Tips to deal with fruit fly nuisance

Fruit Flies are one of the most common nuisances in the UK, affecting more than 60% of households.  

So if you encounter this annoying problem, you are certainly not alone.

 Although fruit flies are part of the composting process in the sense that they help to break down organic material, you want to minimise numbers as they proliferate quickly.

 Fruit flies are not your common or garden (or house) fly; they do not usually enter the home through the door or window, they come in with the fruit that you buy or get from the garden.

Adult fruit flies lay eggs on the fruit’s skin and these hatch later when the temperature is right. Fruit flies have a strong sense of smell and are attracted by the smell of overripe or rotting organic matter.

The eggs are microscopic, so they’re invisible, until suddenly – they’re not. Obviously, if the eggs are already in fruit skins when added to a composter there’s a chance they might hatch inside it.

There are several steps you can take to minimise the risk.

In the home

  • Because fruit flies lay eggs on exposed food, take care to keep food stored in a fridge or lidded containers, not out in the open in fruit bowls.
  • Use up ripe fruit and vegetables as soon as possible.
  • Compost organic matter quickly as fruit flies are attracted by the smell of decomposing food.
  • Keep stored waste in a lidded kitchen caddy. Always keep the lid on your caddy, even between new additions of waste as you are preparing food.

In the compost bin

  • In a well-maintained hot composter flies shouldn’t be a problem as high temperatures  destroy the eggs.
  •  If there is a problem, add more carbon-rich materials (woody garden waste/shredded paper/cardboard/wood chips), and mix in well so that any food waste is covered.
  • Top the contents with a layer of fresh soil.
  • Ensure the compost is kept moist but not wet as flies proliferate in wet conditions.
  • Wrap food waste in newspaper so it is covered. Lining your kitchen caddy with newspaper is a convenient way to wrap your waste up as you take it to the composter.  
  • Bury food waste deeper in the compost so it is not exposed.
  •  Ensure the bin has good aeration – stir really well to get air into the mix.
  • Try putting the composter in sunlight – flies like a warm but not hot environment.
  • Make sure that you always lock the lid securely.
  • Take care not to spill any food around the composter.
  • Monitor acidity – if you have added a lot of fermented content from a bokashi bin to your composter, add a handful of lime or crushed baked eggshells to neutralise excessive acidic conditions as flies prefer a low (acidic) pH.
  • Flies don’t like the smell of certain plants – peppermint in particular – so you could add sprigs of peppermint to your waste and wipe round the compost bin with lavender, lemongrass, eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils.

In the Green Cone

 In the case of the Green Cone Food Waste Digester, no garden waste can be added as the Cone only accepts food waste, so covering with garden and paper waste is not an option.

Because the Cone’s basket is underground, smells are filtered out by the surrounding soil, meaning there is no obvious attraction for ordinary flies. But if fruit fly eggs are already in fruit skins when added to the Cone, they might hatch inside it. Avoid this by following the advice above on preventing infestations in the home.

Also:

  •  Freeze your fruit and veg scraps in a plastic bag or container overnight to kill any eggs or larvae before adding them to the Cone.
  • Flies don’t like the smell of certain plants – peppermint in particular – so you could add sprigs of peppermint to your waste and wipe round the compost bin with lavender, lemongrass, eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils.
  • Add accelerator powder to add more beneficial bacteria to speed up decomposition.
  • Remember food waste should never come higher than the top of the Cone’s underground basket; waste should never be above ground level.
  • Some people pour hot water into the contents but this will also kill off beneficial bugs so use only as a last resort for severe infestations

 Get trap happy

You could also try a home-made trap that will act as a magnet.

Add an inch of apple cider vinegar to a glass jar with two drops of washing up liquid.

Put a plastic wrap cover over the top of the jar and poke small holes through with a toothpick. Flies are attracted by the smell and can get in but can’t get out.

Remember to change the liquid regularly to keep the fly trap working.

Keep food covered to discourage fruit flies.

