Category Archives: Composting

How to do it and what to do with it.

Progress in the garden

This is our fruit and veg  garden on 16 May 2020. We started work on the plot just over a year ago. There was a lot to do and it’s been hard work but worth it. We are looking forward to harvesting some tasty, pesticide free veg soon.

The weather made it a difficult year but gardeners always say that! The first few months were cold and wet and the top part of the garden was flooded a few of times due to poor drainage. That should now be fixed.

Spring has been cool and mostly dry here and again we are verging on a drought. There were frosts up until last week. That has caused some damage especially to the fruit bushes in the new bed to the left of the path, the top corner is just visible in front of the chairs.

We have done a lot recently thanks to lock down but there is still more to do to achieve our aim of an sustainable, zero waste fruit and veg garden.

New projects
We are lucky to have a corner of a large garden to grow food. Many people have only have a small gardens or just a balcony so we want to share some ideas. First will be an update to the lettuce table  made about 20 years ago. The plan is to make one using as much reclaimed timber as possible and use reclaimed butyl rubber pond liner for the waterproofing.

Next is the use of self-watering containers. We have used them before with good results. We will have peas, beetroot, tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries in various sizes of container. More to come on this soon.

We are also about to start making comfrey liquid fertilizer from the plants started in 2019. This is part of the closed loop, self-contained. zero waste garden we are working towards. It will not be on the same scale as our previous project.

We desperately need an extension to the compost bins as we are already getting short of space. So far we have a cubic metre of compost maturing in one of the bins. The second bin has active compost in it which leaves just one free for the next batch. The plan is to try a very simple way of locking boards together to build metre square bins that can be used when required and then broken down over winter.

As winter approaches we want to try some new ways of extending the season with the aim of having keeping some crops going through winter. That will mean some new cloches and cold frames to go with the solar pods stacked against the wall on the top right of the photo above.

That should be enough to keep us busy for a few weeks, we will post news with videos of progress here.

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Easy ways to make compost

Garden waste can be recycled at home with little effort. It’s great for the garden and so much better than burning it!

Here are a couple of general tips to help stuff to compost. First, chop it up using garden shears or run over it with a mower. Smaller pieces compost faster. Try to balance what goes onto your heap, e.g. add two buckets of green stuff – grass clippings and plants to one bucket of brown stuff – dry twigs, dead grass, shredded paper. If there’s too much grass it will go slimy and stink and take years to compost.

Things to avoid; don’t add weeds with seed heads or food waste as it will attract vermin or egg shells as they never compost or pet waste – health risk.

If you want help email us – compost@organicgarden.org.uk

Open Pile

Easy to make. Just put stuff in a pile, mix it up, water it a bit if it’s dry and leave it for a year. As an extra you can add a waterproof cover which will speed up the composting.

 

Straw bales

 A good way to contain a pile. Straw also makes an excellent insulator.

 

Wire & cardboard

A cheap and cheerful bin. Not easy to fill and empty. The cardboard will need replacing.

If you want help email us – compost@organicgarden.org.uk

Regenerative agriculture – regenerative gardening?

There is a lot of talk about regenerative agriculture, particularly in the US, how it improves soils, stores CO2 from the atmosphere, reduces or eliminates the use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers and reduces costs.

What can gardeners take from this? How do we change the way we garden to get the same benefits?

To start:

1. Stop digging soil – use no dig raised beds and apply lots of compost particularly in the autumn.

2. Never leave the soil bare especially over winter as heavy rain compacts soil and washes out nutrients particularly nitrogen. Use cover crops, mulch or compost.

3. Mulch around growing plants with compost.

4. Get to know your garden, learn what works best for you and don’t blindly follow what everybody else does.

5. Remineralise your soil see this page.

Cheap and simple compost bin

I wrote this review several years ago and have not changed my opinion of the Rotol bin. It is simple, no fancy doors to take out the compost and only two parts. They do work very well if you fill them to the top in one go. When it ii time to turn the contents just pick up the bin, move it to a new spot and refill.

They are available here for around £38

What the catalogue says

rotol“Rotol Composters create a controlled, heat retaining, yet aerated environment, ideal for rapid decomposition. Once the Rotol is full, lift it off the heap, use the compost & start the process again. Made from 100% recycled plastic and guaranteed for 10 years, Rotol Composters are available in 2 sizes to suit any garden. Takes most organic garden waste inc. lawn clippings, leaves & weeds. Comes fully assembled with instructions and tips.”

The Verdict
A very good compost bin which works well. Simple construction, robust, light and easy to move. I insulated mine with 2 layers of bubble wrap and achieved a compost temperature of over 60C in the middle of winter. If you only have a small space in which to compost and cannot make your own bin then the Rotol is a good alternative.

The usual disclaimer applies, I have no connection with any company involved in the making or selling of this product and get no financial reward for writing this review.

(I have had my bin for about 15 years, the design has changed so current models might not look like the one in the photograph.)

 

Hotbin update

After clearing out then HotBin Mk1 food composter a few days back I made a modification to increase the airflow through the bin. It was clear that as the bin filled up the airflow became restricted. The answer was to add a perforated plastic pipe in the back right corner.

