Upcycle the old 'Pickle Barrel' into a roller composter

Blog article by Casey Pickler.

Thinking about replacing your old pickle barrel rain catcher to a nice new rain barrel?  Don’t throw that old thing away; reuse it just like you have been doing since you got that pickle barrel.  I will tell you about an easy way to turn that old barrel into a compost tumbler without going to the store and spending upwards of $150.00 on a compost bin.  There are a few things to take into consideration when turning a rain barrel into a compost bin: patching holes, making new holes, and to make sure you have a way to empty your new tumbler easily.  Some covenants prohibit open compost piles, so a compost tumbler is a great solution. There are a few added benefits to using a compost tumbler rather than a compost pile. 


1.     Ease of turning- instead of using a pitchfork you can just roll your barrel around your yard to mix the contents.

2.     Retains moisture- A compost barrel will hold some moisture unlike a pile that needs water to be added.  Grass clippings alone should provide enough water to keep your bin moist; your pile should be like a damp sponge.

3.     Neat and clean- For the most part, using a tumbler style compost bin will limit the odor from the pile, be pest free, and you can easily roll it where you need it. 

How To:

If you have rain barrels, you have probably found out by now that it is a good idea to have some replacement screen lying around your house to replace clogged screens each season.  This is going to help you tremendously in producing your very own compost tumbler.  Holes and openings are not the enemy of a composter since air is crucial to breaking down the organic material.  If you have large openings, something an animal can get it, cover it with the screening material.  You do not want animals in your compost bin, but insects and bugs are just fine, they will help break down organic materials.  We need to get more air into the compost bin so we achieve this by drilling ½-inch holes all around the barrel.  There is not much science to it, of course, you can make them in rows and place them where you want but they key is to make sure there are vent holes and that it does not jeopardize the sturdiness of the barrel.  Holes in the top and bottom will be just fine, it will help extra moisture escape. 

What about getting material in and out?  If you are lucky like myself, you have a screw on lid, keep that, it will be an easy way to keep the top secure when you are rolling it around your yard.  If you do not have a locking lid, you will have to cut an opening.  Easiest way is to cut a hole in the side and take the piece you cut out and add some hinges and a door stop to the inside of the barrel so the door doesn’t constantly fall in.  Next add a locking mechanism, something as simple as a turn lock or even a bungee cord to keep the “door” closed.  Now that’s the thick of it, you want a bunch of ½ in. holes and to patch the larger holes with screen that animals could get in. 


The key to good compost is the materials you put in the bin.  Browns and greens are what your hear of when adding things to your composter.  Browns are leaves and hay type materials that are dry and have begun their decomposition, thus why they are brown.  Greens are exactly what they say they are, grass clippings, vegetable scraps and things that have not dried out and begun to break down.  You want to use about 40% browns so you don’t end up with slimy compost.   Also, you do not want to add any meats, fish, dairy, or animal waste to the composter as they can attract animals, smell bad and are not good for your garden.  It is a good idea to keep some leaves or hay by your composter so you can monitor the moisture content and browns can be added as needed.  Most people who add only grass clippings and kitchen scraps will not have nice compost, browns will help with moisture content as well as soil makeup.  For example, cantaloupe and other greens should make up 60% of the compost and the hay, leaves and other dead “brown” items make up the other 40% for fluffy rich compost.  If you want to add some worms to the compost bin, it will help break down the organics and make for great soil. 

Things to remember

1.     Monitor moisture content of barrel

2.     Turn barrel frequently to mix compost and add air to compost

3.     Make sure vent holes are not clogged with material so proper aeration occurs

4.     Monitor compost content- don’t add to many browns or greens and no meats

5.     No need to add compost aids they sell in stores, let nature run its course

6.     Now let your plants enjoy your homemade compost

7.     Composting your organics helps the waste stream that goes into landfills.

Look for the next article on taking your compost tumbler to the next level!

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