Friday, September 12, 2008

How To Compost: Sun-Mar 200: Starting All Over Again

If you've missed any of the excitement, you can view the entire How to Compost series.

So, I guess it begins all over again...

From: Josephine
Date: Wed, Sep 10, 2008 at 2:17 PM
Subject: Sun-Mar 200 Problem


I spoke with someone at customer service on Monday, and she suggested that I send you an email with some photos to describe my problem.

I purchased a Sun-Mar 200 Garden Composter in May 2007. As you can see from the attached photos, it seems that the inner drum is falling out. Each time I turn the composter, the inner drum pushes out more and more. It is bending the arm of the stand so far out that I have to be very careful when I turn it so that the entire tumbler doesn't fall out of the stand (which has now happened twice). If I lift the composter onto its side (difficult to do because the composter is quite full), the inner drum *will* slide back into place, but after a week or so, it begins to inch its way out again. Is there anything that can be done to secure the inner drum in its place?

Additionally, I would like to say that I have not had good luck getting compost in the inner drum. Even though the composter is quite full, and material in the *outer* drum has been balanced and composting nicely all along, there has never been anything but dried, uncomposted garbage in the inner drum. Finally, after more than a year of adding material, a local retailer suggested regularly spraying water into the inner drum which seems like it is helping.

However, now that I can no longer turn the composter without the inner drum falling out, that seems less of an issue.

I'm sorry to say that I have tried your customer service multiple times since May 2007 with either no response (via email) or unhelpful, bordering on rude response (via phone). I hope you will be able to help me out this time. I was very excited to use the Sun-Mar Garden Composter because of its innovative, continuous compost design. Sadly, it has yet to meet my expectations.


Josephine Cameron

---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ----------
Date: Wed, Sep 10, 2008 at 5:13 PM
Subject: RE: Sun-Mar 200 Problem
To: Josephine

Hi Josephine,

It looks like the screws that hold the inner drum in have let go. This was an issue with earlier models of the Garden Composter 200. I am going to replace the unit under warranty. Your new unit should arrive in approximately 2 weeks.


Donna Seabrook
Sun-Mar Corp.

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


Unknown said...

I purchased a Sun-Mar 200 in July 2008 and so have been composting with it for the last 3-4 months. I was very happy to find your blog and discover that it wasn't only me who has been having a hard time with getting compost! It definitely has not been as easy as advertised. I've read through your entire blog and alot of the "challenges" that you encountered, I have also faced. It's eye-opening to find out that you need a full bin before the composting really starts forming- I had no idea.

One thing that really bothers me is the number of fruit flies (I'm assuming that's what they are: really small flying insects) that have infested the composter. When I open the hatch, it's like a little black cloud that rises out and they start swarming all around me. I've read that the cause may be too many greens versus browns and I should try to cover the greens, so I've started bringing home newspaper from my work, shredding it in a paper shredder, and then dumping handfuls with each compost pail. My problem has always been having enough "browns" as where I live, I don't have piles of leaves to add. Since starting this about a week ago, I'm not sure if I've noticed any decrease in the numbers of these tiny flies. I know you probably need these bugs to get the composting process done, but it's kind of disgusting, and my wife and kid won't come near the composter! I battled with regular house flies early on, and managed to eliminate them by covering the composter with a tarp (that also increases the temperature of the composter), but these little guys are relentless. What has been your experience with flies and keeping their population down?

Josephine Cameron said...

Hi Benjamin.
I've been shredding all our junk mail & office paper and using that for browns and it seems to work really well. I probably put in a whole garbage can full (the medium office-size bin) of shredded paper for every 8-12 small compost pails. I also make sure to compost things like paper towels, tissues, napkins. I think you'll notice a big difference when you start adding more browns.

I would also suggest trying to spray water in the inner drum. Supposedly, that's going to help a lot.

Unknown said...

Hi Josephine,
Have you added grass clippings to your composter? I let the grass sit and dry out before adding it, hoping it can be used as browns. But it started to really stink and muck up the insides. That's why I changed to the newspaper shreddings.

Also, should I expect my composter to break down like yours, once I reach full capacity? It's close to half full, and already groaning against the weight of the bin when I rotate it.


Josephine Cameron said...

I don't use grass clippings. They're definitely greens (even if you dry them), and I have plenty of green waste already. I leave my grass clippings on the lawn as mulch, but you can use them in the composter if you like. Just make sure you put in lots of shredded paper (or leaves) to make up for it.

