Dessert sorted for Easter

I thought I had my pudding sorted for Easter lunch until my Abel and Cole organic delivery arrived and with it was a recipe for Jassy’s Easter Egg Cheesecake. The blueberry and lime cobbler will have to wait.

 I’ve never tried this recipe before but the photos look so great I immediately knew these were what I wanted to bring to the table. They look really easy to make too. Thanks, Jassy!

Jassy’s Easter egg cheesecake


5 digestive biscuits

25g butter

1 x 225g Easter egg

250g mascarpone cheese

15g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

A handful of mini eggs

2-3 tbsp caramel sauce.

  1. Break the biscuits into a mixing bowl and use the end of a rolling pin or a pestle to crush them. Melt the butter in a pan set over a medium heat, or in the microwave, then add to the crushed biscuits and stir until they’re well coated.
  2. Split open the Easter egg so you have two halves and remove any chocolates from the middle. Spoon the buttery biscuits into the two halves, dividing them evenly. Smooth down with the back of a spoon. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up the biscuit base.
  3. Meanwhile, spoon the mascarpone into a mixing bowl. Sift in the icing sugar and add the vanilla extract, then beat to mix.
  4.  When the biscuit base is set in the Easter egg halves, spoon in the mascarpone mix to fill the egg. Chill for 1-2 hours or overnight to set the cheesecake layer.
  5. To decorate, crush a small handful of sugar-shelled mini eggs and scatter them over the cheesecakes. Add a few whole mini eggs to decorate. Warm 2-3 tbsp salted caramel sauce in the microwave so it’s runny and drizzle over the cheesecakes. Serve straight away.
  6.  These cheesecakes are best eaten within 2-3 hours of being decorated. You can make them 24 hours ahead but leave them undecorated until you’re ready to serve.

Don’t forget to compost any compostable Easter egg packaging.

Along with the recipe were these lovely ideas to care for wildlife right now:

  • Leave natural materials outside for nest-making.
  • Create resting places for bees just waking up.
  • Plant quick-growing flowers for pollinators.
  • Deep clean any bird feeders, drinkers and baths.


Bokashi bins boost hot compost

When it comes to boosting the composting process, we have found a Bokashi bin to be the perfect partner for the Green Johanna.

We recently carried out trials involving additions of fermented food waste from a Maze Bokashi bin to a Green Johanna and found that temperatures in the Johanna rapidly increased as a result.  

For our trials, we re-started a Johanna more or less from scratch, having previously removed large amounts of compost.  Using a permanently installed insulation jacket and large amounts of Bokashi bran and carbon-rich materials, compost temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius. 

 We added the contents of a Bokashi bin that had been fermenting for 21 days, followed by a full 1kg bag of Bokashi bran.   We then added some mulch and stirred well with a garden fork, before completing the process with a thin layer of mulch. 

 The Johanna was then left for 48 hours.  Temperatures rose to 66 degrees Celsius whilst outdoor temperatures were in the 0-10 degree range.   After 48 hours we re-stirred to spread heat more widely through the Johanna.    Using two Bokashi bins in rotation we repeated this cycle roughly every three weeks and got the same results.

We used the Green Johanna in combination with a regular kitchen caddy (as the Johanna needs regular feeding to maintain the hot composting process), twin-bin Bokashi system, Insulating Jacket, Bokashi Bran as an accelerant and plenty of mulch.

Photos show starting temperature at 30 degrees Celsius/adding fermented waste from a Bokashi bin/ adding Bokashi bran/temperature at 66 degrees Celsius.

The Bokashi process was developed in Japan in the 1980s; the term means ‘fermented organic matter’ in Japanese.  It involves adding all your food waste, cooked and uncooked, to a specially designed airtight Bokashi bin, with the addition of Bokashi in the form of a fermented bran or spray. The food waste is compressed with a compactor to eliminate as much air as possible as this is an anaerobic process.  Once the bin is full, you close the airtight lid and leave for 2-3 weeks.  Many people use one or two bins to keep the process going.

The bacteria (lactobacilli) in the bran or spray will create lactic acid which will effectively pickle the food waste rather than letting it decompose as it would in a regular food waste caddy.  After a week or so, liquid should start to form in the Bokashi bin which should be drained using the tap.   This ‘Bokashi tea’ can be used as a drain cleaner or diluted for use as plant food.

 At the end of the fermentation period the waste food is a pre-compost mixture that can be added to a composter or buried in soil to become a soil enhancer. Its composition is such that virtually all its original nutrients, carbon and energy enter rapidly into the soil.   No greenhouse gases are released to the atmosphere as they are during regular food waste decomposition in landfill.

Bokashi composting has traditionally proven particularly popular in urban environments where traditional garden composting is difficult. 


Climate crisis – what we CAN do

How do we find the balance between horror and hope when discussing the climate emergency?

Last week’s warning by scientists that rising greenhouse gas emissions will cause irrevocable damage if we don’t act dominated the news.  

It was interesting to watch the reactions of people watching this news story on Gogglebox. Listening to the scientists’ apocalyptic language, such as ‘final warning’ and ‘ticking timebomb’, the audience were clearly terrified.

One viewer commented, ‘Let’s hope they come up with something’, as if talking about a vaccine. But another responded, ‘No, because if people think that will happen then everyone will carry on as before.’

People’s reactions to climate crisis seem to vary according to whether their personal response to danger is fight, flight or play dead.

This is the dilemma – people need to be shocked into action but not shellshocked. It’s counterproductive to leave people thinking, what does it matter what I do?

