Compost, how to use it and when to sieve it

If you haven’t been following our adventure with composting over the past few years you won’t know that we started off with the big, standard type compost pile at the back of the garden (build from odds and ends of wood) and are now using a swanky hotbin composter.

Our old home made compost bin

But fear not, you can catch up on the adventure with the post below and come back for the latest chapter if you like:

The hotbin composter

We are very lucky that we have the fancy hotbin composter that produces compost very quickly, unlucky however that I sometimes find I have compost ready for use but I don’t actually need it. This happened over the winter when I had to empty the compost bin as it was full and I obviously still needed a way to manage our waste. So I emptied the bin and stored everything in black rubble sacks ready for when I would need it.

My custom built filtering sieve and bags of compost ready to go

Now here is a useful thing to know for any new composter types out there. Fresh garden compost can be quite rough and bulky, don’t panic though, just cause it doesn’t look like the super fine stuff you are used to buying from the store. The reason the stuff you buy is super fine is because it has been sieved.

Here’s the skinny… you know when Jim on Beechgrove Garden or Monty on Gardener’s World tells us to add organic matter to the soil to make it better? Well this is what they mean, the rough and ready compost. It adds bulk and texture and air etc to the soil. Stops the soil being too fine and getting compacted and if you have sandy or clay soil helps to change the composition. The bigger bits keep on breaking down providing nutrition too. All in all this is awesome. You will also have heard Jim and Monty talk about mulch? Yeah well this compost is exactly that, mulch, so you can even spread it over the soil around plants to feed the soil and suppress weeds. Money saver!

Now what if you are potting up plants or little seedlings? Well then this compost is a bit rough for this, so you would sieve or filter it to get rid of any larger bits and pieces and leave you with the finer stuff. This will be much more recognisable as the stuff you would buy (which you’ll probably see as labelled multi purpose).

Fine soil after sieving

So, how does this all work?

To do this though, you need the compost to be relatively dry otherwise it’s a bit on the sticky side and it clogs up the sieve.

Here was our problem, the compost I had been storing was still quite damp. I had hoped for a few sunny days where I could spread it out on a tarp in the garden and let it dry in the sun, but alas, we’ve had rain for months. So it never happened. This weekend though we finally got a chance, so hurrah.

This also provided Kate with a chance to put her DIY skills to the test yet again to make my life easier. You see, I have a standard, bucket sized, garden sieve, which works great, but…. would take forever to sieve a few rubble bags worth of compost. Also it’s very fine, suitable for making potting compost but it takes a very long time to sieve out from brand new chunky stuff.

I need something which a much bigger mesh size, an in betweener if you like. Also bigger would be great given the amount of compost I have to get through.

Kate did a fantastic job and built me my very own extra large garden sieve just for my compost. Just some leftover bits of wood and some fine chicken wire.

between my little bucket sieve and my fabulous big DIY one.

We didn’t record the making of this as it’s dead easy but if you want some instructions fear not, someone else has done an excellent job of this.

https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/diy/how-to-make-a-soil-sieve/

So speaking about fresh compost being a bit lumpy, you can see from the pic here what I mean. You sometimes get bits of twig or whatever left over that haven’t quite finished breaking down. It’s no biggie, you just throw those back in and they finish their job. Having a big filtering system does make this easier though. The action of the compost lumpy bits running across the sieve help break down lumps which are just stuck together and separate this from actual large pieces which are not ready.

Fresh compost straight from the bin

So how does the whole sieve thing work? Well, to be honest, it’s all very scientific and complicated, I’m not sure you’d understand. You need to add your fresh compost to the sieve and ………

shoogle!!!!

I usually do this over a great big tarp, then shovel it from there to wherever it needs to be but I can also put the sieve straight onto the frame of my raised beds if I want some finer soil for in there.

using a tarp and sieve on top of the raised bed to filter compost.

And there you have it, lots of lovely mulch, compost for the raised beds, potting on etc. The world is your compost of choice.




The hotbin composter – the big reveal. Did it work?

Firstly I must apologise for this incredibly late post. We did a big reveal video showing the hotbi composter and the results way back in July and unfortunately, I forgot to share it here. Unforgivable!

So for those of you who were watching out for this… from July

And just for a special update for you guys, we’ve emptied the bin at least twice since then and been more than happy each time.

I’ve got a bit of a routine going with this now, I empty the compost onto a big tarpaulin, as it’s easier for me to deal with, I then drag this into the greenhouse and leave it for a few days to dry out a bit, before sieving it and adding it to the beds etc as needed.

