Ever wondered how to use a composter? Here are the step-by-step instructions and tips and tips and ideas for using a tumbling composter for your garden.

how to use a composter

This was a picture I took last week right after I showed you how to make an obelisk.

I wish you could see this Mandevilla now.

It’s almost twice this size.

We’ve been adding plant food and watering every day and even in the middle of the Texas heat, these flower urns and the plants in our yard are growing like Jack and his beanstalk.

And that got us talking.

And thinking.

And general garden discussioning.

What if we made our own plant food? What if we took the stuff that we get rid of and turned it into nutrients and went all Mary Mary Quite Contrary and watched our garden grow?

So as an early Father’s Day present for my husband….

…I ordered this.

how to use a composter tips and ideas

A tumbling composter.

I did a lot of research and found one that got good reviews and was affordable and wasn’t too big and had two compartments and tumbled and ordered this model. This is our “get started” composter. I know that there are much bigger composters on the market and this one isn’t going to produce enough compost for our yard, but I wanted to start small. Sometimes when I’m starting a project or a new idea, I tend to spend too much money and buy too many tools and products that just sit on a shelf that I never even used.

Just between us?

I wanted to make sure that we even actually compost before I invested a lot of money.

So here it is.

Our starter composter ready to go.

I’ve done SO MUCH research on how to use it and I thought I’d share everything I’d learned in case you had thought about composting and wanted to try it. Also, because I’m just getting started, I’d love to hear any of your tips, too.

Together we can COMPOST.

how to use a composter door

Q: WHERE ARE YOU SETTING UP YOUR COMPOSTER?

This unit is 28″ wide x 36″ high x 26″ deep so it’s not an overwhelming size. You want your location to be close to the garden, but not so far that you have to walk a mile to put in a banana peel. We have it just around the corner from the backdoor out of sight at the end of this porch.  It’s close enough for banana peels and close enough to the urns by the door and the flower beds.

It would work perfectly if you lived in an apartment with a small patio outside, too.

We also have a small trashcan right by the back door (it’s about the size of a bathroom trashcan) with a lid that opens and shuts with a foot pedal. The inside lifts out and you can carry it by the handle to the composter.

Q: HOW DOES THE COMPOSTER WORK?

This composter model actually has two chambers. You add new raw material to one side and rotate it 5 to 10 times each time you add a deposit to the composter. It’s also a good idea to rotate it every 2-3 days if you haven’t added anything to the composter.

When the first compartment is full, you want to let the mix cure and start adding material to the second compartment. You’ll slide the door over with the clock symbol to let you know which side is curing and which side you are adding to.

Q: HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR COMPOSTER IS WORKING?

First, you want to check on your mix after a couple of days to make sure it’s getting hot.

Hot is good. Hot is your friend. That means that the organisms are breaking down the stuff inside the composter and it’s decomposing into food for your flowers. The key is making sure that it’s turned every couple of days.

Another key thing to look for is to make sure that it’s damp. You want your materials to be damp, but not too damp. You don’t want the mix to dry out, so if it looks like it’s slightly drying out, make sure to add a little bit of water (but not too much).

Q: WHEN IS YOUR COMPOST READY?

This really depends on what you’ve added to the composter, but a good rule of thumb is between 2-8 weeks. Just keep turning the composter and keep an eye on the mix to make sure it’s damp and the mix is decomposing.

Q: WHAT KIND OF THINGS DO YOU ADD TO A COMPOSTER?

This was my number one question to myself.

I understood how the composter worked, but what type of things should I be adding to it. Here’s a list (I’m sure there are tons more ideas than this) that I put together for our family:

  • eggshells
  • fruit and vegetable scraps (the smaller the scraps the easier it will be for them to break down)
  • coffee grounds
  • grass clippings
  • melon rinds
  • citrus rinds
  • used coffee filters
  • brown paper lunch bags
  • cooked pasta
  • rice

Q: WHAT IS THE PROPER RATIO OF GREENS TO BROWNS

You can see from my list that there are “greens” (nitrogen) and there are “browns” (carbon). You want to make sure you have the proper ratio to make your composter the most effective.