The Gogglebox viewers were left in despair. Little wonder that so many people say they no longer watch the news. It’s a great shame that media reports on this subject don’t end with a reminder of, for instance, three practical things that people can do in their everyday lives.  

Every purchase matters – ethical consumerism

The climate change panel of scientists knew they had to end on a message of hope, so they urged world governments to reduce emissions by investing in renewable energy and technologies that capture and store carbon dioxide. Of course, this is the minimum that governments must do but we all need to be engaged in our daily lives too.

 Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad Are Bananas?, says that in the first edition of his book he didn’t want to tell people what to do. But this was precisely the question he was asked at every book talk: What can we do?

Apparently there have been more than 30 years of warnings from the scientists behind this latest climate change report. I felt a stab of guilt when I read that their first report was published in 1990. In 1990 I was embarking on adult life in my first job and first home of my own.  As I remember it, the focus at the time was on banking crises, home repossessions and the poll tax. I admit that if the scientists’ report was big news at the time, it didn’t grab my attention. But if it had and I’d banged on about it to friends they probably would have thought I was being over the top. That perception has certainly changed.   

The report in The Guardian of the story quoted two experts. Richard Allan, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading, said: “Every bit of warming avoided due to the collective actions pulled from our growing, increasingly effective toolkit of options is less worse news for societies and the ecosystems on which we all depend.”

 Peter Thorne, the director of the Icarus climate research centre at Maynooth University in Ireland, said the real question was ‘whether our collective choices mean we stabilise around 1.5C or crash through 1.5C, reach 2C and keep going.”

The key word used by both experts is ‘collective’.

  Millions of people worldwide don’t get to have choices in their daily lives, so it’s vital that those of us who do try to make the right ones.

Talking to children

And if this subject scares adults, how must it make children feel? The way to discuss it with youngsters is by showing them what they can do, by harnessing their instinctive love of nature and desire to be useful.  

At Great Green Systems we come across many schools that are teaching children how to compost, which is a brilliant way to empower them. Even the youngest pupil  can throw their apple core in the right bin – one that will be emptied into compost.

To take our own advice about ending on a positive message, let’s conclude with three small action points from How Bad Are Bananas?

  • Try to build up your knowledge of more and less sustainable brands and products. One good source of information is Ethical Consumer –
  • An aerated showerhead makes less water feel like more, saving water and carbon.
  • Use a lid on pans when cooking, cut potatoes into smaller pieces and boil gently rather than at full throttle. (Efficient cooking can halve the carbon impact.)
Carbon impact of a pan lid

There are much bigger action points as well, of course, and it might seem ridiculous to mention pan lids and showerheads amid talk of final warnings and ticking timebombs, but one of my favourite quotes is this: ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’ (Edmund Burke). Multiply this attitude by enough people and change happens. 

 I can only vote every five years but I use pans every single day.

If you need cheering up, watch the documentary Kiss the Ground on Netflix.  It’s not a worthy snorefest or despair dripfeed. Quite the opposite. It leaves you with a dynamic feeling of hope. Who doesn’t need that right now?


Which bin will the core go in?

Eco gifts start kids on a wormy journey

It’s hard to buy presents for a friend’s children or grandchildren, especially if you don’t see them all that often. You know how it is – you ask Mum if Sam still loves dinosaurs and get the response – not so much since turning 17.

I exaggerate but it really is difficult to know what to get a child if you don’t know what they already have and what their current interests are.  You don’t want to waste money or add to the mountain of discarded junk by buying pointless gifts.  

I thought long and hard a few months ago before getting Christmas presents for my best friend’s grandchildren – Reggie, 6, and Magdalena, 2. I always like to get practical, useful things – I’m not bothered about being popular (‘Oh great, another swimming cap/duvet cover/homework bag from Auntie Julie.’)

But this time I upped my game.

Eco gifts are gifts that keep on giving. It would be easy to drive children to despair about the climate crisis, but how much better to show them instead what they can do to help? Yes, tackling the climate emergency is a big job, but it’s one that each and every one of us – no matter how young – can play a part in.

And so I gave Reggie and Maggie a worm farm.

Why? Because worm farms (also called wormeries) are a great way to introduce children to small-scale composting and the marvellous way that nature deals with waste. Not only does vermicomposting (from the Latin ‘vermis’ for worm) keep organic waste out of landfill, but also shows how easily worms can turn our food scraps into a highly nutritious food for plants

Yes, there were quizzical looks from the kids as they opened the box – it was clearly not a fort or a unicorn castle – but they were very keen to set it up and probably very relieved that it wasn’t a pack of thermal vests. As it was the coldest time of year, they set the worm farm up in the greenhouse, which provided warmth and shelter for the winter, and waited excitedly for their worms to arrive. The worms come separately through the post from a supplier of specially selected composting worms.

The children’s reaction when the worms arrived was a mixture of ‘Eurgh’ (Magdalena) and ‘Ooh’ (Reggie).

Reggie was keen to show how brave he was and gently introduced a worm to his sister, who also became brave but was happy just looking. They made a cosy home for the worms, providing a blanket of newspaper (hessian is also good) to keep them warm and safe in the dark.   

Reggie introduces Magdalena to a new pet

Reggie and Magdalena noticed the worms were not very active for a few weeks, probably because of settling in at such a cold time of year, but then they soon started tucking in (the worms, not the kids).

