Composting is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Turning yard trimmings, food scraps, and other organic materials into rich, nourishing compost can reduce your household waste while providing a free, natural fertilizer for your plants.
While you can compost in simple piles, bins, or even just digging a hole in your garden, using a tumbling composter speeds up the process and makes it more convenient. Tumbling the materials mixes air into the compost, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and organisms that break down the waste.
Hand-crank tumblers are rotatable drums that make mixing your compost super easy. Just give the handle a few turns whenever you add new materials or think it needs aerating. In this blog, we’ll go over the key factors to consider when choosing a hand-crank compost tumbler and recommend the top 5 models on the market today.
Main Features to Look for in a Hand-Crank Composter
Hand-crank tumblers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs. While they all operate on the same basic principle, some work better than others depending on your needs and yard setup. Here are the main features to take into account:
Tumblers range widely in their capacity from just 5-10 gallons on the low end up to over 200 gallons for the largest models. Consider how much yard waste and food scraps your household generates to determine the right size. Master composters recommend having at least two cubic feet of capacity per person in your home. A family of four would need a tumbler of around 100 gallons or 8 cubic feet.
Bigger is not necessarily better either. Oversized tumblers can become difficult to turn and manage. You want the capacity to match your waste production, with a little extra room for bulky items and future expansion.
The drum of the composter can be made from plastic or steel. High-density polyethylene plastic is lightweight, rustproof and provides good insulation to contain heat for faster composting. Steel is more durable but also heavier and prone to rust over time. Plastic drums are usually cheaper as well.
Proper aeration is crucial for active composting. As you rotate the drum, the tumbling action helps mix in air. Some tumblers have internal fins or ridges to enhance this mixing effect.
Others have fixed aeration vents around the sides or base that let in air flow even when stationary. These continuous flow-through designs provide passive ventilation while also allowing liquid to drain out, reducing excess moisture.
Ease of Use
Look at the design features that affect everyday operation:
- Crank location – Side mounted cranks offer better leverage versus top mounts. Offset cranks are easier to turn than centered.
- Door access – Lids or hatches should be large enough to easily add materials and scoop finished compost. Some have sliding doors.
- Locking mechanism – A secure latch prevents unwanted animal visitors from getting inside.
- Handle length and grip – Long handles provide good torque. Thick, comfort-grip handles make cranking easier.
- Base – Sturdy wide-set legs or a solid base keeps the drum stable when rotating.
- Extra features – Inner fins or ridges to enhance tumbling action, compost thermometer, multiple chambers or compartments.
While tumbling composters are low maintenance, you still need to do some periodic upkeep like turning the drum and chopping larger pieces before adding them. The easier a tumbler is to operate and maintain, the more likely you’ll keep up with it!
Top 5 Hand Crank Compost Tumblers
After comparing numerous models using the criteria above, these five tumblers rise to the top as the best on the market:
1. FCMP Outdoor Tumbling Composter
- Capacity: 37 gallons
- Material: 100% recycled plastic
- Aeration: Hexagon-shaped interior fins
- Ease of use: Dual 8.5” openings, 10:1 gear system, 18” chrome crank
- Dimensions: 33” H x 29” W
- Pros – Large capacity, heavy-duty plastic, easy dual slide doors
- Cons – Door seal could be better
With rugged recycled plastic construction and a space-efficient design, the FCMP tumbler provides easy, maintenance-free composting. The unique gear mechanism and oversized crank spin the drum smoothly with minimal effort. Hexagon ridges efficiently mix and aerate materials. Dual airtight doors and an internal compost thermometer let you conveniently check progress.
2. Envirocycle Mini Composter
- Capacity: 35 gallons
- Material: Powder-coated steel
- Aeration: Inner mixing fins + flow-through base
- Ease of use: Offset 8.4” opening, 17.3” crank handle
- Dimensions: 25” H x 20” W
- Pros – Steel drum, base ventilation, simple yet stylish design
- Cons – Small capacity for price, occasional rust
This miniature version of Envirocycle’s award-winning tumbler provides fast, efficient composting. The powder-coated steel drum retains heat to speed up decomposition while preventing corrosion. An offset door and dual internal baffles make filling and emptying easy. The aeration holes in the welded steel base let air in while allowing excess liquid to drain out. With a smaller footprint, it’s a great choice for small yards.
3. Jora JK270 Composter
- Capacity: 206 gallons
- Material: Polyethylene plastic
- Aeration: Central mixing bar
- Ease of use: 2 x 9” openings, central 20” crank
- Dimensions: 55” H x 33” W
- Pros – Huge capacity, lightweight plastic, unique tumbling design
- Cons – Higher price tag, crank difficult for shorter users
With over 200 gallons of capacity, the Jora JK270 is a composting powerhouse. Its unique design features a horizontally-mounted drum that spins on a central axis. As you turn the crank, the drum slowly rotates around the frame. This movement tumbles the materials from end to end for thorough mixing. Dual hatches provide great access and visibility. The rugged plastic body won’t rust or degrade over time. It’s the ideal choice for large gardens and households.