I just feel that straight from the bin its a bit wet to use other than to dig it through, but as we garden in raised bed, there is limited options for digging through properly, so instead I sieve it and use the best stuff for the beds etc and put the larger pieces back into the bin. It works great though.

At one point I had 6 sacks of compost stored behind the shed because I couldn’t use it fast enough to keep up.

So thumbs up, big success.




The HotBin composter – so what do we think 6 months on?

It seems like forever since we last spoke about the hotbin composter we are using, back then we were mostly telling you about how we were still trying to get to grips with things and how we hadn’t yet managed to get the balance right which would see the bin hit the advertised temperatures.

The big claim of the HotBin is that it composts at such a high height (60C) that you can have compost in as little as 3 months. It’s also a nice neat design and doesn’t require the physical work of turning and care that a traditional compost pile requires.

When we gave our first update, we hadn’t seen the bin hit those temperatures, but to be fair it was over the winter period and we hadn’t really followed the instructions properly. Our promise then was that we’d make sure we followed the instructions so we could give you a fairer update at a later stage. So, without much more waffling……….

Drum roll please…… we’re seeing those temperatures!

Our issues originally had been that we just didn’t have enough waste material to get the bin running and then keep it running. We were seeing the bin get up to around 30C at the most but even then, the mix of materials we were using meant that the compost was really wet and dense.

Since then, we have made an effort to make sure we are balancing the kitchen waste, garden waste, bulking chips and paper to make sure the moisture content was right and there was oxygen getting around the mix and it really has made a difference.

Also with it now being spring, we have more garden waste to add, meaning the bin is being topped up more regularly all of which means we are definitely seeing those 60C temperatures and sometimes above.

There have been times where opening the lid, and getting a blast of steam in your face is akin to a facial!

So what about the compost? Last time around, the compost was really wet and dense and not 100% composted yet, I can’t say yet quite what difference we’ll see, but I plan to give it another couple of months before checking again.

So far though, it’s all working as advertised and it’s so much neater and easier than the old pile so a plus so far.


See my video update from our YouTube channel

 




The Hotbin Composter, a midway review

Compost, compost, compost. It’s really useful stuff and coming up to the big spring planting we are going to need a lot of it. So the perfect time to give you another chance to peek into our experience of the hotbin composter.

We did a small update a few weeks ago to give you some basics of how we were finding it, but now we’ve passed the 3-month mark, I thought it was high time that we gave you a proper update and if you will, midway review.

So let’s be honest, the big question you all want answered is, did it make compost in 3-months like it promised, but if I answer that now where’s the motivation to stick with us and read the rest of the blog post? 🙂

Firstly, I think these types of reviews on average gardeners’ blogs and YouTube channels are important, most of us go online and do a bit of research before buying something and its seriously important that the information you find is truthful and not a sales pitch. So I really wanted to make sure I gave this composter a good run before giving you guys any feedback. After all, loads of you crazy people went online and bought lunch boxes after my last review so now I feel the pressure to not give you any bum steers or lead you astray!

Size and beauty

For those of us with small or smallish urban gardens, size and space is a big deal. We don’t have the space to have multiple compost bins or massive set-ups where we can’t be turning compost from bin to bin so something compact and fast acting sounds perfect. Also, if you have a smaller garden, any garden gizmos are going to be on show all the time so you don’t want ugly!

This leads me nicely a bit of a whinge I have about the look of the bin. If you checked out the previous blog post, you’ll see that we have switched out those crazy, bright green straps for black. They were driving me insane, this bright green glow from the bottom of the garden catching my eye while I was trying to concentrate on The Great British Pottery throw Down. They had to go and we now have nice sensible black ones. A minor thing, but for me, super annoying. There I said it, can we move on now?

Size wise, it’s a really great footprint for the garden, doesn’t take up too much room at all, about the size of a wheelie bin. However, it’s tall like a wheelie bin and I am not which means I struggle to reach into it to mix the composting material. 🙁 I’ve had to put a step out to use, most embarrassing.

It’s a hungry beastie

The material that came with it did recommend feeding it at least 2 caddies of kitchen waste a week (they are about 5 litres) to keep it going and build the heat. Unfortunately, through trying to get this composter running, we’ve realised that we don’t have nearly that amount of waste each week, and what we do have is almost all tea leaves or coffee grinds so it’s really wet. We are also a paperless household, so didn’t manage the recommended paper additions to keep the moisture level right. We’ve had to go on a scrounge to get more paper which I am now adding religiously. I’ve taken to stealing newspapers from work (when they have been read to top up our supply).

