Commercial rotating composters are costly, but effective. I have one that I bought from Lee Valley Tools and it works great. Unfortunately they sell for $185, so adding a second one was over my budget.
I also have a standard square wood-slat composter that I never remember (or should I say bother) to turn with a pitchfork because it’s difficult to do. Some of the material in that compost bin has been there for eight years. It was when I bought my first compost drum that I really began to take full advantage of the medley of leaves, grass and kitchen scraps around the house and yard.
I decided to make my own rotating compost bin with the goal of keeping it affordable and humble. I did some research and found plans for a number of rotating bins on the internet, but I was particularly inspired by one that I saw in person when on a garden tour last fall in Edmonton. It was simple, inexpensive and, according to the owner, effective.
To make the composter, I used repurposed 2×8 preserved wood that I had on hand and an olive barrel from The Italian Centre Shop which cost $23. I also bought four tie plates at 87¢ each and four joist hangers at $1.17 each.
I cut the 2x6s in the dimensions as shown below. I’m not sure the precise angle of the cut, but I designed it so that the legs would be 40 inches apart (outside measurement) at the bottom.
I put two legs together as shown and screwed a tie plate on each side to hold them solidly. I then stood the legs up and used a level to place the joist hangers six inches from the bottom of each leg. I then used 30 inch cross pieces of 2×6 lumber to attach the two sets of legs together.
I had some 2 inch PVC pipe on hand, so that’s what I decided would serve as my bar. I know I’ll have to reinforce the PVC eventually, but for the time being I thought it would do. (I replaced it a few days later when I found a discarded metal bar of the same size.)
I cut two 2 inch holes 20 inches from the bottom of each side of my barrel. The barrel was 40 inches in total height with the lid, and I wanted to have the barrel well-balanced when it is rotating. Once the holes were cut, I inserted the PVC pipe and placed the barrel on the stand. The notches hold the pipe in place.
The next day I decided to make it into a double composter, so I built another set of legs and added a second barrel. Now I should have lots of composting space for the year. If not, I know where to find another barrel and where to buy some more tie plates and joist hangers.
Using the barrel is simple, and when it’s a quarter full it spins with almost no effort. It’s wise not to overfill the container (keep it under half full), as I imagine it becomes more difficult to spin as it gets heavier.
I leave the lid off so that oxygen can reach the amalgam of yard and kitchen waste, although if it rains hard I like to cover it up. I might need to put a small drain at the bottom front, but for now it seems unnecessary. I try to remember to spin it every day (with the lid on of course) and I hope that in a few weeks I’ll have some great compost.