Homemade Compost Tumbler Out of Cement Mixer

Ideas for building a homemade compost tumbler for garden compost.

| November/December 2013

Rather than use a pitchfork to turn compost material in a stationary bin, Russell Casperson, Hagensborg, British Columbia, built an electric-powered, 6-cubic-yard composter from the drum of a portable cement mixer. His monster drum is turned by a single phase, 3⁄4-hp electric motor.

“I’ve been a gardener for nearly 48 years, which I really enjoy, but making compost was never one of my favorite jobs,” Russell says. “My brother heard about an old 1949 cab-over Kenworth cement mixer for sale, so we bought it. I wanted the mixer, and he wanted the truck.”

Russell located a logging truck chassis and wheels at a local salvage yard to mount the drum. Now it sits in the tall grass of his backyard, convenient to his large vegetable garden. To rotate the drum, he connected the electric motor to two 60-to-1 reduction gears. That reduces the 1,700 rpm output of the motor to a snail’s pace, rotating the drum once every 21⁄2 minutes.

“It’s the perfect speed to mix all the stuff I put in there,” Russell says. “I throw in about 1,500 pounds of hay, maybe 300 pounds of fish scraps from a local processor, and add a few pails of nitrogen.” The motor is set on a timer so it churns only at night. That way the odor doesn’t bother the neighbors.

Russell’s backyard compost cooks for about six months. He empties the big tub by reversing the rotation, and the paddles lift it out the back into his loader bucket or a trailer. He spreads the contents about 4 to 6 inches deep on his garden, then tills it in for a lush, fertile seedbed.

“The compost smells real sweet when it’s done, and, boy, does it grow vegetables,” Russell says. “The beets are about double the size that people normally grow, potatoes are huge and delicious, and carrots are very sweet.”

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