Notes from Windward: #68


Finishing the Double-barreled Compost Machine

pushing the envelope a bit further

     I love compost!

     I love the concept of reusing every bit of organic material and watching it break down into something that will improve soil quality, feed our plants and keep them strong and pest resistant, producing more nutritious food for us and our animals.

     In an effort to participate in this process, I decided to continue a project envisioned by Todd and laid out in Volume #66 of the Notes. He designed a tumbler made of 55 gallon barrels supported on railroad ties. They are mounted on wheels with a door in the side, so that they can be loaded with composting material and then spun around, turning and mixing the compost and exposing all of it to air and moisture. Inside is a tube with lots of holes drilled in, so that air can get into the barrel, and also to help tumble the compost.

     When I arrived here, the only part completed was some wheels affixed to one set of railroad ties. Walt picked up the appropriate hardware and pretty soon he was helping me with construction: cutting out the door, drilling holes and attaching hinges, filing rough edges, creating another set of wheel mounts, and inserting the aeration tube. We had a few times when it was all trial and error, for instance when we realized that the original clasps we picked out were too small, and were popping open when the barrel spun. We replaced those with a larger hasp design that folds over and can be secured with a hook.

     Another example was when we installed the first aeration tube (near the edge as per Todd's design) and realized that its placement would interfere with the position of the wheels. We were able to shorten that tube to fit, and on the next one we put the tube directly in the center. This is a good chance to experiment and see if there is a noticeable difference.

the 3" aeration tube mounted near the outer wall

I think that the one in the middle will work better because the compost is forced to tumble around it, instead of the possibility of sliding over it. We designed handles made of L-shaped pieces of metal which are attached around the barrel at 90 degrees from each other. There are four handles that alternate so that you can get a fluid natural motion going while spinning the heavy barrels.

     Currently we have the two units made, but there is room for more, which is nice because we can stagger it so that as some of the compost is "cooking," some will be ready to use.

     This project was also really fun for me because I got to learn a few new skills and become more comfortable with tools. I was always taught to fear and respect power tools, so in the past I've always been very hesitant while using them. In this project I was able to repetitively practice simple techniques and realized that one of the easiest way to get hurt is by not being confident with the equipment. It was also a valuable experience to be able to play with the design and change some aspects as was needed- to not feel obligated to follow an authoritative plan.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 68