The lack of waste material and paper leads me on nicely to the early experience we had with this bin. To get it up and running, the manufacturers recommend half filling it with stuff from your old compost bin when you set it up. Ahhhhhhhhh, fist problem, I didn’t have any so had to completely start from scratch, the bin isn’t even half full yet, 3-months on.

So does it hit the hot spot as claimed?

Well, we haven’t managed it yet, given all the issues we’ve had (lack of waste etc) I’m not surprised. We’ve seen it go to 30C in the middle of winter so it’s definitely doing its thing, and it’s usually at about 20C but we are having a few issues with getting the mix right and I suspect until we get that sorted, we are not going to see the temperature climb much higher.

 

You do notice the heat, though, there were a couple of times when I opened the bin on a cold day and my glasses steamed up, so it’s definitely doing its thing. I think it’s just us who are not feeding it enough to generate the kind of heat we are hoping for.

That actually leads me on nicely, I decided that since you would all be dying to know about the actual compost after 3-months, that I’d open it up and take a look. I absolutely wasn’t expecting anything exciting, after all, we haven’t managed to stick to all the instructions, however, surprisingly there was a compost, well of sorts, formed in the bottom of the bin. I was quite surprised. It’s not lovely rich potting compost and it’s not ready for use yet. It’s sopping wet and squidgy and OMG it stinks but it is not recognisable at all as the stuff we had been putting in there, so the process does seem to be underway. It has helped, though, the fact that it is so absolutely sopping wet has really shown us how important it is to get that balance right with the paper. Also, again because it’s so wet and heavy, it was really compacted, so I doubt there has been any air circulating to help it do its thing. This was all a really good lesson for me.

I raked all that goo out and returned it to the top of the bin with loads of shredded paper and wood chips and gave it all a good mix. I’m hoping this will help kick things into action again. Also, we are just starting on the garden so before long there will be grass cuttings etc to feed it – hooray!

So what’s the verdict?

Well, to be honest, regardless of the issues we’ve had and the fact that it’s not churning away at 60C producing compost in 3-months, I’m happy. I’m happy to accept that it is showing signs of being as advertised but it will take some effort from us to get the balance sorted out. It’s neat and tidy, easier to work with than my old manual pile and I can definitely see signs of progress. So far so good, but will keep you all up to date and hopefully in a few months, will be showing off our compost!

 

 

 

 

 




The hotbin composter – so how are we getting on?

It’s been a while since I dropped the bombshell of our new garden gadget and ran but to be honest I didn’t really think I had anything to share as it just sits at the back of the garden and eats our kitchen waste. A bit of youtube surfing today, however, made me realise I do have some bits and pieces to share about the experience that might be useful to some folk and of interest to others, so here is our update.

We set it up back in November, with very little info about it other than recommendations from folk we trust. So diligently I dug out the old compost bin and shared the compost between all the beds and made way for the new bin with its smaller footprint. This turned out to have been a bit of a mistake, to really get the bin going it needs to be about half full, so the recommendation is to add some of the old pile into it to start it off. Oops.

The first mistake, ah well it was done so we had to run with it and we have just been working to build up the amount in the bin gradually, with the little kitchen waste we have. I feel slightly virtuous here because the one thing it has made me realise is how little we waste.  We’re even struggling to have enough paper to shred to add to it to keep the balance as we’re pretty much a paperless household. This has become quite apparent recently as the bin starts to fill up, the mix in there is too wet so we are going to have to come up with a plan to get some more “brown” in there, maybe need to go scouting around work for old newspapers.

So what has all that meant? Well, to be honest, the bin is still doing it’s thing, just not as quickly. It’s sitting at a pretty constant 20 degrees, not quite the 40 – 60 it should be hitting but I’m pretty confident as the amount in the bin increases and the dead air space decreases that the temperature will increase. Also, I’m hoping if we manage to balance out the wet and dry that this will help.

So any plus or negative points I want to raise? Well to be honestly, mostly plus. It looks better than the old open bin, neater and it’s a heck of a lot easier to manage. One downside though is its height. I actually struggle to mix it because I just can’t reach. The bin is about the height of a standard UK wheely bin and I’m only 5ft tall, so I can’t reach down to the bottom section to mix. Apart from that, nope no complaints. We just have to wait and see how it goes.




Garden gadgets: hotbin composter

Composting has been one of the long games for the garden here at Ar Bruidair, and I mean LONG game.  As you can imagine, at certain times of the year we use a lot of compost for potting up, unfortunately though, our compost pile is slow and hard work.  It just doesn’t keep up with demand and it takes up a lot of space in our garden which isn’t actually that big.

So I’m testing out another garden gadget in the hope that it will make life a bit easier on the composting front. A hotbin composter.

