Author Archives: Colin Shaw

Emptying the food composter

Today was the annual clean out of the HotBin composter we use for food waste. That is, food preparation waste not wasted food. We cook from fresh, no ready meals or ultra-processed food except for the occasional bag of frozen oven ready chips!

That means we generate around 5-7Kg of compostable material, never ‘waste’, a week or 260 -360Kg a year!  Teabags are included as we use Clipper which have 100% compostable bags or use leaf tea. We also include a small amount of discarded cooked food but there is not much.

Some myths about composting food ‘waste’:

1. You must not compost cooked food as it attracts rats. In over 30 years of composting I have only ever seen one rat which was asleep in the top of a bin used only for garden waste.
2. You cannot compost rice as it is full of bacteria. I think that has got around the internet because of warnings not to reheat cooked rice. Any active compost bin is full of bacteria, they do all the work and generate the heat.
3. Composting food stinks and attracts flies. Not in our experience if you do it right in a bin designed for the job.
4. It’s better to give it to the council. Never! It’s far too valuable to give away.  Home composting cuts costs and reduces CO2 emission from the large lorries use to cart it away. It also helps to grow bigger, more nutritious veg and completes the cycle from ground to food back to ground.
5. Add eggshells to the compost to provide calcium. More advice from the internet which is totally wrong. Eggshells dot not breakdown however long they are in the bin. The shell is not water soluble and cannot give calcium to soil.

Here is an egg shell I dropped in this time last year!

When we opened the bin there was a solid mass of completely composted material or should I say SOIL because that is what it is now. It amounted to two heavy wheelbarrows full which went straight onto a bed to be distributed later. It is rich and full of nutrients and well worth the minimal effort to make it!

We use a Mk1 HotBin,  we have had for a few years. It works well enough but it could work even better with increased airflow and a slight modification is planned before refilling starts. The latest Mk2 model has the changes incorporated. They are not cheap but have a number of features that makes them ideal for household use e.g. they have a tight fitting lid with a charcoal filter it take out any smell. Full details available here. If you are a member of Garden Organic buy from the organic gardening catalogue and get 10% discount.

There is also a new make on the UK market, the Aero Bin Hot Composter from Australia. The Centre for Alternative Technology use the large version for their food waste and last summer it was working very well. More information here.

Compost tumblers also work but can be hard to turn when they are full unless they have a geared handle.

The usual disclaimer, we have no connection to any product or company mentioned other than being a customer.

If you have any questions please email us

 

Food glorious food

It really is time that we ditch supermarkets for good. There is still panic buying, stores cannot replenish stokes quick enough and now there is a huge PR battle raging to see who can come out on top.

They did not respond the toilet roll panic a couple of weeks back and could have easily done something like Danish stores who changed prices for multiple items – 1 pack of toilet rolls £1.50,  2 packs £55. No, they did nothing but make bigger profits and argue for customer moderation.

“We must help to shield the most vulnerable in our communities from this virus.” – ASDA CEO Roger Burnley.

Sainsburys are saying they will prioritise home delivery slots for the over 70s and vulnerable people. It seems like just more PR as they are not accepting new home delivery registrations and their help line is unobtainable. The competition is sure to respond and try to out do each other.

In the end supermarkets can do what they want, they can battle to come out on top in the PR stakes, but nothing will change. We have become over reliant on them and they have failed.

We must see this a wake up call and actively change the way food is grown and sold. There must be much more diversity, more home grown produce and a greater appreciation and understanding of food, i.e. seeing eating as  more than just chucking something down you neck as you walk around clutching a polystyrene tray.

The Community Food Growers Network – https://www.cfgn.org.uk/about/

The changes, no, the revolution in food production and consumption will mean teaching people how to select produce and cook it to make a meal, something that has been lost over the last 30-40 years. This must include learning about nutrition and its links to the immune system. We need more local food projects centred on growing, cooking, eating and understanding food.