The young vermicomposters were careful to follow the rules of not overfeeding. If you give worms too much food it will be left uneaten, which will obviously start to smell. Like most young children they were expecting fast results, so were surprised to learn it can take two to three months to get worm casts (poo, since you ask). You can’t rush these things…

Children start a wormery
Magdalena and Little Bear wait for worm casts

But when you do harvest the casts you realise why gardeners call this stuff ‘black gold’. One tablespoon of worm casts provides enough nutrients for a plant to thrive throughout the growing season.

Ten weeks in and Reggie and Magdalena were the proud harvesters of some of this black gold.

Harvesting worm casts

Wonderful things about worm farms

  • They make great projects for children as this subject can grow in complexity as the child grows – it can be super simple for pre-schoolers but gradually takes in chemistry, biology, ecology, the food cycle and carbon cycle as well as gardening and growing your own food.  
  • Children will develop respect for these humble but mighty creatures. Through tunnelling, worms aerate and improve the soil, providing nutrients for plants to flourish. Without them the earth would become cold, hard and sterile.
  • Studies have shown that the simple act of introducing worms to degraded soil in poor regions of the world has increased plant yields by 280%.
  • Worms are easy to feed on vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and crushed eggshells.
  • Convenient to set up indoors or outdoors in a sheltered spot.

Inspired by how well Reggie and Magdalena have taken to vermicomposting, I’ve decided they don’t really need yet another boring Easter egg from Auntie Julie this Easter.

Not when there are other fabulous presents to be had, such as membership of the Earthworm Society!

 I like to think they’ll thank me one day.


Saying ‘I love you’ with cake on Mother’s Day

There’s double cause for celebration coming up with St Patrick’s Day tomorrow (March 17) and Mother’s Day on Sunday.

 It’s incredible to think that next week we mark three years since the first pandemic lockdown (March 23) – a time when we were advised to stay away from our mothers on Mother’s Day. During that dark time, when we were trying to cheer up loved ones we could no longer see, a friend sent me this postcard that made me smile – and made me make a cake.

Since my mother is a Sustainable Mum who doesn’t like ‘more stuff’ (i.e. presents) and prefers a bottle of bokashi spray (for her bokashi bins) to a bottle of perfume, I know I’m on safe ground with homemade gifts, such as a cake I know she loves. Mum calls it Feather Cake but I’ve nicknamed it Caveman Cake because it’s so basic it must be the first cake in human history. It comes with a little backstory too. What more can you ask from cake?

My favourite Mother’s Day gifts when my children were young were those they made themselves. Children wanting to make Mum something this weekend can make this cake in five minutes. Decorating it is optional, depending on the mum it’s intended for. Personally I never met a cake that wasn’t improved by dollops of chocolate ganache but my mum likes it old-school – totally plain.

Recipe books as they used to be

This cake first came to my attention ten years ago when my mother was inspired to compile a recipe book of food she remembered from her childhood that her own mother used to cook. Also included in the book were recipes my mum had accumulated from booklets acquired from local churches and women’s organisations such as the Townswomen’s Guild and Women’s Institute during her 50 years as a journalist on her local paper, The Dewsbury Reporter.

As she’s also a fan of local history, she included old photos of the town too. The purpose of the book, called Dewsbury in Food and Photos, was to raise funds for the Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice in Huddersfield. She had no idea if the book would sell well and was afraid of having unsold books left over, so restricted the number of copies that were printed. Needless to say it was a huge success, raising £16,000 for the hospice, and could have sold many times over.

 Mum assumed that only local people would be interested, but once word got out people from all over wanted a copy. One of my son’s student friends in London, a keen foodie, asked for a copy as he was fascinated to see recipes that had been ordinary fare in the forties, such as sheep’s head broth.

My favourite photo from the book – children playing marbles

Former residents who had emigrated got relatives to buy them a copy, keen for a slice of nostalgia. People with no connection to the time or the place that featured in the book were fascinated by the insight it offered into a way of life long gone – that of working people in a busy Northern mill town in the early to mid-twentieth century. People still ask Mum now if she has any copies salted away somewhere. If only she’d had the confidence to get more published!

 Feather Cake is the first and most important recipe in the book as it’s the one that reminded Mum most of her own mother.

My grandma never knew her own mother, who had died of mastitis (then commonly called milk fever) after giving birth to another baby when Grandma was still a baby herself.  

My grandmother was very typical of her generation in that she found it hard to say ‘I love you’ or show affection. She said ‘I love you’ with cake.  

Extract from Dewsbury in Food and Photos

The first cake I can ever remember tasting was my mother’s Feather Cake, baked on a Sunday afternoon after we’d had our Sunday dinner. That is why it takes place of honour as the first recipe in this book alongside the photograph of Caddy’s ice-cream cart, because for me these two are synonymous.

They remind me so much of those glorious Sunday afternoons when my mother baked her Feather Cake, and not long after a Caddy’s ice-cream cart would come rumbling down our street.

When I started writing this book, I decided to make a Feather Cake myself. What a powerful experience it was tasting something I hadn’t eaten for over 50 years. Just like the narrator in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, who found his memory unlocked by the taste of a madeleine cake, so too I found myself that day back in my childhood.

Taste and smell are apparently the senses with the strongest link to memory. How true that is. The taste reminded me so much of those happy days of childhood when simple things like a piece of home-made cake, with no adornments, gave so much pleasure.

Most of all it reminded me of my mother.

Lost Time indeed.

Feather Cake

150g self-raising flour

150g sugar

50g lard – 50g butter (or 100g butter)

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk.

