Sunday, May 12, 2013

HotBin Composting

I've just finished reading Jane Perrone's post on her experience with her HotBin and it reminded me I have been thinking of writing about my own experiences for a while, especially now that I've had it over 12 months so have seen it perform in all seasons.
Like Jane I was excited to take delivery because it meant I could compost all the things my wormery's and standard compost heaps couldn't, namely meat and cooked foods without the need for a Bokashi bin in the kitchen and the chance of it leaking and stinking the house out. Promised temperatures of 60C mean that even the problem of dogs mess can be eradicated because after half an hour or so at that temperature nothing nasty survives and it just becomes good old fashioned compost, saving me an awful lot of hassle (it sure beats bagging it in a plastic bag and putting straight into landfill).
Jane mentions that the bin is ugly but I disagree: It is a solidly built black polystyrene bin that slots in nicely down the side of the house in between my water butt and wormery's. I would even go as far as saying it is quite stylish looking, but you do have to bear in mind that I'm a bit strange when it comes to my composting set-up (touching on the fanatical when it comes to all things compost, even going as far as collecting banana skins and teabags from people at work and bringing them home to compost rather than let them go in landfill) ...
This is just after arriving and, untidy early Spring garden aside, I think it fits in quite neatly. When not over wintering in the greenhouse the wormery's live next to it so kitchen waste can easily be added rather than traipsing across to the lawn to the compost bins.
So how have things gone in the last 12 months?
First few months and emptying
I found it easy to get going and the compost-geek really kicks in when seeing the thermometer reading 60C and knowing that that means you are composting your waste at 32 times that of a normal compost bin (meaning usable compost in approximately 3 months!). However, Jane is right that it is a pig to empty. You remove the hatch and start forking out the finished compost only to find that the stuff above falls in its place before you get to the back, meaning not only is unfinished compost mixing with the good stuff but the compacted compost at the back stays there.
The "finished" compost is generally not the compost we are used to and will need ageing if it is going to be used as anything other than a rough mulch. You can either add it to a normal compost heap/bin for aging or add it to your wormery where the worms will go mad for it and turn it into even more beneficial vermicompost (more of a fertiliser than a compost). This is what I do now as I have 3 wormeries that were previously taking my kitchen waste but slowed down once the Hotbin arrived. They now take waste from the Hotbin every month or so and take another month or so to turn into vermicompsot for top dressing plants or adding round my vegetables as a mulch or feed.
Keeping the temperature up
The problem with emptying can cause problems with the air movement, which then results in the temperature dropping thereby slowing things down considerably. Once things get compacted the air vents in the bottom of the bin get blocked and the lack of air flow can cause the temperature to drop very quickly. I use a Compost mate that I bought from Wiggly Wigglers and currently costs £17.50 (worth every penny) for aerating the bin contents from above - you screw the tool into the compost and then pull out a plug of material creating a chimney that keeps the air flow working nicely (and the compost hot). However this can cause the newer stuff to fall deeper into the bin which means slightly longer before you can remove it.
In the summer keeping the bin hot is reasonably easy because you can add grass cuttings, though add too much and you get leachate leaking out of the bottom that attracts flies resulting in maggots and that silage-type pong oh so loved by ones wife (NOT!).
In the winter months however things are trickier and the bin maintenance becomes a weekly chore. I have found that adding LOTS of shredded paper helps in much the same way as it helps in a wormery; it keeps the air flow possible, dries out soggy compost (that can also restrict the airflow)and also keeps the temperature up as it composts quite quickly. I also add pelleted chicken manure to help keep the temperature up. So, the recipe is for each caddy of kitchen waste I add a handful of bark (supplied with the bin and also used for aerating the compost), a few handfuls of shredded paper and a cup full of chicken manure pellets. This keeps things working nicely as well as improve the quality of the finished product.
Much as I wouldn't swap it - when working well it works very well - and I'm turning kitchen waste round quickly for my plants at home and the allotment I don't think it is the single answer to all things compost. Much like my old composting set-up I think you need more than one bin, and at £149 that's unlikely because they are not what you would call cheap. With a second bin you would be able to have it composting nice and hot until it's full and then move onto the second bin. By the time the second was full the first should be done enough to be emptied completely and started again, thereby avoiding the emptying issues that make it so hard (and smelly) to use.
For more information and help Hotbin have a great Frequently asked questions section on their web site and are very good at answering queries both on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Portugal 2012


The last thing a colleague at work said as I headed for the door ready to start my holiday was “Try and relax”, not something I'm very good at in general. Portugal in the summer is hot, sunny and laid back, especially where we were staying (Vila Nune) so I didn't think I would have too much trouble.