The pipe was an odd length of scrap plastic pipe from an old milking parlour. It had a right angle bend glued to one end which was cut off to leave a short length of pipe and then the stub of the bend. This allowed it to be pushed through a hole cut in the floor enough to reach the space below without falling through the hole. I also made another air inlet on the back of space between the removable floor and the base of the bin.

The bin is now standing on wood to allow any liquid to drain through holes in the base. I added dry twigs to the floor to enable air to come through and to try and prevent the ventilation hole being blocked.

Yesterday I added the first contents which was about a week of food prep scraps, tea bags and coffee grounds. There was also some shredded paper (mainly brown) and shredded dry garden waste as a bulking agent. Finally, the contents were mixed and watered a to get the wrung out sponge wetness.

Today, just 24 hours after starting the bin, the contents are at 45C. The air flow control valve was just open; when fully open it was easy to feel the how air coming through the bin. So far so good, it looks as if the modification has worked well. It will be interesting to see what happens as the bin fills up.

Update 31 May 2020
The modified HotBin has been in use for a few weeks now and is working very well. The latest batch of compost was added a couple of days ago and heated to 57C on the second day. It was the usual mix of about 4.8Kg of kitchen prep waste, a couple of hand fulls of my bulking agent, same again of grass cuttings and three hand fulls shredded brown paper. It was well mixed and watered.

I still need to replace the charcoal filter and block the extra hole cut in the bottom chamber as I think there is too much airflow.

Email us if you need help
Please note: we do not store emails, pass on details to anybody else or send messages after we have a responded to your question.

A step-by-step guide to composting garden waste

In many parts of the country local authorities are suspending the collection of garden waste due to staff shortages. As the situation could go on for several more weeks it is important to know what to do with your garden waste. The answer is simple – MAKE COMPOST!

It need not cost you anything as you can make a compost heap in your garden. If you already have a compost bin, then clean it out and start afresh. In many parts of the country local councils are sponsoring the purchase of compost bins so check before you buy one.

If you live in Derbyshire see this page for more information on offers of compost bins and water butts.

Other local authorities have similar schemes so check before you buy.

If you don’t have a bin you can still make compost by finding a convenient corner of the garden to make a heap with a waterproof cover to keep out the rain

Whether you are making a heap or bin the steps are the same.

  1. Find a site for your bin or pile on grass or soil. It’s better to be out of full sun as it will dry out the contents. The heat in hot composting comes for the action of the bacteria as they breakdown the contents and not from the sun.
  2. Gather together the stuff you want to compost; it’s best to have enough materials to make a complete batch or bin full, if not, you can start with around half that. Aim for at least half a cubic metre.
  3. Only add material in batches and do not just throw stuff in when you find it but save it until you have enough.
  4. Sort it into two groups – browns and greens:

    Browns
    • Autumn leaves
    • Pine needles
    • Twigs, chipped tree branches/bark
    • Straw or hay
    • Sawdust
    • Paper, brown paper is best like that used in packing from Amazon etc.
    • Plain cardboard, not printed, toilet roll inners, egg boxes tear up into small pieces and limit the amount you put in the bin. Use to balance the greens and browns and not as an alternative to recycling.

Greens

    • Grass clippings
    • Coffee grounds/tea bags (check the bags are fully compostable and do not include plastic)
    • Vegetable and fruit peelings
    • Trimmings from perennial and annual plants
    • Weeds but do not include any with seeds if your bin/heap does not get hot
    • Animal manures but not from dogs or cats

Not worth adding/be careful

    • Egg shells – they will never break down because they are made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) crystals. They cannot add calcium to the compost or to the soil.
    • Food waste unless you know the bin will heat up. You can add it to the centre of a hot heap/pile but it is best composted in a separate container such as a HotBin.
  1. Getting the correct balance of greens and browns will help the compost to heat up. A good rule of thumb is to use two buckets of greens to one bucket of browns as you add material to your heap/bin.
  2. Be sure to mix the contents well as you add them especially grass clippings as they tend to stick together in lumps, break them up!
  3. The next step is to wet the mixture, not totally soaked, more like a wrung-out sponge.
  4. Cover an open pile with waterproof sheet or put the lid on you bin. After a few days the contents should heat up.
  5. After a while the contents will start to cool down and will have shrunk. You might see that material around the edges has not composted as well as that in the centre. Now is the time to turn the pile/contents of the bin. What this means is taking everything out and then putting it back in. It helps if you ‘fluff up the contents’ to add more air. You might also need to add some more water if it feels it is dry. Again, not a soaking but more like a wrung out sponge.
  6. After a few days the heap/bin should start to heat up again, but it may not get as hot as before. It will eventually start to cool down and you could try turning again or just leave it.
  7. Hot composting should be complete in 8-10 weeks and will take another couple of months to mature. It is ready to use on the garden when it looks like and smells like the forest floor.

If you would like more information about composting then please take a look at
our other pages.

If you need help with your composting please email us HERE

Please send us your photos, comments and short videos of your compost and we will share them here.

(Last update 08 Apr 2020)

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

 

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.