As for the inner drum falling out...I'm pretty sure it's only a problem with a particular batch of the Sun-Mar 200s. I would definitely keep my eye on the inner drum and see if it starts slipping at all. Mine started tilting and working its way out of the inner drum, pushing the arm out. (See the pictures above.)

You might consider calling Sun Mar or the place where you bought your Sun-Mar to see if they might be able to tell by the date and location of your purchase if yours is likely to be from one of the defective batches. I certainly hope yours isn't, but if it is, Sun-Mar sent me a brand new composter, so I'm sure they'd do the same for you. Now, what to do with my old, defective one?

Anonymous said...

So does ANYONE have a solution for continuous composting. I was also ready to purchase the SunMar 200, but after reading the posts here, I have second thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Hm, can anyone out there recommend a good compost tumbler? We would prefer a continuous model as well.

Josephine Cameron said...

Hi HugoER.
I obviously have the same question. Luckily, Fred Horch, a local retailer of sustainable goods has agreed to write a guest post on composters he recommends. So that should be coming in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you come across anything, please let us know. :)

Anonymous said...

Ok, I have a question... We decided to try one of the Tumbleweed Composters. We just got it, so stay tuned for reports. This first one might not be quite accurate because I filled it mostly with partially composted material that we had going in a plastic tub.

Anyway, my question relates to composting paper. In the past I'd heard that it was possible to compost newspaper and paper grocery bags. I've found some various opinions on the net. What has yours been? I initially added some paper to the mix, but took it out today because this was a pertially completed mix and the paper didn't look like it was doing anything. In defense to the paper, it's only been in there a few days.

Any suggestions on how to "prepare" paper for composting? Soaking or anything?

Josephine Cameron said...

Hi Hugo.
I'd love to hear how you like your Tumbleweed. I've heard varying reports about paper, too. Some people have good luck with the newspaper & paper bags. Personally, I've found that putting those in whole doesn't work very well.

Instead, we invested in a cheap paper shredder & we have it right in the kitchen where we sort our mail. I put all my junk mail & other used office paper (minus the envelopes with the plastic windows) through the shredder & use that in our compost. It works great! We just recycle our newspapers and paper bags at the recycling center in town.

Anonymous said...

Well, the Tumbleweed composter has been up for about a week. I presume that it's doing it's job well because the gnatts seem to be busy and the compost is looking pretty good. I realize that this is not exactly a fair comparison because most of the material was partially composted when it went in. The bin turns pretty easily and it doesn't look bad in the yard.

Josephine, did you ever get your SunMar working correctly?

Josephine Cameron said...

Hi Hugoer.
Sun-Mar ended up sending me a brand new composter, so we're back at square one. And with winter coming on here in Maine, it won't be warm enough to get much composting action. So we'll fill it over the winter and see what happens in the spring!

Anonymous said...

Just walked outside to add compost to my Sunmar and found it coming off the hinges. Found your post by Google. I'm going to contact the company! I also appreciate your suggestions...we've had this thing for about 1.5 years and haven't gotten anything out yet! I just figured we weren't adding enough and it would take a long time to get going. But Ill try your ideas about watering the inner drum because we get exactly the same thing you described - dry, uncomposted stuff. Thanks, better luck with yours, and wish me luck!

Anonymous said...


I'm glad I came across this post. An avid gardener with "Green" tendencies, I thought Sunmar 200 was my answer to reducing my contribution to the landfills while getting a steady supply of compost for my Garden! I'm based in India, and the unit, which isn't exactly cheap to begin with, would have cost me an almost equal amount to ship to my location. I was on the verge of placing my order, but am now having second thoughts... I can be patient as long as i know the compost will eventually come, but this unit doesn't appear very sturdy... Even getting a replacement is not a viable option for me coz shipping will be a huge cost. Do you guys suggest I shouldn't get too adventurous & give up my plans of buying one? I'm amazed Sun mar is able to command the sort of premium over other composting products in the market without having a reliable/ effective product. My decision, was based on their reputation, and the impressive & logical product concept. Is it all an eyewash?

Anonymous said...

Well, so far the TumbleWeed composter seems to have done well. Granted, most of the matter I put in it a few weeks ago had been sitting in a compost tub that I'd made and was partially composted. I'll be emptying it this week and fulling it wih lots of ground up leaves and other matter and see how it goes. It's winter, so we may not get much activity until the spring. Still, I like the composter. It doesn't take up much space, doesn't look too out of place and is easy to turn. The bar on the pivot point runs through the middle of the composter, which helps keep the compost from clumping.