Only then will we be able to survive similar events in the future, and there will be more.

Heating up seeds!

At this time of year, the ground can still be too cold to sow seeds direct. The answer is to sow under cover or in a greenhouse if you have one. You can even use a windowsill in the house that does not get long periods of strong sunlight or the seeds may overheat. Facing east or west is best. But even that might not be warm enough for things like tomatoes and courgettes. The answer is to use either a small heated propagator or a heat mat under seed trays.

Seeds vary and need different temperatures for optimum germination. A partial list of temperature can be found here

The photo shows trays of tomatoes, courgettes and strawberry seeds shown on 22 March. They will each germinate at different times and will need pricking out into small pots in a few weeks.
This is a “Trio Top Electric Windowsill Propagator” from Kings Seeds. There are other makes.  It is also worth checking out our local Derbyshire suppler Two Wests & Elliot The usual disclaimer, I have no connection with either company other than as a customer.

Look out for updates as the seeds germinate and information about what to do next.

 

Life goes on, seeds grow

Seeds grow with very little help from us. These are lettuce, Tom Thumb and Little Gem. We plant smaller varieties because they can picked and eaten in one go. No limp lettuce from the fridge when you grow your own.

Top left are Tom Thumb, bottom right Little Gem

There is nothing special needed, you can use margarine containers with holes in the bottom as seed trays. Use fresh, bagged peat free compost as soil from the garden is too heavy and dense. Water sparingly, don’t over water.

Sowing seeds

More later on what to do next.

Beat the food shortages

The thing about Covid-19 that strikes us most is the panic buying of food and other essentials. The hoarders are stripping supermarket shelve. The stores are reacting by limiting the number of certain items and forcing long queues to get into stores. Is it time for food rationing? Evidently the government has a permanent stock of ration books.

The current situation highlights the dominance exerted by a very few companies. Supermarkets control the production and growing of food, its distribution and the retail sale. Consumers have no choice other than which store to choose. That cannot be a good thing.

Professor Tim Lang talks about food security (2009)

What needs to come out of all this is the recognition that food security in the UK is at best  precarious. A point that has been made many times over the years but one that has been ignored by everybody.

We need to be more self-reliant both as individuals and as a nation. We must get back to taking personal responsibility for our food and stop relying on a very small number of multinational companies to do everything for us.

We need to take personal responsibility for what we eat and not trust others to feed us endless processed food and ready meals. Most of all, we should grow more of our own food. We have done it before in times of crisis and we can do it again!

Now is the perfect time to start, cultivate the garden, buy some seeds and GROW FOOD!
You do not need an allotment or a large garden and you also don’t need to dig everything in sight! Follow the first link below to see how you can start today and have a working veg garden in an afternoon.

Quick and easy spare metre beds
Growing potatoes in a dustbin
Sowing seeds 
Veg growing chart
Composting

If you need individual help and advice then please contact us and we will be pleased to give any help and support you need.

First compost of the season

Making compost is at the core of everything we do; our garden runs on it. The aim is to make the garden totally self-sustaining and zero waste – no inputs from outside and no waste. This is only year 2 but we are getting there.

The first compost of the 2020 season was started on Tuesday 17 March. It was the day that the grass was dry enough to cut. The grass clippings were used in bin 1, where they were mixed with leaves collected last autumn to make just over half a bin, 0.5 cubic metre, of compost.


Day 1                                          Day2                                               Day3

It looks like it is working well with the temperature in the centre reaching 71C on day 3. If it goes any higher we will add water to cool things down to about 65C.

Please note: the contents are mixed and not layered. It seems to be fashionable to say that different materials should be layered, we have never done that. Think about it, you do not make a cake by adding layers of flour, sugar, eggs and milk to a cake tin but make a mixture of the ingredients.

 

Save allotments from development

In this time of uncertainty, we need more space to grow food. The UK food supply has been described as precarious for many years and the effects of climate change and leaving the EU will make continuity of supply more difficult.

