Composting Step-by-Step with a Backporch Compost Tumbler

I started composting a while back because I was sick of throwing huge piles of kitchen scraps into the garbage, especially since I knew that my landfill-bound kitchen scraps could, with a little effort, be turned into absolutely amazing fertilizer for my garden.

Oh, and I also knew that composting would enable me to use fewer plastic garbage bags (although I still haven't elimated these yet...darnit!).

As I was considering how I wanted to go about this composting busines, several of my friends recommended that I get a worm bin. My boyfriend, however, did not like the idea of having a bin and a bunch of squiggly critters inside the apartment so I opted for a compost tumbler instead. The exact bin I chose was the Backporch Compost Tumbler because I can simply rotate the drum on its axis in order to aerate the contents of the bin and also because it is small enough to fit on my enclosed porch (unfortunately, it's made of plastic. Argh!).

Below is a step-by-step on how to use it, which can pretty much be carried over to any similar tumbler or bin.


1. To start composting, begin collecting your kitchen scraps. I collect mine in an old garbage can for a day or two before I add them to my composter.

2. When you've got the time, add your kitchen scraps to your compost bin. These scraps, by the way, are considered "green" or "wet" materials and contribute nitrogen to the pile. To compost properly, you need to balance out the carbon-nitrogen ratio. More on that later.

3. Shred some paper. This paper will add carbon to the pile and is considered "brown" or "dry" material. By the way, it's important that the paper (and veggie scraps) are made into small pieces to speed up the composting process.

Note: I say to add paper because it is the most convenient source of carbon in the winter, but a variety of other "brown" materials that are easier to come by in the summer and fall are actually preferrable.

4. After shredding the paper, add it to your compost pile. A general rule of thumb in terms of carbon-nitrogen ratios is to add 3 parts of high-carbon materials (ex. paper) to every one part of high-nitrogen materials (ex. kitchen scraps). I usually follow this as best I can, and then just add extra paper if the bin starts to smell at all. It seems to work pretty well.

5. Then close your composter up and give it a few good turns.

And that's it. If you follow these steps, you'll end with a bunch of compost that looks like this:

Not too exciting right now, but eventually this pile will turn itself into nutrient-rich dirt, which is pretty cool. Also, despite the fact that there is months and months of garbage in the bin, it doesn't smell bad at all (except for the slight smell of rotting citrus from the grapefruit I added a few weeks ago). Apparently, that's the magic of the carbon-nitrogen ratio.

To learn more about composting, check out this comprehensive website on composting from the University of Illinois. It provides all the necessary details on materials you can and can't use in your bin, carbon-nitrogen ratios, and the many types of compost bins and piles.

For fun, you can also take a look at the following cute video on creating an outdoor compost pile or experiment with this awesome compost calculator, both courtesy of Planting Milkwood.

Happy Composting!


Going Crunchy said…
Oh cool! I'm STILL fighting the battle with hubby on composting. He is afraid it is stinky. I'll refer him to your site. Thanks! Shannon
Jeanne said…
No problemo! Yep, it's seems sort of crazy, but compost really isn't stinky as long as you give it the small amount of attention it needs and maintain a good carbon to nitrogen ratio.

Good luck on convincing him! :-)
Grant said…
I'm curious if you used any "seed" compost to jumpstart your bin. I've heard that putting in a few handfuls of good compost can get the organisms started and speed up the process.

I'm hoping to get my own compost bin started soon, so that I'll have fresh compost for my garden next year. For now my scraps go into a yard waste bin and are turned into compost by my trash collection company - which I then end up buying! Quite the racket they've got going there. :)
Anonymous said…
I'm wondering if you've had any problems with the door staying shut when you turn the tumbler. That was one of the criticisms I read of this particular one, which is why I didn't buy it. That and the fact that (I believe) it's made from new plastic.

The alternative I chose was the Urban Compost Tumbler which is made from 100% post consumer recycled plastic. The drawback, I'm finding, to that one is that when it gets really full, you need two people to turn it. I can't do it by myself at this point. Michael has to help me.
Jeanne said…
Grant, I didn't use a compost starter, actually, because most of the reading I've done indicated that you don't really need one. I guess the bacteria find their way to garbage pretty easily on their own.

Funny about buying back compost like that. You should definitely get or make a bin :)
Jeanne said…
FPF, The door on my bin is totally fine, but that might be because I keep my bin indoors. I suspect that the people with door problems were keeping the bin outdoors and the door starting malfunctioning after the weather had it's way with the metal latch mechanism. But that's just a guess.

Also, I think my bin is made of new plastic, but it's the best option for my enclosed porch since it's small. As for turning it, it's pretty easy because of it's shape. I guess it's good that I don't have to heave the contents of the bin over all at once.
Laura said…
Mmm, compost. I plan to go the worm route when I get my but in gear. :)

And can I just say how cool the videos are from Milkwood!? I just added them to my GoogleReader. Fun stuff! Thanks for the link.
Jeanne said…
I'm glad you like the Milkwood videos! I really like them too! The topics they talk about are pretty interesting, and they're always so well done.
Anonymous said…
I am planning to make a tumbler bin for the school I work at, me, and children. We plan to take a day and build them. Do you have any suggestions about plans? I found just one rotating barrel composter plan and wanted to get a couple to compare.
Going Crunchy said…
Have you had any problem with bugs? I've had mine going for a couple of weeks now and there are small little beetle bugs getting in it. It's rather icky.

Am I doing the mix wrong? It is also outside, so it may just be inevitable because it is in the great outdoors. Shan
Jeanne said…
Crunchtasticness, From what I've read about composting, it's quite normal to have bugs in your bin. In fact, many of the bugs that take up residence in a bin play a role in breaking down its contents. In any case, I can't say for sure about your beetle problem, but its probably normal. I myself have some fruit flies in my bin, but everybody gets those if they put fruit in their compost.
Anonymous said…
What kind of paper? Can it have ink on it? Trying in AZ.
Deepika said…
I've been following your blog ever since I read about it in the Time. I am curious about the compost bin since I am thinking of buying the exact same model. Their website says you'll get compost in 4-6 weeks. Do you have compost yet?
Anonymous said…
What size should you tear or shredthe paper to? And if anyone is interested in other links to composting and paper shredding, check out my blog entry, I posted the other day.

Kris Bravo said…
Hey! You mentioned that you're still using plastic garbage bags, so I wanted to pass a source for 100% biodegradable bags along:

I've been using these for cleaning the cat box and most of the cans in the house. They're not that good for the diaper pale, but work for everything else.
Nick (Milkwood) said…
Great post... thanks all for the nice comments about our videos.
Unknown said…
Noticed your comment about the rotting citrus smell. Citrus, oily foods and meat products are things that should not be used in compost. Citrus is too acidic and kills some of the bacteria that you need for compost breakdown. Oily foods don't break down as well and meat risks the attraction of vermin.

I'm fighting the plastics battle on another front. Trying to encourage people to join with me in writing letters to companies/corporations to ask for greener alternatives in product mfg and packaging. See or join our LiveJournal community, UGoGreenLeaves
Barnaby Rudge said…
With my compost tumbler (which by the way is made of recycled plastic, what about yours?) I also use shredded cardboard in addition to shredded newspaper. In early summer with all the watermelon (98% water) we eat I find myself having to add a lot.

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