4. Miracle-Gro Dual Chamber Composter
- Capacity: 37 gallons each (74 total)
- Material: BPA-free plastic
- Aeration: Flow-through ventilation
- Ease of use: 12” openings, grip handle
- Dimensions: 36” H x 43” W
- Pros – BPA-free plastic, two 37-gallon chambers, easy turn handle
- Cons – Door seal not as tight, plastic seems thin
This innovative dual-bin tumbler from Miracle-Gro lets you compost like a pro. Having two compartments allows you to keep materials at different stages separate, so finishing compost in one side while adding fresh waste to the other. The durable BPA-free plastic drums have extra wide openings and aeration holes around the base. While cranking each drum is easy thanks to the long grip handle, the plastic does seem thin compared to other models. Overall a great choice if you want to produce compost continuously.
5. Lifetime 60058 Composter
- Capacity: 8 cubic ft (113 gallons)
- Material: High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
- Aeration: Internal aeration bar
- Ease of use: Zippered side access port, 18” handle
- Dimensions: 43.7′′H x 36′′W
- Pros – Very large capacity, heavy-duty HDPE plastic, internal mixing bar
- Cons – Small side access makes adding waste challenging
With its ultra-sturdy construction and over 100-gallon capacity, the Lifetime tumbler is built to last through years of composting. The HDPE double-walled plastic sides provide insulation to contain heat and speed decomposition. An internal aeration bar mixes materials as you rotate the drum using the long steel crank handle. While usage and emptying can be tricky through the zippered side opening, the exceptional quality and performance make it a great choice if you prioritize durability.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hand-Crank Tumblers
Here are answers to some common questions about using and maintaining hand-crank compost tumblers:
How much compost can a tumbler produce?
Tumblers can produce 1-3 cubic feet of finished compost for every 1 cubic foot of capacity in 2-3 months time. For example, a 50-gallon tumbler may yield 50-150 gallons of compost. Output depends on how frequently you fill and turn the tumbler.
How long does composting take in a tumbler?
The composting process takes 2-4 months in a properly maintained tumbler. Turning the drum every 3-5 days accelerates decomposition. Finished compost is dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling.
Should I close the drum vent when not in use?
Yes, sealing off airflow prevents precious heat and moisture from escaping, allowing your compost pile to reheat faster after turning.
Can I compost year-round with a tumbler?
Tumblers can be used in cold weather since the drum walls retain heat. Try wrapping your tumbler in an insulating blanket when temps drop below freezing. Keep compost moist but not wet.
What ratio of green and brown materials should go in my tumbler?
Maintain a 25:75 ratio of “green” nitrogen-rich materials like food waste to “brown” carbon-rich yard trimmings. This promotes microbial activity to break down ingredients quickly.
Do I need to use an activator or inoculant with my compost?
Actinators are not necessary as long as you have the right mix of materials. Finished compost can help to inoculate and jump-start the next batch.
What size/model tumbler do I need for a family of 4?
For a 4-person household, look for a 50-100 gallon tumbler, around 7-8 cubic feet capacity. The Envirocycle Mini or FCMP Outdoor tumbler would both work well.
Where is the best place to set up my compost tumbler?
Situate your tumbler in a partially shaded spot, near a water source and where you’ll see and use it often. Proper drainage under the base is essential.
How often do I need to turn or crank the drum?
Turning the drum every 3-5 days provides ideal aeration for rapid composting. Turn more often if you add a lot of fresh material.
How do I know when my compost is finished?
Compost is ready when it is uniformly dark, crumbly, and sweet or earthy-smelling. Finished compost is about 1/2 to 1/3 the volume of the starting materials.
What if my compost smells bad?
Odors indicate excess moisture or poor aeration. Try adding more brown material like leaves or wood chips. Turn the drum frequently to dry out and add oxygen to the pile.
Can I compost meat, dairy, oils, etc. in a tumbler?
It’s best to avoid composting animal products, fats or grease as they can attract pests and cause odors. Stick to plant-based food scraps and yard waste.
Start Tumbling for a Healthy Garden
Composting with a hand-crank tumbler allows you to produce your own nutrient-rich fertilizer while reducing trash output. Tumbling actively mixes air into the organic materials, speeding up decomposition. The models we recommend make turning and maintaining your compost simple and mess-free.
Consider how much yard waste and food scraps your household generates. Then choose a properly sized drum with sturdy construction and handy features that fits your space. Opening the hatch to find fresh, ready-to-use compost will give you great satisfaction while benefiting your garden soil and plants. Join the thousands of happy hand-tumbler users and start reaping the rewards today!