This is an interview with Professor Tim Lang from around ten years ago.

 

A big incentive for growing you own food is cost and there are other benefits like freshness, increased nutrient content and zero food miles. Add to that the exercise and fresh air that comes from gardening combined with the community of the allotment and there is good reason for them to be prescribed by doctors!

But there are problems. Allotments need a few acres of land which is in direct competition with the current house building frenzy making them prime targets for land grabs. There is money to be made, lots of money, by building houses and no landowner seems exempt for the lure of a quick profit.

Take for example the once sleepy village of Wellesbourne in Warwickshire. A few years back it was earmarked for expansion and thousands of new houses with no gardens have been built. It is not far from the M40 so has road links to Birmingham and London which makes it an ideal and desirable commuter location.

There is one plot left in the village – the allotments which would net millions if it was ‘developed’.  The owners, the Diocese of Coventry,  want to sell off the top half and leave an area away from the road plus part of another field for a very reduced number of plots. The problem is the lower field floods.

There have been allotments on the site since 1838. Now there are 61 plots tended by 90 people and a long waiting list. The plots are well look after and it is obvious there is a lot of work going into the site. Even in the middle of winter there are crops to be picked and plants to be planted ready for the new season. Why then does the Diocese of Coventry, want to wreck it all? The answer is very simple – MONEY.

Instead of selling off allotments for a quick profits we need to save every one we have and make more land available for food growing to enable communities to be more sustainable and resilient. Climate change is already having an effect on food supplies and things will only get worse. It is very sad that the Diocese of Coventry does not understand this.

This is Mr Hale, he is 88 and yesterday he was digging his plot ready for planting. He explained that the soil is very good, on the light side with some silt. It is also black which usually means it has lots of organic matter.

He is philosophical and doubts that he will still be digging in 5 years time but he is also passionate about the allotments and does not want them to go. Who can argue with him?  There’s lots of evidence that he’s not alone and is is plain to see what the site means to so many people.

There is still time to save the Wellesbourne plots because the district council have admitted that the number of new builds in their 5-year plan has been exceeded so no new planning applications will not be approved in this period.

See the Wellesbourne allotment  web site for more information.

Composting Christmas trees

Over the that last couple of weeks I have shredded 12 Christmas trees to make compost. That produced was about 0.75 cubic metre from the branches and tops. It was less than I expected and next year I will start collecting the trees earlier and aim for around 20. The main trunks were too thick for my small shredder and will have to go to green recycling.

The shredded material was mixed with a small amount of garden and kitchen waste. It was then damped down with a mixture of equal parts ‘universal compost activator ‘ or urine* and water.

The next day the bin had heated up to almost 23C. Not a big rise in temperature but considering we have been having sharp overnight frosts and cold days I am happy with the results so far.

* We are trying to reduce water consumption and would line to convert to either rainwater toilet flushing or composting toilets. The estimated average is 130 litres of drinking water, per household per day, is used to flush toilets!

Composting Christmas trees

As I am always on the lookout for material to make compost my thoughts turned to Christmas trees. What has stopped me in the past was the long running gardening myth that pine needles turn soil acidic which is the last thing I want. Then I found a piece about composting Christmas trees on  this site

Christmas trees: Yes, it is possible to compost a whole (real) Christmas tree. You’ll need to put in a bit of work by stripping the branches off the tree and breaking / cutting everything into small pieces first. The smaller the pieces better. You don’t really want any woody bits larger than your thumb going into your compost bin. Shredders make light work of this process if you have one. Thick woody pieces can however take a very long time to start to decompose (were talking a year or two before you see any progress) so be prepared to be patient, or consider composting only the smaller limbs if you don’t own a shredder. There is a misconception that composting pine needles will result in acidic compost. It’s not true, by the time the needles are composted they will have lost most of their acidic potency.”

I now have half a dozen trees lined up for shredding and with some other stuff to add that should fill a cubic metre bin.

How to be happy – compost something!