Cream together butter, lard and sugar, beat each egg in separately and stir in the flour and milk until it becomes a light mixture.

Pour into a greased 20cm cake tin. Bake at 180 C for around 45 minutes.

Is there such a thing as leftover cake?

In keeping with the waste-free aspirations of this blog, this next recipe provides a solution for using up leftover cake that’s going dry and at risk of being thrown away.  I would like to say I have tested this recipe but in our house there is never such a thing as leftover cake.

With the fabulous and mysterious name of Wet Nellie, it comes from Lancashire during (I’m guessing) the 1930s.

 When my kids were young and I was struggling to come up with meal ideas, my auntie gave me a recipe book featuring good old-fashioned, no-nonsense cooking – Favourite Family Recipes by Mildred Smith, the cookery star of Granada TV’s The Main Ingredient.

Mildred got this recipe from her mother, who had worked in a bakery – it was the bakery’s way of using up unsold Madeira and sponge cakes at the end of the day.

Wet Nellie

225 self-raising flour

110 lard and margarine (or butter)

Pinch of salt

Cold water to mix

Make up the pastry and line a 18cm shallow square tin with half the pastry

For the filling

225g cake crumbs

150g mixed dried fruit – any combination – and candied peel.

1 tbsp lemon juice

4 level tbsp golden syrup or jam

4 tbsp milk

Caster sugar and milk to glaze.


Combine all the filling ingredients and spread in the lined tin. Brush the edges of the pastry and cover with the remaining half, pressing the edges firmly together. Glaze with a little milk and caster sugar and mark with a pastry cutter in a diamond pattern. Bake near the top of the oven at 190 degrees C. When cold, cut into fingers.

On Mother’s Day, here’s to mothers – and to cakes.


Spreading the word about ‘living compost’

It’s been a year since we interviewed Michael Kennard of Compost Club about how Maze Compost Tumblers were helping him with his work. As this week is Compost Week UK, what better time to catch up with this wannabe earthworm, who is on a mission to get us all saving our soil.

 Compost Club has gone from strength to strength in the past year and Michael shows no sign of slowing down. He is interviewed in this month’s edition of Gardens Illustrated, recently featured in House and Garden and is also due to give a talk at Gardeners’ World Live at Birmingham NEC in June.

Michael in this month’s Gardens Illustrated

If you haven’t heard of Compost Club before, this is how the scheme – a social enterprise based in Lewes, East Sussex – works: Michael collects members’ food waste every three weeks in his electric van and returns nutrient-rich compost for their garden in the spring. The surplus goes into community gardening projects and is also available to buy.

But this is not just any common or garden compost. Michael has studied the subject, learning from American pioneers such as the microbiologist Elaine Ingham and the molecular biologist Dr David C Johnson. The compost he produces is teeming with biological life; perfect for improving soil structure and making nutrients available to plants to ensure healthy growth.

Great Green Systems bought some of the club’s surplus compost last spring and can vouch for the fact that this really is ‘black gold’, top-notch compost.

The GGS bag of living compost delivered last spring

Michael came up with the idea for Compost Club when he discovered he needed much more compost than he could produce from his own green waste to feed his no-dig allotment.

 He started asking people for input and was soon being offered more than he could use on the allotment.

 ‘People were asking me to take their food waste, because Brighton & Hove Council doesn’t collect it. In the UK, millions of tons of food waste still go into landfill. For every ton of that, there are over 600kg of carbon equivalent emissions – methane, nitrous oxide and all those nasties. If we compost that waste aerobically, the figure goes down to 8kg, which is virtually nothing. So that’s my incentive to do more.

‘Composting is about maximising the diversity of beneficial micro-organisms,’ he explains. ‘They do all the work. I’m just facilitating the process, creating the conditions for the naturally occurring life.’

He currently collects from 180 homes and hopes to set up similar schemes in the area by training other people to compost in the same way. He is also looking to set up a community-based composting system at Great Dixter House and Gardens, near Rye, as well as working with Human Nature, an eco-driven development company who are planning a carbon-neutral neighbourhood in Lewes.

Nutrient cycling

‘My vision is to start Compost Clubs within some of the most densely populated city areas,’ says Michael. ‘The excess compost can go out to the farms, so they can grow naturally pest- and disease-resistant plants that don’t need biocides. The nutrient density will come back to our food again, we’ll all be healthier and there’s a beautiful synchronicity of nutrient recycling that just makes complete sense.’

He is still a fan of his 245 litre Maze Compost Tumblers: ‘I find in-vessel composters like these to be ideal to be able to compost all your food waste in a timely fashion, without concern about rodents and also to produce a really good quality of compost after a good maturation process.’

In Gardens Illustrated (see photo) Michael is shown sitting on top of some of the reclaimed 30 litre buckets he uses to collect food waste. He adds a handful of bokashi, a micro-organism that pre-digests and ferments food waste, to each bucket he hands out. Collected waste is left to ferment in its sealed bucket (with more bokashi added) for three weeks before it’s transferred to a Compost Tumbler for another three weeks mixed 50:50 with woodchips supplied by local tree surgeons. The compost then spends time in a Johnson-Su bioreactor, before curing for two to six weeks.

He says that he used to think the best we could do for the planet was to be ‘the least bad’. Then he dived into the world of permaculture, regenerative growing and soil health. Now he sees sustainability as a minimum requirement for any business. ‘We can actually make things better if we live well,’ he says.