Make sure when you are adding things to the composter, you keep a ratio of 1 part greens to 2 part browns. Here are some things to look for with your mix and how to fix them:

  1. If your mix doesn’t heat up? It could be because your mix is too wet and you’ll need to add some dry browns.
  2. If it smells like ammonia? It’s probably because you have too many greens, so add some dry browns.
  3. If it smells like rotten eggs? It means the mix is too wet and it’s not getting enough oxygen. Add some dry browns and open the vent in the composter.

Q: WHAT ARE THE THREE RULES OF COMPOSTING?

RATIO:

Make sure your ratios are correct. Make sure you have the proper amount of greens to the proper amount of browns.

MOISTURE:

Make sure your mix isn’t too dry or too wet—you want it to feel like a damp sponge.

CIRCULATION:

Make sure the air is circulating in your composter. Air is key to ensure decomposition. You’ll want to turn it every couple of days to ensure the composting is most effective.

Q: HOW DO YOU EMPTY THE COMPOSTER?

Turn the composter so the door is facing down. Pull open the door and let the compost fall out onto a trash bag. You’ll notice that the compost will be in two parts. One part will be a finer mix that you can sift and use in potting mixes. One part will be a coarser mix that you can use around outdoor plantings or in the garden.

You can also use a small amount of finished compost to start your next batch.

Whew.

That was A LOT of information on how to use a composter.

I hope it was helpful and don’t forget to add any tips you have in the comments so we can all be the very best composters possible.

On a side note. I mentioned to my mother yesterday that we were starting to compost and she told me that my father had a compost pile in the back yard when I was younger. So I guess now that we are composters?

We’re just continuing on with a family tradition.

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Comments

  1. Image for Liberty Liberty

    I know someone who has one of these, but I don't-- yet. I have had a pile next to the garden for food waste... and then cantaloupe plants grew from it!!

  2. Image for david david

    I think it's awesome that you're doing this! I keep wanting to do this while simultaneously doubting I'd keep it up. Are you setting up a separate bin in your kitchen for the things that will eventually head to the composter?

  3. Image for Kathy Kathy

    KariAnne, you are one hardworking girl!! Can’t wait to hear how your composting progresses and your future comments on the smells coming out of there in this Texas heat!

  4. Image for Jennifer Jennifer

    OMG, a composter, I was just thinking about looking for one this morning. We have two, yes TWO, compost piles on our property. The first one wasn't getting enough sun--we're on the Maine coast so it's pretty cool here. It's June 15 and I'm wearing a wool shirt and all the windows are closed. But, I want something that's easier for me to manage. Our big compost pile has to be turned over with a pitchfork and it's quite the job. I also need a countertop thing so I can just toss in my coffee grounds and egg shells and everything else. My current method, when I remember, is to just make a little heap on a paper towel and then run it out at the end of the day. Then the end of the day comes and I'm worn out and everything ends up in the trash can anyway. But, hey, at least I have a system! :)

  5. Image for Janis Janis

    I am trying composting for the first time. I read a post on the2seasons.com that described how to make a bin from a rubbermaid container. I figured since I already had the container, I would start the cheap route. (:

  6. Image for Regina Merrick Regina Merrick

    Pro tip (just kidding. We had a compost pile when I was a kid, and my sister was actually the "compost manager." LOL! This is something my mom does.): Keep an ice cream bucket with a lid under the sink to toss your compost-ables, then just take it out there when it fills up or you start to smell it! Ha!! We've been looking a composters for a while, too!

  7. Image for Marlene Stephenson Marlene Stephenson

    Sounds like you have a good thing going, smart girl. I think i need one it certainly would be better on my back than the pile i have to turn. Thanks and have a great day.

  8. Image for Rhonda Rhonda

    Your pink mandevilla is GORGEOUS!! I had a mandevilla vine growing on lattice years back. Trying to remember what happened to it, and I think a hurricane got it. Must plant it again--it's so cheerful!!

