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New Compost Tumbler: no action at all

I've been very excited about my new tumbler....started it up with Liriope clippings and dead flower stalks and dried leaves. Continued w/ pulp from weekly juicing. No action. Decided I didn't have enough brown and added shredded newspaper. Still nothing. Bought "compost starter" from Lowe's (appears to be fish meal) and sprinkled it in. Nada. I turn it 2-3 times a week.

I started it in South Carolina around the first of March. We are having balmy 80 degree weather today and the stuff in the bin looks just like it did when I put it in there. Smells OK, I see a few bugs, that's about it.

Ideas? Thanks.

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  1. I don't have the tumbler version, just the old-fashioned bin, but wouldn't expect action this quick. The starter does help heat things up quicker. How 'bout some grass clippings? Our takes a good couple of months to really decompose, though.

    1. There's just one thing missing from your scenario: patience.

      Regardless of all the hypey advertising, all those compost tumblers do is speed up compost production SOMEWHAT. You're not going to have finished compost in 3 weeks. In fact, the very earliest I'd expect to "maybe" see results - weather & turning dependent - would be more like 3 months.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Breezychow

        no kidding? some of the online sites I looked at said you ought to feel heat coming off the thing in as little as 2 weeks.

        So, should I stop putting stuff in it til it does something? We really wanted to feel like all that leftover pulp from the juicing wasn't going totally to waste. Maybe I need to start making carrot (pulp) cake muffins or something. thanks!

        1. re: danna

          I have other gardening friends in your neck of the woods and even though it's warm this week, the ground temperature is still pretty cool. Wait til things warm up a little more and it should begin to heat up. (keep adding stuff)

          1. re: sunshine842

            Agree--keep adding stuff, but give it time, especially when nighttime temps drop.

          2. re: danna

            Yes, you'll feel "heat" in the compost in as little as a week, but all that means is that it's "cooking" - not that it's close to being "done". When it's finished the end product should be dark & crumbly with no offensive odor - just a sort of earthy smell. And you shouldn't be able to make out any of the original ingredients.

        2. Not warm enough. It snowed yesterday in NY. Give it time and some water.

          1. Definitely time. It also needs to be damp. If it's dry in there give it a sprinkle but don't soak it. Coffee grounds seem to help move it along too. Get some from your favorite diner or coffee shop. Starbucks gives them away too.

            2 Replies
            1. re: morwen

              do coffee grounds count as "green" or "brown"? I think I may need more brown. I have lots of newspapers, but I'd rather compost something without chemicals , all else being equal.

              1. re: danna

                +1 on the coffee grounds. We haunted Starbucks for weeks--added over 100 pounds of grounds directly into the raised beds (our soil is super alkaline), but put about 10 lbs. into the compost, too. Smelled heavenly!

            2. Here, check these links.

              1st link is a review of various composting systems and how they work:

              2nd link is a Compost Troubleshooting Guide:

              Hopefully these can help you with your issue and continue better compost management.

              1. Hey, danna,

                A little OT but call me when you come down. My roses are about to bloom and should be great the weekend of the run.

                And be patient with that compost. It'll cook, just not fast!

                1. So...It's now late June, we've had mid-90's since mid May, and the compost in still not generating any heat (how is this possible? I feel like my HAIR is generating heat) It's black, now, and it's harder to see the individual components than it was for a while, but I'm a LONG way from having something that looks like dirt. I had giant maggots (from bees) for a week, but now they're gone. It smells ok.

                  Starbucks told me they don't save the grounds anymore. True? or should I try a different location? Any other thoughts? thanks.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: danna

                    There's cool composting as well as hot. It never heats up, so the weed seeds aren't killed, but other than that it's fine. It just takes longer.

                    I think compost tumblers simply aren't large enough to be effective. I got rid of mine.

                    My son's middle school had a great composting program. The teacher had the kids cut everything into tiny pieces so that they had more surface area. It always heated up really well. I'm too lazy to do that, though.

                    1. re: Glencora

                      One other thought: bin composters on the ground usually end up full of worms, pill bugs and beetles. They do much of the work. They can't really get into tumblers. That may explain, at least in part, why your compost is taking longer.

                    2. re: danna

                      Have you tried a compost starter? Our garden center sells small bags of some powdery stuff, and just a bit heated up our in-ground compost very quickly. Since we add very little green content (i.e., leaves and grass), I usually toss in a handful of the starter a couple of times a year.

                      1. re: pine time

                        yep. i bought the starter early on. I also threw in a cow pattie, as suggested somewhere, as a starter. nada. I just dumped in what was probably WAY too much starbucks grounds, but we'll see!