Michael’s on a mission to change the way people see waste and introduce them to a natural nutrient cycle whereby their food waste becomes compost, which helps them grow more food, which becomes more food waste. And so the cycle continues. ‘Waste is a human idea, and it’s a terrible idea.’

He started learning about the soil food web and bought himself a microscope.

‘I found that although the commercial compost is made of organic matter, it’s basically sterile – there’s nothing living in there. That’s the case across the board. ‘

He realised that to get the quality he was after, he would have to start making his own compost, although as he points out, he doesn’t actually make it – ‘I just create the conditions that allow the micro-organisms to do their work.’

His work energises him and has fostered a sense of what he calls ‘joyful service.’ He’s particularly keen to spend more time running workshops to spread the Compost Club ethos of healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy people.

Saving the planet

‘By empowering individuals and communities to make compost for themselves, I can have a bigger reach.’

 Michael’s recent appearance in House and Garden was part of a series by Clare Foster about people passionate about saving the planet.

He talks about how soil is the foundation of our health and, if we destroy it, it’s to our own detriment. Improved soil structure also means soil can absorb more water from rainfall to mitigate flooding.

 ‘Healthy soil will filter water, whereas soils that haven’t had organic matter added are insubstantial and the topsoil just gets washed away. As a planet, we’re losing topsoil at an alarming rate – some people say we only have 50 or 60 harvests left if we carry on as we are.

‘Everything is a reflection of the soil. If the plants have that natural cycle going on, they’re really healthy. When we eat those plants, that’s what informs our gut health.’

As Michael says, healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy humans. It makes perfect sense.

A journey to becoming a green gardener

With compost again in the spotlight (Compost Week UK runs from March 13-19) it’s timely that Nancy Birtwhistle’s green gardening book has just been published.

Nancy first came to national attention when she won The Great British Bake-Off in 2014 and she is now a best-selling author on green issues.

She’s also an inspiration to anyone wanting to live a more sustainable life; the tips in her books and on her Instagram feed are simple but effective, with something for everyone.

We had pre-ordered a copy of her latest book, The Green Gardening Handbook, and we’ve been busy this week reading and learning.

Here’s how Nancy sums up her life’s green journey:

‘Several years ago I began my green journey and this way of thinking has permeated every part of my life, from the way I clean my house to the way I resist single-use items, recycle and upcycle where possible, am mindful about the use of valuable energy and utilities, and also how I have been able to apply this way of thinking to my garden. I became more informed through researching and reading while considering the plight of our natural world and am now converted to methods that, once the penny drops, actually make utter and complete sense, and are logical and sensible. Once we learn how to work with Mother Nature and understand how the seasons work, how plants behave and how we can harness the wonder of it all, the reliance on any destructive chemical, synthetic or harmful methods for home growing are utterly superfluous.’  

 She also talks about her respect for the tiny creatures that make this soil food: ‘I found that once I embraced a greener approach to living – in the garden and in relation to my food – I was ever more appreciative and amazed by the wonder of nature, especially the creepy crawlies, and because of this will continue to do my very best to cherish and preserve it wherever and whenever I can.’

Summing up how all compost enthusiasts feel, she says, ‘I take huge satisfaction each time I add something to my compost bin, knowing that it is one less item going to landfill.’

We’re still reading the book – and noting down our favourite tips – but here are a few quick points Nancy makes about her journey in composting.

  • Finding the traditional Browns and Greens compost terminology confusing, because not all green items are Greens (i.e. nitrogen-rich) and not all brown items are Browns (i.e. carbon-rich), Nancy prefers to think in terms of Wet and Dry contents. (Michael Kennard, of Compost Club, makes the same point in his booklet Hot Compost – The Basics. He encourages beginners to think in terms of nitrogen and carbon content to help get the ratios right.)
  • When gardening, use biodegradable jute twine and wooden plant labels so that any oddments that fail to be removed before composting will decompose along with everything else.
  • Invest a few pounds in a compost thermometer – it will keep you entertained for hours and is a great talking point with enthusiastic gardening friends.
  • Use your compost to fill planters, top dress rose bushes and fruit trees, lay a good thick layer over veggie plots in the autumn and early winter and the worms will do the job of taking it below the surface – no need for digging it in.
  • Make your own compost scoop out of a plastic milk container:  Cut the bottle in half – the top half to be used as a compost scoop or planting funnel and the bottom half to be used as a simple seed pot or planter. Make a starting hole in the centre of the bottle using a hot skewer and use this as an entry hole for the scissors, making it possible to make a neat cut. To use one half as a compost scoop – leave the cap in place and use the handle with the bottle neck in the upside-down position to scoop your compost to take to your pots or tubs. With a scoop there is less spillage than using your hands or a trowel.
  • If you buy compost make sure it is a peat-free variety – peatlands are hugely important for plants, wildlife and humanity. They also store vast amounts of carbon which must be kept in the ground to avoid contributing further to climate change.

(Sales of peat to amateur gardeners in England will be banned by 2024.)

What can we do about food waste?

 Despite the climate emergency and the cost-of-living crisis, we are still wasting food.

As we prepare to go into Food Waste Action Week (6-12 March) it’s alarming to learn that:

  • One third of all food produced for human consumption globally is lost or wasted, contributing as much as 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 70 per cent of food waste in the UK happens at home.
  • 85 per cent of people say their food bills have increased yet they are still wasting food.
  • According to research last year, 48 per cent of people in the UK said they threw away the same amount of food or more per week than at the same time the previous year.   One in three people said they threw away the equivalent of one shopping bag of food per week – at an average cost of £780 per year. Twenty per cent said they struggled to know where to start with finding a recipe for their leftovers.

