Category Archives: Soil

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

 

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

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!

Broccoli Is Dying. Corn Is Toxic. Long Live Microbiomes!

Do you want the cheapest food possible? If so this is what you get: “Data going back to 1940, as reported by Eco Farming Daily, shows: “The level of every nutrient in almost every kind of food has fallen between 10 and 100 percent.”

This is not anything new, it is well documented and we have mentioned it before – “A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991.” see the PDF is here.

There is a stark choice: you either go for the cheapest food and kid yourself that it is good value for money or you buy decent food that is not produced using high inputs of chemical fertiliser and chemical pesticides  –  organic food!

See this piece in Scientific American

IPCC report on climate change and land

Finally we get to the very basic problem – we ALL depend on the land for survival. It is the top 15 inches (38cm) of soil is that feeds us. Forget that, mess up the land, ignore it or take it for granted and we are dead, It is as simple as that.

The full report can be found here

Extracts about food security:

Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).

“Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

“We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

The report records that about one third of food produced is lost or wasted. Causes of food loss and waste differ substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing this loss and waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security.

“Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change,” she said.

RHS Harlow Carr

Having not visited the RHS garden at Harlow Carr for about 7 years I was pleasantly surprised by the changes to the site. There is a new library and education building, new gardens and work was in progress on the stream at the bottom of the slope.

I was surprised and delighted to see the fantastic new fruit and veg gardens. There were lots of ideas there including growing potatoes in a wooden bed which had six lift out bags.

A few years back the RHS seems to be stuck in a rut doing that same old stuff over and over but now they seems to be right on message. It is well worth the trip to Harrogate.

Reinventing the (gardening) wheel?

For many years we have argued that we need to grow more food at home. Now Grow it yourself, or GIY, has suddenly become popular partly because of a looming no deal Brexit and fears about food security.

There are many other benefits associated with gardening including exercise, improved mental health, zero food miles and having fresh food readily available. It also reconnects people where the land.  For us it is also about growing sustainably with no pesticides or chemical fertilisers.

A research group – the Food Research Collaboration  have recently published a paper: ” Brexit and Grow it Yourself, a golden opportunity for sustainable farming”. Not sure about the farming bit but I get what they mean.

It is good to see the role of GIY being recognised but it will need more than an academic paper to get things moving. There is a chronic lack of allotment space in the UK and with ever more land going to feed the insatiable appetite for housing it will not be easy to find space to grow food.

While we agree on the need for more allotments we would argue that the typical allotment plot is far from sustainable. There are often high inputs of the same agrochemicals and chemical fertilisers used in farming. A few years back at an event in a south midlands town to encourage more food growing the local allotment society stall consisted of a table full of the chemicals they  used!

Carrots, 64 per Sq.M

The way forward is to use intensive sustainable, organic growing on small plots, something we have been promoting for years.  See this trial from 2009  Quick and easy square metre beds

A lot can be grown in a small space with relatively little effort. Our new garden has a growing area of 15 square metres. We estimate that it will produce 90-120kg of food per year based on previous trials.

Many gardening skills have been lost and there would need to be a programme of short courses, demonstrations and mentoring of new gardeners. Time is short with Brexit on the horizon and the effects of a warming planet already evident. We need to act now to get things moving!