Top tips to boost hot composting temperatures

Using the Green Johanna in its classic specification is a great way to turn your food and garden waste into soil-enriching, high quality compost. 

  Independent studies (Which?/Gardeners’ World magazine) praise the Johanna for its ability to take a wider range of inputs than most regular composters and for the temperatures it is able to reach.    This is largely due to its ventilation system, with a patented base that allows air inflow past the mass of compost already in the composter and a twist lid that allows the upper vents to be opened or closed depending on conditions.    Heat is retained in the composter due to its enclosed design (most garden composters feature an open or loose-fitting base) and wall thickness (at 10kg, the Johanna weighs in at 2-3 times the weight of many other composters).

According to the Which? trial, the Green Johanna outperformed all but one composter on the market in terms of compost temperature, with temperatures into the 40 degree Celsius range.   This form of composting is largely traditional, relying on worms and insects to finish the job that the heat-generating microbal activity has got underway.

Using this method, the use of an Insulating Jacket has usually been advised when temperatures drop below 5 degrees Celsius in the winter months.   This is because microbal activity ceases at these temperatures, meaning compost temperatures decrease and the compost pile may stall until it is heated up again.

Trials

Throughout last year, however, the team at GGS wondered what would happen if we took a different approach and left the Insulating Jacket on all year.  We had received positive feedback from a number of customers who had done just that, and so we undertook a number of individual trials.   The results were dramatic.    Our main finding was that leaving the jacket on raised compost temperatures into the 30 to 60 degree Celsius range on a permanent basis, even in the coldest winter periods.   The insulated Johanna has proven to be the perfect vessel for domestic thermophilic composting, which is microbal in nature, accepts a wider range of waste and turns it into high-quality compost in weeks rather than months.

In a matter of weeks Great Green Systems will launch a complete Hot Composting Bundle that will make this form of composting easy for everyone. 

  In the meantime, here are our quick tips for getting started:

  1. Insulating Jacket.   Add it to the Green Johanna and leave it on.   If you are retro-fitting to an existing Johanna you should see a significant increase in compost temperature within days.
  2. Carbon.  By which we mean autumn leaves, shredded paper, card and mulch.   The latter can be bought from your local DIY store until Great Green Systems launches its own range in early Spring 2023.   Add these carbon-rich materials generously, no less than in equal amounts to the amount of nitrogen-rich materials (green garden waste, food waste) you have added.  Mix well after adding new inputs.
  3. Aeration.   This form of composting requires more effort than classic composting.   Use your Green Johanna aerator stick regularly as normal, but also aerate deeper into the pile on a weekly basis with a garden fork.
  4. Bokashi.   Adding half a bag or a full 1kg bag of Bokashi bran monthly raises composting temperatures in the short term and accelerates the composting process.   For those who want to try using a Bokashi bin; adding food waste to the Johanna that has been allowed to ferment for three weeks in a Bokashi bin will dramatically increase compost temperature and accelerate the process.   Be sure to add plenty of carbon and a bag of Bokashi Bran at the same time as the pre-compost mixture that has fermented in the Bokashi bin.
  5. Chop your waste into small pieces to increase surface area and optimise the process.   This will also make turning the compost much easier.   Use a chipper-shredder for your garden waste if you have one; these can also be hired on a daily basis.
  6. Take the compost temperature.   Compost thermometers are widely available and will form part of the GGS range from Spring 2023.   Place the thermometer inside the composter and check temperatures regularly.   The microbal processes die off when compost temperatures reach 72 degrees Celsius – this is the opposite problem to the traditional low temperature issue in winter, with the same outcome of a stalled compost heap.    If temperatures near this threshold – and we have seen this several times during the trials – remove the jacket to allow the contents to cool down before adding the jacket again.

This approach is for the more committed or interested composter, but for those looking to compost all of their organic waste quickly and efficiently it is a project well worth embarking on.