Why do we waste so much?

 One problem is lack of knowledge of the damage that food waste does to the environment. Research shows that only 30 per cent of people understand the harm caused to the planet. First there is the cost in terms of production and transport, then there is the cost in terms of waste.

 Food waste has typically been incinerated or buried in landfill along with residual waste and left to rot anaerobically, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Food waste is still disposed of this way in almost 50 per cent of councils in England who have yet to implement separate food waste collections. This means that currently in the UK, millions of tonnes of food waste still go into landfill. For every tonne of that, there are over 600kg of carbon equivalent emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide. The home composting of organic waste avoids this fate, of course, which is why so many people choose to do it.

When councils collect food waste separately, it is composted for agricultural use or turned into biofuel. The Environment Act is meant to ensure that all councils throughout the UK will operate separate food waste collections by the end of this year, but details of how that will come about are still unclear.

Wasting nothing

Not very long ago the notion of wasting food was unheard of. My grandmother was born in 1901. The poverty of her life was physically evident in the form of rickets – the result of malnutrition. My mother, a war baby, also grew up in poverty and was no stranger to hunger. Lack of money meant making meals out of anything and wasting nothing.

Fast forward to my childhood in the 60s and 70s, which, thankfully, never featured hunger. Meals were simple homemade British dishes that women (never men) had learnt in the home as children. These dishes didn’t involve recipe books or ingredients you might struggle to buy, such as liquid glucose or star anise.  Stews and pies were staples, with little red meat. Egg and chips were a perfectly acceptable meal.

 Somehow over the last 50 years many of us lost touch with the kind of resourceful home cooking that had been handed down over generations. What happened?

Perhaps under the influence of TV (and advertising) we started to feel that shepherd’s pie wasn’t good enough and we should be serving something more sophisticated and aspirational, something that mum and gran had never cooked?

 At some stage it seems we all bought into the idea that foreign was better. Now, I love Indian and Italian food as much as the next person but that does not mean that stew and dumplings are inferior.  I remember my auntie, in her eighties, telling me there was something she had always wanted to try. Her tone suggested something daring, and I was mentally preparing a risk assessment to take her white water rafting or bungee jumping, until she said shyly, ‘Pasta’. She was one of the best cooks I’ve ever known, but somehow she felt this Italian substance was exotic and out of her league.

My mother always loved cooking and learnt from her own mother to use every scrap of food and stretch every penny. Today we would think these women were great role models; they’d be designing food waste reduction apps for multi-national companies.

Keeping cooking in the family

If I’d had any sense, I would have learned a lot from her. Unfortunately, I was a bolshy know-all teenager (is there any other kind?) taken in by the educational rebranding of cookery in the 70s and 80s as Domestic Science. As a science it was something you could get wrong and fail. I thought my mum couldn’t possibly know as much as the teachers. Sure, what my mum made tasted good, but it was just basic low-level cooking that kept people alive, whereas this was an O-level.

 Part of our task in Domestic Science was to balance colour and texture. You would be given a scenario to cook a menu for and you’d be marked down if there was too much of one colour or texture.

My mum took a keen interest and would make her own menu suggestions, and I would roll my eyes and inform her that, No, obviously you couldn’t have apple pie as a dessert because you’d already had pastry in chicken pie for the main. Obviously you couldn’t have two lots of pastry – it’s the same colour and texture.

My mother would argue that it made sense to use up the pastry remains from the chicken pie as a topping for the dessert and to also cook it at the same time while you’d got the oven on. That would mean no waste and less expense.  And I would retort, Fine and if I do that I’ll fail!  And my mother would shake her head in disbelief as if the world had gone to hell in a handcart.

(At this point I would like to add that in 20 years of child-rearing, at no time did any child ever complain that a meal was too brown or contained too much crumbly texture.)

 My mother was a working mother, but in those days there was no school run (children walked with other children) no after-school activities and no parents’ evenings/school meetings to erode parents’ time.  The pace of life now means we don’t plan meals, even though just 10 minutes a week doing this would save time and money in the long run.

Take time to plan

But how to choose what to make? For decades we’ve been overwhelmed by thousands of recipes from celebrity chefs using ingredients you had to buy in specially. In many cases this leads to one-attempt meals, leaving ingredients never to be used again.

 All that is now changing in response to the climate emergency and the struggle faced by many families to put food on the table. Manufacturers now understand the need to promote low-waste solutions. Useful apps are in plentiful supply and that’s no bad thing. I’m up for anything that keeps me on the straight and narrow when it comes to avoiding waste.  I already use the Kitche app and was immediately interested when a friend told me about the Hellmann’s Fridge Night app, which helps people reduce waste and save money by using up whatever’s in the fridge.    The aim of the app is to reduce food waste by up to 33 per cent.

The chef and presenter Liam Charles dishes up flexible recipes based on a simple 3 + 1 method.

This means using:

  •  1. A carb base.
  •  2. Whatever veg you have.
  • 3. A protein.
  •  The Plus One is a Magic Touch’ to maximise taste, usually a condiment such as mayo or pesto, or a yogurt-based sauce. Variations are suggested depending on what you have available, so you don’t feel you can’t make a recipe because you lack ingredients.

So far, I’ve made a Creamy Pasta Salad using fridge veg (wilting sprouts, red pepper, courgette), a can of tuna, with the Magic Touch – 6 tbsps mayonnaise and 1 tbsp vinegar.  I’m not sure whether chef Liam would have recommended sprouts in there, but it was all I had and it tasted great. Last week I made the Great Express Omelette – eggs, cheese, red onion, spinach, mushrooms, thyme – with the Magic Touch provided by red pesto.