  9. Image for Amy Amy

    Hi there! You have to get a compost bucket that is cute and has a charcoal (smell eliminating) filter in it's lid!!! I also use compostable bags, made of potato starch, in my bucket so it is easily dumped. You may not want the bag liner with a smaller composter...personal preference. I love having compost handy for our yard/garden.

  10. Image for Kellie Z Kellie Z

    World Market and Costco both have nice compost containers to put on your kitchen counter or under the sink. The lid has holes and a filter so it doesn't smell. We had a compost pile a few years ago, but couldn't keep it up. Our area in CA has three large bins for trash pickup (garbage, compost, and paper recycling) so we use those. The Public Works department has a few days a year where they give away all the compost you want, but you have to shovel it into your own containers and bring it back home.

    1. Image for Kellie Z Kellie Z

      I have to add that my husband would love this composter as a Father's Day gift. If I get some type of fun gadget, it helps to keep him motivated ;) It would be great for a gardening grandfather since it's higher off the ground and easier than using a rake or shovel.

  11. Image for Deb in Oklahoma Deb in Oklahoma

    Oh, yay! I was wondering what the decision was on the composter, after all the prior discussion. I would suggest when you empty it (you have a while before that point, though), use a bucket or an old plastic tub. It does take a bit of maneuvering to empty because it's heavy and trying to open the door is a balancing act--get a kid to help you. I'm so excited for you get this project underway.

  12. Image for Lynne Lynne

    We have a composter that looks like this, but doesn't have the dual innards. I keep a pretty ice bucket with a snug lid on the counter for my coffee, fruit and veggie scraps, take it out when the bucket is full, and then turn the composter when I put things in it. Sometimes I have to add a bit of water as we live right on the cusp of West Texas, and it can get a bit dry out here. I keep a big screen sifter by the composter, then sift out what has composted, throw it in the yard or flower beds/pots every few months. It works great, mine has held up over the years. As my hubby could really care less about the yard, his domain is the the cattle/horse pens, his arena and barns, I needed something that I could handle and not kill myself trying to keep up. As a side note, cattle manure is a great fertilizer, too. Just make sure it's completely dried out before using it. If not, it could burn grass and plant roots. I have friends that come out and pick it up out of my pastures!

  13. Image for Michele M Michele M

    We've been composting for 20 years together now. I read recently not to put in onion or citrus - we always have - they didn't say why. And you read rice is ok? I know we are to never put anything cooked in it. If you haven't already go to Amazon and get a gallon size cute compost bin with the filter - there are large ones, but ours is small and goes a few days - you have a larger family - only you would know how many fresh scraps you have - tea and coffee grinds alone may fill it faster. There are biodegradable bags you can line it with as well - mine came with - once I use up the bags I don't think I will rebuy - just keep it clean I guess - that's what my gardener daughter does. Best of luck - you will love this - it's less wear and tear on your garbage disposal, too. And no more stinky trash bins!

  14. Image for Lynne B. Lynne B.

    I have been composting for years and have three large compost bins. Could actually do with four in the cycle. Once you start composting you will be thrilled at how much, yummy for your plants, compost you can make! It turns out a dark almost black chocolate colour and smells divine, in a damp earth, just after rain sort of way! I take cuttings off my plants and pot them up in this and they grow so easily. Happy composting!

  15. Image for Adrienne Adrienne

    This is great, KariAnne! I actually found compostable liners for the bucket we collect the kitchen scraps in before taking it out to the pile and I will say it's nice to be able to just pick up the bag and throw the whole thing in instead of washing out the bucket every time :)

  16. Image for Darlene Darlene

    We have one like that at our cottage and keep a garbage bin just for organicsin kitchen til it is full then it goes in the composter. That saves on the cost of taking garbage to the recycling dump. At our home I have a bin outside on deck that we dump in an area in our gardens to recycle. We live on a farm so it is easy to do.

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