You can get your rapid hot composting project started by purchasing any items you need using the following links (Insulating Jackets, and bundles that include an Insulating Jacket, are on special offer with 25 % off until 13th February 2023):

Green Johanna Complete Bundle (Johanna, Insulating Jacket and Bokashi) – 25% off until 13th February 2023: Green Johanna Complete Bundle – Great Green Systems

Green Johanna Original specification: Green Johanna 330 litre Hot Composter – Great Green Systems

Green Johanna Insulating Jacket – 25% off until 13th February 2023: Green Johanna Insulating Jacket – Great Green Systems

Green Johanna Accessory Kit (Insulating Jacket, Bokashi, Food Waste Caddy and compostable liners) – 25% off until 13th February 2023: Green Johanna Accessory Set – Great Green Systems

Bokashi Bin and accessories: 14 Litre Bokashi Bin & Kitchen Recycling Caddies (greatgreensystems.com)

Bokashi Bran: Bokashi Bran 1kg – Great Green Systems

New Year’s resolutions for less waste in 2023

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions you could do a lot worse than thinking about what you’ll do better waste-wise next Christmas. 

When I say ‘you’, of course, I mean me, but feel free to join me if the cap fits.

I’m resolving that last year’s festive fails will be this year’s gains if I’m to reduce my family’s contribution to the huge waste mountain created annually at this time of year.

This will be achieved through my being more organised. Those of a certain age might remember the advert that coined the phrase Vorsprung Durch Technik (Progress Through Technology). I like to think of my New Year’s resolutions as Vorsprung Durch List-making. I’m calling it my Christmas Listmas.

 You may make resolutions now but, believe me, you will forget them if you don’t write them down. Christmas turns us all into goldfish brains. A kind of Christmas insanity descends like a thick fog and chokes us all in its suffocating vapours until we can no longer think straight.

  • Write a Memo to Self – I’m writing down all the areas for improvement while they’re fresh in my mind. I’ll be leaving this list on top of the Christmas decorations for the new me to find in December. It was only when I started feeling sick after over-eating a melted camembert with sticky fig sauce that I remembered I had resolved last year never to eat it again. But you see I didn’t write it down and I’ve slept since then. Likewise, if you’re the sort of person who bought next year’s presents in the Boxing Day sales (hello, mum-in-law!), add a note of the presents and their hiding places to the list. You won’t remember where you put Auntie Ethel’s present and you won’t remember who you bought the novelty gorilla slippers for, apart from the fact it wasn’t Auntie Ethel.
  • Make a request – None of us want to become the kind of person that people cross the street to avoid for fear of getting an eco-lecture, but surely we can ask those closest to us to buy eco-friendly Christmas cards for us and to wrap our present in recyclable paper, even if it’s as simple as avoiding glitter, foil, ribbon etc?
  • Do some research in advance – Check out toy rental companies, such as Whirli, and companies that rent Christmas trees. If you leave it too late you’ll probably forget your good intentions.
  • Avoid Oops, I Did it Again syndrome – Don’t overcook. I read a great article that said no one needs more than two side dishes, three if you must. This was news to me, raised on my mother’s traditional dozen side dishes. But it’s true; there’s only so much anyone can eat. So next year I’ll be going for three. I may let the family vote for what they consider sacrosanct. Are Yorkshire puddings with Christmas dinner a Yorkshire/Northern thing? I only ask because I noted that Mary Berry didn’t include any in her Ultimate Christmas programme and she is the authority as far as I’m concerned. Making Christmas dinner, my husband got so sick of me saying ‘Mary Berry says…’ that he threatened to rip off his Santa pinny and resign as my sous-chef. 
  • Research other recipes – I think my sons would agree there was a little too much post-Christmas bubble and squeak, so I’ll be coming up with different ways with leftovers. I found a great sprout recipe – Cheesy Sprout Bake – on Beckett’s Farm Shop Insta  Award Winning Farm Shop & Rest (@beckettsfarm) • Instagram photos and videos involving bacon, spices and cheese sauce. I’ll also be trying this Abel and Cole recipe for Boxing Day burritos that I found, alas, too late – Boxing Day Burritos Recipe | Abel & Cole (abelandcole.co.uk) –  as well as one for ragged sprout leaves – shred and toss leaves in batter with spices before frying in oil to make crunchy bhajis.
  • Give away some decorations – You know you have too many and some people have none. Last summer my cousin suffered what we in our family call the Great Christmas Decorations Tragedy, involving her husband clearing ‘rubbish’ out of the garage while she was at work…I don’t think I need to go into the grisly details, but in giving her a box of our decorations it cleared space for us and gave her some festive cheer.
  • Make the break – If you’d like to suggest that perhaps you could stop buying a present for your 35-year-old nephew who’s an investment banker, now is the time. Don’t wait until the run-up to Christmas because you’ll lose your nerve. Remember that Christmas insanity fog? It sets in after Halloween.
  • Get into composting now (if you haven’t already) – then you’ll be ‘speaking compost’ like a native by December. Never again will you suffer Bin Day Anxiety as you wonder how much longer you’ll be tripping over (or smelling) your bags of waste. Instead, you’ll be comfortably composting your food waste, wrapping paper and cardboard boxes. Plus, if your council is one of the 50 per cent in England which have yet to switch to separate food waste collections, you’ll be an old hand at separating your leftovers into a kitchen caddy, so the change will be painless.
  • Through the festive fog, always remember what matters – Our induction hob stopped working two days before Christmas. Despite fearing I was going to have a meltdown, in actual fact I came to my senses. While waiting for the electrician, I realised that this really wasn’t a disaster; if we had to eat tuna sarnies for Christmas dinner, would it really matter in the scheme of things? This year’s mishap is next year’s anecdote. Too soon? Ok, whenever.