Express omelette using leftovers

I know that I’ve not been organised enough in the past. Now that I know better, I can’t bear to throw any scrap of food away, even though all our food waste is composted in the Green Johanna or Compost Tumbler. The internet is a treasure trove of tips and I’m learning masses from eco-influencers such as Nancy Birtwhistle and Jen Gale. If you saw Jen on The One Show recently (along with her Green Johanna compost bin), like me you may have been impressed on seeing that her fridge contains little notes telling the family which items need using up first.  

Easy wins to waste less are:

  • Plan menus for the week
  • Save leftovers and use apps for flexible recipes
  • Batch cook and freeze some for later.

See the Love Food Hate Waste website for more ideas Love Food Hate Waste | Food Waste prevention

  And yes, before you ask, I am finally listening to my mum.


When you can’t let a beloved pet go

Our dog died a year ago and his ashes are still sitting on the mantelpiece in a cardboard container.

At the vets we were offered a choice of decorative urns but turned them down as we wanted to scatter his ashes in his favourite park.  My friend’s parents have had a wooden urn containing their dog Sandy’s ashes on their mantelpiece since 1978. But no, we wouldn’t be doing that.

After receiving the ashes, we decided to wait until Easter to return to Oakwell Park with him one last time.

Easter came. ‘When are we going to take Rocky to Oakwell?’ I asked my husband. He took so long to reply I thought he hadn’t heard me. But then he said quietly, ‘I can’t let him go.’ 

It’s strange. We know the cardboard box is not ‘him’.  It’s not rational, it’s not sensible, there’s not a single intelligent reason for his ashes to remain on the mantelpiece in a green and purple cardboard cylinder – and yet remain they do. Along with his photo, his pawprint, a tiny bottle with some of his golden fur and a large portrait display my son bought us saying, No Longer By My Side But Forever In My Heart.

What’s normal?

Last week a friend contemplated the mantelpiece shrine and asked if we had thought of adding Rocky’s ashes to the compost bin.

His comment made me wonder what other people do. What’s normal in these circumstances?

An internet search showed that, as you might expect, many people want to return their pet to nature by placing their ashes in the garden where they roamed and played. But cremation ashes contain high levels of calcium and increase the pH level in the soil so they should be mixed with manure, compost, organic nitrogen fertiliser or coffee grounds.

Alternatively, there are biodegradable urns for ashes that gradually decompose, and biodegradable tree urns made from natural plant fibres that enable you to grow a tree in memory of your pet.

I came across discussions on the ethics of burying a pet in the garden, with stories of people being horrified to discover animal skeletons while gardening. Some think you should have to disclose if you have buried a pet on a property before selling it.  There’s also the matter of leaving behind your pet’s burial site if you move house.

In some countries it’s illegal to bury pets in your garden, and there are environmental concerns about burying a pet that’s been put to sleep with euthanasia solution.

Then I came across a story about two vets from Columbia, where it’s illegal to bury pets, who wanted to come up with a more environmentally-friendly way of disposing of a pet’s body than burial or cremation. With cremation 96 per cent of the body is released into the atmosphere as pollution.

Their solution was to create organic compost from the animal’s body, inspired by the natural way that a body decomposes after death. Owners can then have this compost returned to them (after about 60 days) in a pot with a plant of their choosing. 

From pet to plant

I struggled to find examples of pet ashes being added to a garden compost bin but I don’t feel particularly motivated to find out more.  I feel my beloved dog is not a plant or a tree but then he’s not a cardboard box either. What he is to me is a cocky little character who races into the room at cartoon-speed, head tilted to one side, with a wild, dramatic stare that says ‘Mum, what the heck are you doing sitting comfortably when you should be getting my tea ready!’ Or who ostentatiously takes on the task of guarding our territory from a squirrel invasion, looking round self-importantly every now and again to check we’re impressed by his skills.

But that’s never going to happen again.

To think I never wanted a dog. For years my husband and sons had argued for one and I always said no. I had never had pets growing up. But two things happened to change my mind. The first was a chance meeting in a park with an adorable bundle of golden fluff that came running up to my eight-year-old son. My son was captivated as the bundle of fluff, a Norfolk Terrier called Rosie, nestled in his arms.  Walking away, I said the fateful words: ‘I could have taken that dog home with us.’

As soon as we got home my husband was straight on the internet looking up Norfolk Terriers.

A boy and his dog

But I still might have said no, if it weren’t for a psychology book I read that said having a pet in childhood leads to psychological resilience in adulthood. I could see the sense in that – if you have to deal with the nitty gritty of life early on it helps prepare you for what we all have to face later.  Life isn’t clean, calm and controllable; having a dog shows you that. It forces you to deal with poo, wee, blood, vomit, sacrifice, suffering, death – like a cross between an A and E department and a Russian novel.

 I liked the idea of our sons developing psychological resilience and I liked that Norfolk Terrier.

 So we got a dog. The night before we were due to go pick up our Norfolk puppy from a farm near York, I sat surveying the living room. Our youngest was eight; we had passed the stage of domestic chaos and our house was on the way back to resembling an adult-friendly refuge. And we were about to blow all that. I looked fondly at the stain-free carpet. In 24 hours, I would have a living creature crawling about on that carpet and it would be here for years and years and there’d be no going back. I felt afraid. What on earth had I agreed to?

