Category Archives: Growing food

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

 

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.

Food and climate change

“Food has not been the focus of climate change discussions as much as it should have been. (…)  We can still act and it won’t be too late”  

Barack Obama, 26 May 2017.[1]

If you have ever wondered why food is such an important part of climate change then read this article from Grain. It questions the belief that agriculture accounts for a third of greenhouse gas emission and say it is nearer 50%!

The changing climate is already having an impact on food supplies. We are all vulnerable, wherever we live, which is why we need more sustainable and resilient ways to grow food.

Parsnip harvest

It is that time of the year, the parsnips are ready! A quick harvest today yielded some super specimens. They are a good length with no sign of disease.


I must admit to having never lost the excitement of seeing veg come of of the ground a few months after sowing some tiny seeds. Already have the seed catalogues ready to start planning for next year.

 

The ring of market gardens around Liège

There used to be a lot of markets gardens in the UK. I grew up in a small Warwickshire village and we used to have family trips in the car around the Evesham area because there were so many small growers selling produce at the garden gate.

My dad used to grow and sell, it was mostly enormous Webs Wonderful lettuces cut straight from the garden for 6 old pence worth around 45p today. There are still a few people doing it in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, they call them farm shops now.

In this part of Derbyshire there are no market gardens.That could be because the climate is harsher or just that nobody does it anymore because food shopping is now all about finding the cheapest supermarket produce.

The other Issue is land. Every spare bit of ground is snapped up by speculators hoping they will get planning permission for houses and sell for a fat profit. The other group willing to pay over the odds for agricultural land are equestrian users.

Yet again we seem to have lost the plot!  In other countries where food is valued there are lots of small growers. This web site documented the area around Liège, Belgium. It is amazing to see what people do with small plots.

We should do more of this in the UK not only would help improve food security and access to cheap fresh food it is good exercise in the fresh air. Allotments should be available on an NHS prescription.

Access to land for growing food has got to be seen as essential for human wellbeing and survival. There has to be more allotment provision for organic growing of course, in towns, cities and rural areas.