Hotbin composter
Our new hotbin composter. Now we’ve taken out the old one, we’ll have to paint that bit of fence.

It’s much smaller than our current compost bin which Kate built a few  years ago, and doesn’t require turning which is blooming hard work. The makers also claim that we can have good, rich compost in 3 months or less. That’s a huge difference to our traditional compost pile.

So today has been spent emptying the compost pile and dismantling the wooden bin Kate made so that I could get the new bin in place.

Much neater, but still has capacity for 200l of compost.

It’s obviously early days as we’ll have to start from scratch filling the bin or at least a third full to get it really working but I’m quietly confident, after all Jim McColl (Beechgrove Garden) recommended this particular bin.

How it works

Our old home made compost bin
Our old home made compost bin

As the name suggests, this one works on heat. It’s designed to run at temperatures of between 40 and 60 C. So can handle all of your waste including cooked foods (meats) which you wouldn’t normally put in your compost pile.

The high heat means it works faster at breaking down your waste, hence why you get usable compost faster. The heat also means you can compost weeds and seed heads, which normally you would let anywhere near your compost pile.

It’s about the size of a wheelie bin, and is made of the same stuff that car bumpers are made from. So it’s really light but the 2 inch thick walls insulate the bin meaning it keeps in the heat generated as the waste breaks down.

It early days but we’ll definitely keep you updated on what we think of it.

 




Spring has sprung

Well I took a picture of our first winter flower and here is our first spring flower.

snw drop

Those who know me know that I suffer quite badly from what is apparently called S.A.D. or seasonal affective disorder. I’m not one for labeling but it means that I can get quite down, lethargic, sad, and generally feel like there’s no point during the winter months when there isn’t much light and outdoor time is limited.

Funnily enough the one time I get a boost over winter is Christmas, when the outdoors comes indoors with green trees, red holly berries and white mistletoe.

Now Kate has been putting up with me for a few years now and she knows that when the spring flowers start to arrive my mood jumps massively. It being the promise of better things. She’s seen the absolute glee that accompanies a crocus and trusts me the reaction I have to a tiny flower like that is quite something 🙂 So she did an amazing, special thing and the picture here says it all. She has gone round randomly planting crocuses and snow drops all over our gardens without me knowing where. So I’m finding out about it when the little plants are breaking through the soil… and the recent snow.

I wanted to share this little flower with you because it’s so much more than its tiny size. This is nature’s promise to me of all the good things to come and it really does put a huge smile on my face.

Well this little snow drop and its cheery promises has had us out in the garden this weekend getting ready for the rest of the year and again it seems to be Kate doing the hard work. (I’m amazed we’re out there working today considering we were at a real ale festival last night)

We’ve already begin to lift the chuckies (small stones) and create more flower beds, but this weekend Kate was also hard at work with the drill and saw, making me a new composter. We have a big plastic one just now (which looks like a Dalek), but it wasn’t doing the job so I decided I wanted an open wooden pen type one. Kate to the rescue.

compost bin creation

 

She got some bits of wood from B and Q and put together this fabulous thing! It fits perfectly in the space that the old plastic one sat, but is wider as the other one narrowed as it rose. This one just looks better in the garden too as it’s not shiny black.

 

 

 

 

finished compost

I gave the contents a good turn with the fork and unfortunately evicted the little family of mice that were living in there. I feel so guilty about this but there are plenty of places around here where they can go live.

I also did a bit of work in the greenhouse today, (I can hear Kate’s dad – Bay Leaf) but I am better in there than trying to do big heavy things, cause I’m only little

Today I got the first of our veggie planting done. Broccoli, sprouts and tomatoes planted and of course… courgettes. There’s going to be more to come, but these were the ones I could get planted and started off just now.

Lesson learned from last year though, I didn’t plant loads of each. Just a couple.

seedlings

I also have some tatties chitting getting ready to go out when the frosts are over.

There is some more on order but I’m still waiting on them arriving, and the garlic. I’m a bit miffed about that as I had wanted to get the garlic started off early this year but oh well, guess I’ll just have to be patient.

 

chitting

Next weekend we’ll maybe get out to Pentland Plants, our local nursery and garden centre and spend some of those amazing vouchers we got for christmas. I want one of our beds to be all different colours of heather which will look amazing, and have the double advantage that I can make beer from it.

Kate’s looking forward to upping the amount of colourful flowers we put in the big bed along the fence as we can see this one from the living room and it’ll be nice to be able to look out the french doors and see all that colour.

side fence

Well that’s us for today, we’ve finished early today as it’s Kate’s birthday tomorrow and as a treat we’re heading out to our favourite restaurant tonight, Calistoga.