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Related: How often do you need to turn the compost heap?

I have a tumbler composter. When I put my food scraps in it - roughly once a day - I also put in a handful of leaves that I have saved from the fall raking and I turn it.

Am I turning too frequently?

Nothing seems to be happening and I can't tell if it's because: a) it's cold in Massachusetts right now b) I'm getting the green/brown ratio wrong c) I'm turning too frequently d) none of the above e) some combination of a, b, and c

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Compost tumblers work way better on well ground high-nitrogen material. If you grind everything you put in really well, it will get hot. I've had many folks ask me why their compost wasn't getting hot, and when I looked at it, it was in large pieces, either that or mostly carbonaceous material. I think your's is probably the first. I encourage these folks to invest in a compost shredder. This little electric machine will grind up food waste, leaves, clippings, etc, into small pieces. Putting it through twice is even better.

Here's the fastest composting process I've used:

  • Fill the compost tumbler to 2/3's full, with 3 parts well ground food scraps, well ground very green grass clippings, etc, and 2 parts of well ground leaves, cornstalks, etc. Adding manure or a compost activator really helps. Adding more scraps a bit at a time is more suitable for a layering method than to a tumbler, especially if not ground.

  • Turn twice a day, at least. You cannot turn it too often. Make sure you do a good job each time, or anaerobic decomposition will start messing with the process. The mix will heat up rapidly, unless the temperature is far below freezing.

  • Measure the temperature every other day. In a week or so, sometimes two, the temperature will drop. The compost is ready to move out of the tumbler. stack it in a tall pile on the ground, or in a wire bin.

  • Let it mature, and become very soft and humusy. I often leave it for a month, then stir it up, stack it, and leave it for another couple weeks, when it is particulate in texture, black, soft, and test high in nutrients.

  • Adjust the pH if necessary, and apply.

Now, there are much simpler and easier methods, but not as fast. You also don't necessarily have to wait for it to completely mature, and can use it as soon as it cools down, but the compost still has shrinking to do, and the pH will not really be stable yet.

Usually, I use a layered open pile, because I don't usually have enough material at one time to fill the tumbler with a batch.

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No. Mostly, the problem (IMHO) with tumbler composters is that they are way too small. Winter is an additional problem for you right now, and adds to the "too small" problem.

Commercial municipal-scale composters turn continuously (or continuously during working hours, depending) and crank material through in a couple of days (feed in one end, slightly tilted tube, (crude) compost falls out the other end.) I'm not sure that these behmoths are all that common anymore (piling it in rows and turning with a tractor attachment has much lower capital and probably maintenence costs) but the take-home message for your question is that there's really no such thing as turning it too frequently.

  • I would be afraid that turning too fast might dissapate heat too fast and keep the compost from getting hot enough. – That Idiot Dec 3 '14 at 17:21
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Agree with the previous answers, but want to make one extra point - do not put fallen leaves from autumn in your compost container. Dead leaves break down in a different way from kitchen scraps and green leaves and waste, so the process is different and related much more with fungal activity rather than bacterial. Fallen, dead leaves can be composted, but this should be done separately.

  • Except that ... I've done it very successfully, you just have to grind them first. – J. Musser Dec 5 '14 at 16:15

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