PS. The electrician saved the day but the lesson I learned still stands.

 I may write an inspirational book called ‘The Woman, the Turkey, the Hob and the Meltdown’ in time for next Christmas.

Julie Halford

Our 12 tips of Christmas

Still on the topic of sustainability at Christmas, here are a few more tips to add festive joy without waste to landfill.

  • Borrow Christmas

If you have ever wished it was possible to ‘borrow Christmas’ by renting as much as possible, check out this article in the Observer Christmas for hire: shoppers turn to renting for trees, toys and outfits | UK cost of living crisis | The Guardian with ideas on renting toys, bikes, clothes, tables and sofas to cope with an influx of guests, as well as table decorations.

  • Buy sustainably

 One of my favourite things at this time of year is Christmas cards. Controversial, I know, to those who would ban them if they could. But I believe it’s possible to buy carefully, sustainably and recyclably, (avoiding glitter, foil, ribbon etc) and buying cards that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified so you know the paper used has been sustainably and ethically produced. Greetings card companies know that consumers increasingly want products that are as sustainable as possible and are raising their game as a result.

Recycle cards

  • Remember to remove any items that can’t be recycled – glitter, foil, ribbons, batteries in musical cards. Many supermarkets and household recycling sites have card drop-off points.
  • Make gift tagsYou don’t have to be creative to make gift tags from old cards – both Christmas cards and ordinary birthday cards – so you never have to buy them. Or cut out images for children to make their own cards next year.

Recycle wrapping paper

  • If your wrapping paper stays in a ball when you scrunch it up it can be recycled (providing it’s not covered in glitter). If it unfurls itself, it can’t. Remove plastic tape. If you retrieve paper as people discard it you can smooth it out and reuse it. 
  • Save your stamps

Don’t forget you can save stamps for charities.  Most charities accept all stamps, including new or used, first or second-class and foreign.

Stamps are sold by weight so the more the better for raising much-needed funds.

 Cut the stamp off the envelope making sure to leave roughly 1cm of envelope bordering the stamp.

  • Compost at Christmas

Where suitable, our cards get recycled or torn up to provide valuable carbon content in our Green Johanna and Compost Tumbler compost bins, helping to keep the composting process going throughout the winter months.

At Christmas, composting really comes into its own. We know that when it comes to food, reducing waste is best but if you have unavoidable waste, it’s great to put it through the composting cycle to return as soil food in the spring. For great advice on reducing food waste see the Kitche food waste app at kitche.co and Love Food Hate Waste.

