Laughlin
Edited by Taylor Devarie