However, the start of the journey was typically eventful. When I say that I mean I am a Sherlock so little things go wrong; a last minute diversion to Morrison’s on the way to the airport for tea bags are a classic example of what my life is like.

On arrival at Porto airport the car we had hired was so smashed up we couldn't have it so we ended up with a much smaller car that, luckily, I could get all the bags in while still managing to fit the wife and children in.

It was late by this time and I was tired: It would appear so was the Sat Nav and we couldn't find the turning off the roundabout for love or money and even found ourselves about to head back onto the toll road until a kind local who spoke no English helped us reverse back up the road before removing whatever spell was hiding the correct exit so we could be on our way. Unfortunately, I had already panicked at the toll and driven through the camera bit that means I couldn’t pay for the ticket so would have to phone and pay later. Many minutes on my mobile later both the hire car company and the toll people said “wait for a notification”. I'm guessing that's Portuguese for 'fine' though one quote also said “if they can be bothered to send it”.

When we eventually found the villa, sometime around midnight, it was stunning. A little bit of unpacking was done while the kettle was on i.e. find those emergency tea bags from earlier, and we sat on the terrace drinking tea and staring at a moon-lit mountain opposite. I wish I had taken a picture as I've not managed to stay up long enough to see the moon again because it hides behind the mountain for quite a while.

The next morning we woke early (or I did) to stunning views and a pool that appears to be a trap for all things nasty: 1 scorpion, one lizard and at least 5 centipedes of about 10cm in length. Plus ants of all sizes, some of which would be scary looking if shown on Primeval! Once hoovered and the filter changed the pool is amazing and the most used (other than the kettle) part of the villa.

View from the villa View from the villa View from the villa

The downside to Vila Nune though is definitely the dogs and their incessant barking as soon as it goes dark. If I ever come back I will be either starting a new religion where any dog that barks after 9pm is sacrificed to the STFU God (loosely translated as the God Of Quiet), or smuggling in a silenced pistol and some night-vision goggles. They bark and howl all night and then spend the day asleep in the middle of the road so you have to go round them (the excess on the car hire is far too much to run the bastards over, no matter how tempting).

I could also do with learning the language; Portuguese reads like Spanish but sounds like an Eastern European language. No matter how hard you try the only word you can remember is obrigado/a for thank you and even then you mess up the gender! Anybody that knows me will be smiling to themselves when I hat not being able to communicate - it didn't stop us visiting places but it curtail some of the exploring in case somebody tried to talk to me (they speak little to no English and it's just embarrassing how little Portuguese I could master). This was highlighted daily when the bread man arrives (07:45 every morning) and I smile, point and shake hands a lot to buy what must be the cheapest bread  in the world.

We visited some lovely places but generally took it easy; trips out in the morning, a meal somewhere for lunch and then back to the villa for a swim in the pool and generally relax in the sun (when it wasn't so hot we hid in the shade).  Temperatures were between mid-20's and mid-30's in centigrade and, all in all, it was a glorious holiday, very relaxing, lots of reading, lots of swimming and a little bit of drinking...

Pictures are on Flickr at

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Is your wormery prepared for winter?

Over on the Wiggly Wigglers blog I have just posted a small article on how you can look after your wormery over the Winter months.

It takes you through some of the things you need tokeep it as warm as possible so it doesn't freeze during the worst of the winter and how to  keep it dry by using a moisture mat (or extra paper and cardboard) as well as a rain cap to keep the majority of the rain off.

The full article can be read at

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wiggly Wigglers 2010 Catalogue

Earlier in the year Heather from Wiggly Wigglers asked me to write a piece on composting and wormeries for their forthcoming catalogue.

I was really pleased with how they presented the article and I've had some great feedback about it (it caused some great discussions on the use of teabags as well) *

Anyway, the catalogue is soon to replaced by another edition and Heather kindly let me have a PDF version of my article. You can read/download it here.

* I still compost teabags, both in the wormery and the compost bin as I would rather have the odd "teabag ghost" than add to the methane build-up in landfill. If you'd rather not have the ghosts then it's worth trying tea leaves. I can heartily recommend Trumpers loose leaf tea as an alternative to tea bags, though to be honest I still like my PG Tips as well (sacrilege I hear some of you cry) :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Setting up the wormery for Kingsley St. John's

A few weeks ago Wiggly Wigglers offered some freebies to organisations who might be able to make use of them and the children's school, Kingsley St. John's, was lucky enough to get offered a re-furbished can-o-worms and value pack.