You know where this is going.

Before long the dog wasn’t just a ‘dog’ anymore, it was ‘Rocky’ and Rocky took over our lives. At first he was anxious around other dogs until puppy training classes,  dog trainer sessions and a dozen books helped us to help him.

Keeping calm

He had one unhappy experience at the vets and for the next few visits was very stressed, but I realised that I was able to soothe him with my own reaction. If I kept completely calm, reassuring him in a cheerful voice, he would fix his eyes on mine and be guided by me. He would remain calm even though he wasn’t happy. I realised to my astonishment that he trusted me more than he trusted his own sensations. It was as if he thought, If Mum says this is ok, it must be.

 It took me by complete surprise that I, who had never had a pet in childhood, could form a bond with an animal; that this animal could like me and want to be with me and place all his trust in me. I was completely blindsided by this love, unconditional and often undeserved. I understood why animal lovers often say their pet rescued them rather than the other way round.  

So it proved during the pandemic, when this funny little furball was our tower of strength. By day, we took him for long walks round Oakwell Park, standing to one side to give other dog walkers and joggers two metres’ space. By night we watched the daily updates on TV. Rising panic was held in check thanks to having a yawning dog sprawled across my lap, sighing contentedly as I stroked his tummy.

 He hasn’t a clue what’s going on, I thought. He is just here in the moment enjoying a tummy rub. I resolved to try to Be More Dog. What use to anyone was my personal panic?

I try to blank out the day I took Rocky to the vet about a limp, only to find out it was lymphoma. And the day a few months later when for the first time he refused all food and the vet said, I think it might be time….

The next 24 hours were like nothing we could have imagined. The son who was eight when we got Rocky, and who named him after the Rocky films, got the next train home from Newcastle where he was at university.

A man and his dog

I’ll always be grateful that lockdown was over, so the vet and her nurse could come to the house.

And I’ll always be grateful that I was able to do one last thing for Rocky. The vet explained that she needed the nurse to hold Rocky very still as the line was inserted into his leg. Then he would be able to come on to my knee. But inserting the line could make a dog become very agitated and upset and she might need us to leave the room if he did.

I will never know how I did it, but somehow I was able to hold Rocky’s gaze and keep my voice calm and reassuring, just as I had learned at the vets years earlier, telling him what a good boy he was, what a good boy he had always been. I never stopped repeating those words. He was afraid but his eyes never left mine for a second and he remained still as the line was put in. If Mum says it’s ok, it must be.

A dog is a child that never grows up. Your four-year-old child wants nothing more than to be with you and shower you with affection. Your 14-year-old, not so much. Your dog always thinks you’re great, even when you can’t think of a single good thing about yourself.

So, to go back to my friend’s question. No, we haven’t considered adding Rocky’s ashes to the Green Johanna.  We know that this would be the circle of life and he’d be going back to feed the soil and create new life and all that.

 I really don’t know what we will end up doing. But, right now, as my husband said, we just can’t let him go.


Saving the world from squirrels – Rocky

Taking compost from the Green Johanna

At Great Green Systems we’re always keen to share our and our customers’ experiences of composting with the Green Johanna. This weekend we opened up a Green Johanna that we have been trialling with great results.

This Green Johanna was used from mid-September 2022 to mid-February 2023 with the insulating jacket permanently installed.
100% of the cooked and uncooked food waste from this household was recycled in the Johanna. There were between 2 and 4 people in the household during this time, with up to four more visiting through the Christmas and New Year period. The amount of waste diverted to the residual (grey/black) wheeled bin fell to less than 50% of the bin capacity (ie less than 120 litres) per fortnight compared to previous usage. Over the Christmas period, when bin collections were suspended for a week, the residual bin comfortably coped with three weeks’ worth of general waste.
The fermented contents of several 14-litre Bokashi bins that were accepted from relatives who don’t have their own compost bin were also decanted into the Green Johanna.
The food waste was liberally mixed with carbon-based materials, mainly autumn leaves and wood chips, and treated once per month with Bokashi bran to accelerate the composting process.
Using this method, we consistently achieved compost temperatures of 30-60 degrees Celsius even through the coldest winter temperatures. All the food waste generated from the household was comfortably accommodated by the composting system.

Saving the top section to go back into the compost bin

Compost can be accessed by unscrewing the hatches at the bottom or, since the Green Johanna is a modular unit made up of circular rings, the upper sections can be removed leaving an impressive tower of compost. As you can see from the photos, we chose the second route as we wanted to take a lot of compost out at once.
We removed the top sections of compost that are currently decomposing (taking care not to squash any worms) and placed these on an old wipe-clean tablecloth kept for this purpose until we were ready to put them back in the bin to continue the breakdown process.
More than half of the composter contents were removed for soil replenishment and other garden uses, with the remainder being returned to the Johanna for further composting.

Topping up planters with compost

To purchase a Green Johanna Complete Bundle, including Insulating Jacket, click here:
Green Johanna Complete Bundle – Great Green Systems
To upgrade your existing Green Johanna with an Insulating Jacket or Complete Accessory Set, click here:
Green Johanna Insulating Jacket – Great Green Systems
Green Johanna Accessory SetGreen Johanna Accessory Set – Great Green Systems
To combine your Green Johanna with indoor Bokashi Bins, click here: Bokashi Bin By Maze – Great Green Systems
To improve and accelerate your Green Johanna composting with Bokashi Bran, click here: Bokashi Bran 1kg – Great Green Systems

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