Thursday, October 18, 2007

How to Compost: The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part One

Remember this whole How to Compost for Home & Garden series? If you weren't hanging around Please Come Flying when I started it, here's the recap: my husband and I decided to try composting this summer for the first time. So, according to Fred Horch's rules of composting, we:
#1 Made it a priority
#2 Chose a system (the Sun-Mar 200 Garden Composter)
#3 Collected organic material (with a healthy mix of greens & browns)
#4 Mixed the materials
#5 Moistened the mixture (but not too much)

And then we hit #6: Wait. And wait we did. May. June. July. September. Is it *really* October?

So why didn't we get any compost, you may ask? Good question.

While I was waiting for results, I had some emails from other Sun-Mar composter-users who were also waiting for results. I also had some emails from people who were *thinking* about buying a Sun-Mar and wanted to know how it was going. Why were they asking me of all people? Because there are virtually no customer reviews out there for this composter. Even now, months later, I still can't find out what customers think of the Sun-Mar 200.

So I guess it's up to me. Before I get into the heart of the matter (the compost), let's have a review of the claims from the Sun-Mar brochure to see how they stand up (the purple bullets are from the Sun-Mar literature, my comments are in black).

Next week, in Part Two of this review, I will tackle the biggies: Continuous Compost, the Inner Drum, and Customer Service.

They claim:
  • Easy to feed: Material goes in through easy-access top ports. This is true. Sometimes the sliding door can get a little sticky. You just have to pull harder. And as the material accumulates and the composter gets heavier, you sometimes have to balance the barrel to keep it upright while dumping the garbage in. Otherwise, the extra weight you are adding can cause it to start rotating against your will. But after that happens once, you learn pretty quickly to brace the barrel with a hand or knee. Overall, it is very easy to feed.
  • Back-saving ball bearings mean easy turning. Again, true. The bigger models have handles to turn the barrel with. The 200 has what Sun-Mar calls "finger friendly slots" that you grip to spin the barrel. As it gets fuller, it definitely gets heavier (obviously), but so far, it's been easy enough to turn (and strength is not one of my best qualities).
  • Patented, double drum, Autoflow® design. See diagrams of the inside (This is one of the biggies...I'll get to this in Part Two of this review.)
  • Compost exits automatically as the drum rotates: Fresh compost comes out the bottom port, automatically, when done. Tool free, shovel free, fork free! Again, we'll talk about this later, but yes, so far it has been entirely tool free, shovel free, fork free!
  • Pest Proof. So far, so good. No critters have been able to penetrate it...not even the enterprising squirrel that has made a sweet little seed-stash in Kevin's outdoor grill. There are, of course, flies and gnats and all those lovely creatures, but they are working hard on making compost. They are also relatively contained to the *inside* of the composter.
  • Assembly in minutes (really!): Just snap the cradle on to the drum bearings and you’re ready to go. Yes. Simple. It has wheels that snap in easily and you can move it around the yard with no trouble at all.
So I've been pretty happy with it, I have to say. Simple, easy to use, no critters. What more could you ask for? So now there's just the pesky little problem of compost. Let's discuss next week, shall we?

In the meantime...anyone out there use a Sun-Mar this summer? How did it go? Leave a comment and let us all know.

Here is the complete How to Compost series in case you'd like to catch up or review:

Step 1: Make it a Priority
Step 2: Choose a System
Interlude: Nature Tried to Kill My Composter
Step 3: Collect Organic Material
Step 4: Mix the Materials
Step 5: Moisten the Mixture
Step 6: Wait
Interlude: The Lightbulb Change
Interlude: The Yogurt Change
Interlude: The Sponge Change
Interlude: The Leftover Change
Interlude: The Napkin Change
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part One
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part Two
Sun-Mar 200 Compost Update
Sun-Mar 200: Starting All Over Again

Step 7: Use Your Compost
Step 8: Sun Mar 200 Garden Composter Review


Anonymous said...

Please do post part 2! I've been saving spare change now and again to get this and I'd like to know it actually works.

Josephine Cameron said...

The second half is up and you can read it here. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I bought the Sunmar 200 last summer(2007). No compost yet! It looks like it's composting, but the inner drum thing doesn't appear to work. The only thing I find in there is uncomposted stuff.I am very frustrated with this composter!

Anonymous said...

Sun-Mar 200, Love it, Because of the size of the unit, you might not get compost out for a couple of years, I just started removing from mine after three years. It took that long for me to get enough in it for the discharge tube to work. To quote AB "Your patience will be rewarded." Great Product.

Anonymous said...

We purchased out Sun Mar a couple years ago. We have had many different types of composters and with our research, we thought this would be the ticket. Yes, it is easy to fill and turns great, but we were told that we would have good compost in a few months....well,we are still waiting. Very discouraged and now have decided to go back to a wired bin on the ground. This seems to work the best. Harder to work, but better results. So, our review is not so good. The person selling us the Sun Mar did an excellent job of salesmanship, but not satisfied with the product.

s.nicklanovich said...

Very disappointed to share the following issues after 2-3 years of use of the sun-mar 400:
-- crank handle broke (plastic cracked)
-- support stand has warped so hand-rotating drum means it falls to the ground now
This is not what I expected for so expensive of a product! At the $375 + shipping price point, my expectations were much higher.

Anonymous said...

we've been using the SunMAr 200 for about 3 mons and the racoons can unscrew the cap easily. worse than that is the feces-like smell and the maggots/bugs. much worse than a traditional upright composter at a fraction of the cost. I like the idea of the self-contained rotating unit but the smell is awful. (no meat scraps-all veggie)
anyone had this experience or know what to do?

Josephine Cameron said...

Hi Anonymous. It definitely sounds like you need more brown matter. We shred our junk mail and toss it in, and that seems to be enough brown matter to eliminate any smell. If you can reduce the smell, it might also be less tempting for those raccoons!

Anonymous said...

It's sort of late but...

we had some friends get a Sun Mar 200, and they had issues with warping and falling apart. I would definitely keep the receipt, and be mindful of the warranty.

Our stand-up composters create compost in about 4 months over the summer, and we don't put a lot of effort into it. These composters are suppose to work better because when you spin it, the microbes that do the composting get air.

You really need to mix your greens and browns - mix by weight - equal weights of green material (kitchen scraps ) with browns (shredded paper, dried leaves, etc.