I've been trying to get the school composting in some way shape and form for a while now so I went along to their eco-club to help set it up.

As you can see from the photo's the children were absolutely fascinated with the whole process of both composting their food waste and having the worms do it for them.

So while the coir block was soaking for the bedding I took them through adding the legs and fitting the tap while explaining why there was a sump and what the tap was for etc.  More than one knew why you collect the liquid and how good it is for fertilising plants but they were really fascinated when it came to adding the bedding and the worms themselves.

Everybody got to hold some worms as I pointed out the adults, babies and even a few cocoons (that hold between 1 and 20 baby worms).

I then explained about the trays and how we should feed food waste (preferably wrapped in a sheet or two of newspaper to stop the fruit flies), add lots of shredded paper for extra carbon and soaking up excess moisture as well as giving them the much needed dark that they work so well in.

So the school now has a wormery and they have a rota system for emptying the liquid, diluting it with water and applying it to their raised beds.

I'll be visiting regualrly to keep an eye on things and explain what is happening as the bin becomes more mature and eventually needs the bottom tray emptying.

Next, to try and persuade them to use Bokashi for their cooked kitchen waste...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Knee op - bandage off

Bandage offFurther to my five days of struggling in the heat (well struggling generally actually) should be over so I settled down to remove the bandage from my knee.

As you can see it is still very swollen compared with the left one. I also notice they had managed to cut me while shaving my leg and there was plenty of iodine around (that had scared me when I first saw my foot because I thought jaundice must have set in - the nurse had a right old chuckle when I hit the panic button to ask her about it). Plus, there is a very helpful arrow so that the Consultant knows where do to his thing. The iodine has come off but the arrow is being quite stubborn but it's now covered by the tubigrip I have to wear during the day - at least that gives me some movement, and feels cooler.

I also removed the dressings to see the puncture wounds and it's amazing how small they are. They also bleed when you look at them too long so I quickly replaced the old dressings with new and tried not to think about it.

It's five days since the op and I seem to be having more pain as the days go on, which is not how I envisaged things at all. I can take small doses of about 10 minutes before pain sets in and I have to move, whether that be lying down, sitting down or standing/walking. It means I'm having to snatch sleep when I can because I'm not making it through the night - even the tennis isn't numbing me enough to sleep longer than 10 minutes or so. The drugs help a little for the really sharp pains but don't help at all with the throbbing and aching. Beer is needed I think, but that interferes with the drugs so I'm not sure just yet.

Plus, now the bandage is off I have no excuses for not doing the few physio exercises that I couldn't do before because of the padding. Six times a day I am supposed to put my self through the torture. At least now the bandage is off the ice pack will make a difference - I don't see anybody until next week and figure a bit of pain now will be better than a lot of pain then if I've not been doing them right ...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Knee op

After having pain in my knees after exercise for about 3 years now and putting it down to age I went to see somebody just after Christmas. There followed just under 3 months of physio twice a week which helped the knee that had the least pain but played absolute havoc with the other.

I tried all sorts of things to align the knee caps and even resorted to my "monkey feet"
Vibram Fivefingers shoes
which use barefoot technology to help you strengthen your feet, ankles, legs and hips etc - but the problems with the right knee just wouldn't go away so the Consultant booked me in for an arthroscopy so he could take a look around and tidy up any messy cartilage, as well as treat the under-side of the knee cap that had some pretty extensive Chondromalacia patellae. He showed me the pictures of normal cartilage (white and smooth as ivory) and mine, which was grey and rough like the rocks of volcanic larvae you sometimes find on the beach.

The result is bandage from just under my knee to just under my bum that has to remain on for 5 days! A normal arthroscopy would mean I could remove the bandage after a few days apparently but because of the extensive work mine has to stay on longer to help keep the swelling down.

Knee operation

The pain yesterday was unbearable and I needed crutches to get about, but today I am able to shuffle around the house without and have managed the stairs in both directions. However the bandage has suddenly gone very tight so I think I may have over done and it has swelled up a bit - it's hard to tell when covered by so much padding!

Anyway, now off to attempt the torture, sorry, rehabilitation exercises that I need to do ...