                        Between the hail we got Thursday and the tomato worm damage today, I may not need compost ;-(

                        1. re: danna

                          Hmmm on the cow pattie. I thought all animal waste was verboten in compost--anyone know different? How 'bout your moisure content? We need to add a bucket of water every so often since we don't add much leaves/grass. Do you have an agricultural center nearby who could offer any ideas?

                          1. re: pine time

                            Meat scraps and carnivore, particularly dog and cat, droppings are the problem makers. Herbivore and poultry manures are fine and normally should be composted before using in gardens. Composting in place, also called spade or plow it under, is OK on fallow ground such as over a northern winter. Horse manure really requires composting because it is notorious for having viable grass, grain and weed seeds due to the inefficiency of horses' chewing and digestive systems.

                    3. I didn't see any "green". For every ~10 gallons of brown, I want ~10-20 gallons of green. For me, green is lawn clippings, spring prunings. When I have too much green to brown, I have to turn the pile to dry, when I have too little green to brown, I have to add water. But, all brown doesn't compost, neither does all green, the correct combo will. All brown will "break up" into smaller pieces when tumbled/shoveled, not by decomposition but by friction/pressure. All green will either turn brown or turn to a combo of brown/liquid. Worms help a lot! but not in a container composter.

                      When my compost pile is going hot, I will add shrimp/crab/clam/mussel/egg shells. The clam/mussel shells and some of the crab shells do not completely "compost", but I usually add the rements to the garden.

                      I have never had a compost pile digest tomato seeds.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Alan408

                        I'm not sure what you meant by not seeing any "green". Based on your description, I'm more convinced I have too much green, because it's brown and liquidy (finally...for the longest time, it just looked exactly like whatever I threw in...weeks prior). The bulk of my bin is vegetable/fruit scraps. heck, I just trashed a bunch of shrimp and clam shells last night. Didn't reallize that was a good compost item.

                        So...will the Starbucks grounds be "green" or "brown"? It certainly smells good now!

                        1. re: danna

                          This is an old thread, but I have a couple of two-centses to throw in. First, don't get all obsessive about being scientifical. Nature works with whatever it gets. Second, if the compost isn't heating up get some redworms and throw those in. Sold as bait from fishing supply places. Certain times of year they are monsters at converting assorted stuff to useful compost. Worm poo is high in plant nutrient. Third, just consider "green manure", just digging green clippings into the soil. Higher in nitrogen than dry leaves, etc, with all the cellulose. In fact some organic gardners sow things like red clover or radish seeds that are cheap and when those sprouts get to a modest size dig them under.

                          Lastly, try making a bin on the ground for your compost. Use the other thing for a planter.

                          1. re: Akitist

                            Well, my compost, started in early March, now *kinda* looks like dirt. It never did really produce heat, as far as I can tell, but it no longer looks exactly like the stuff I threw in. (although, I SWEAR...the very first thing I put in, old black eyed Susan stems, are STILL in their pristine form. I should built a house out of those) I think it was actually the Starbucks grounds that kick started it. Or possibly the worms. They aren't earthworms, they are ...ummm...not maggots either, but rather icky looking 3/4 inch hard shelled worms.

                            I'm not sure whether to start putting this stuff on the tomatos yet, or wait until frost kills these critters and use it to mulch my fall veggies. Thoughts?

                            1. re: danna

                              Those bugs are likely some kind of beetle grubs. I get some twice that big, almost thumb sized. They'll hit the pupa stage, and maybe adult, before the frost gets 'em.

                              One thing I do is to strain my compost through a piece of 1/2" hardware cloth attached to a frame that just fits my wheelbarrow, and the grubs, stems, other big stuff just goes back into the pile to work a little longer. Once I collected all the grubs and set them out in a trash can lid and some crows came along and et 'em all up.

                              I'd save the compost and dig it into the soil for the fall veggies, myself.

                              1. re: Akitist

                                Great idea about making 'em crow food! I usually just squash 'em and and the pulp back to the compost!

                      2. I'm not an expert on rotary composters, I have two 4 ft square piles. But I attended a composting seminar a few years ago, and I remember the expert as saying
                        1) Large compost piles do better than small ones
                        2) "compost starters" are not necessary
                        "Liquidy" compost doesn't sound right to me, but if you are finally getting good black dirt, you must have done something right. Actually, Akitisk's comments seem right on target.

                        1. Is the compost damp? Dry stuff won't really do anything.