Composting your food waste and biodegradable cards and wrapping paper also means not having the annual problem of storing growing piles of black bin bags while anxiously awaiting the first refuse collection in January.

Anything you could wish to know about composting can be found on Rod Weston’s carryoncomposting.com website. The following tips from the website are especially useful for Christmas:

  • Composting Christmas trees – shred them first to increase the surface area exposed to the composting microbes to speed decomposition. If a shredder is not available, branches can be cut into thumb-size pieces but these will be slow to compost and it is easier to donate the tree to the local authority to be shredded into chippings which are then used locally in parks. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points in January.
  • Pine needles can be composted or turned to leaf mould but they will be slow to decompose and any significant quantities are best treated separately from deciduous leaves.

Here are a few more tips from my go-to green bible – Jen Gale’s The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide.

  • Rent a real tree for Christmas. More and more places are offering this service – you return the tree for them to look after the rest of the year.
  • Use reusable crackers – (keepthiscracker.com). They slot together for you to fill yourself and can be used year after year.
  • Check Freecycle or charity shops to pick up items donated by people who are having a clear-out. Julie Halford

The rake’s progress – compost those autumn leaves!

Getting leaf mould out of a composter

One of life’s small joys is the big reveal when you open your leaf composter after the long wait of a year or two.

Some might say I should get out more, but it never fails to fascinate me when we finally get to extract the crumbly, dark goodness that is leaf mould.  

When I think of our pre-composting years when we used to pay the council £9 per three bags to take away our many, many bags of raked leaves, I could cry. What a waste – all that free mulch and soil improver that I paid someone to take away!

The housing estate where we live was built on old hospital grounds where trees were planted over a hundred years ago around the nurses’ accommodation.  Our garden is home to a majestic horse chestnut and is overlooked by other trees in neighbours’ gardens. That means A LOT of leaves. I think they’re wonderful, but others seem to disagree.

‘I bet you hate those flipping trees,’ said the window cleaner once, pointing out that sap must fall on clothes on the washing line. If it has, I’ve never noticed. Perhaps I’ve been walking round in sap-stained clothes for years. I’d still rather have the trees. One neighbour, a sunworshipper, couldn’t stand the fact that the trees blocked a lot of sun in summer but because they’re protected by preservation orders, she couldn’t do anything about it. She moved instead.

Happily, we no longer send our annual autumn bounty off on a council truck but reap the benefits ourselves. Having seen the light, we now stockpile some of them as Browns for our Green Johanna and Maze Tumbler composters, and there’s still more than enough left to keep topping up our two Graf Thermo King 900L composters that we keep exclusively for leaves. We recently had to ‘unpack’ them both so we could get to broken fencing behind to do some pre-winter repairs, so we now have tons of leaf mould in various stages of breakdown.

Lovely leaf mould – and the odd woodlouse

Should I leave the leaves?

Anyone dreading getting the rake out will be cheered by this advice from the Royal Horticultural Society this week- leave autumn leaves on borders as they encourage worm activity and increase humus content in soil. Other commentators have pointed out that leaves have an annoying tendency to not stay where they’re put, with the wind teasing them out and repositioning them on the lawn or, dangerously, the garden path. And in our case the hallway too.

So, for us the old rake will be getting dusted off again soon. Experience has taught us to wait until the whole lot has fallen from all the surrounding trees.

What to do with autumn leaves

If you compost, you could stockpile fallen leaves so you have readily available Browns to balance the Greens. You’ll be glad you did. While food waste and grass cuttings (nitrogen-rich Greens) are usually plentiful, finding more carbon-rich Browns content can be problematic.  Storing autumn leaves in old compost bags or thick black bags next to the compost bin is a good idea so they’re ready when needed.  Then when you cut the grass and have grass cuttings to add to the bin, you can add both leaves and grass cuttings at the same time, providing a good balance of nitrogen and carbon necessary for efficient composting.

Should I shred garden waste?

Chopping or shredding Browns increases the surface area in contact with microbes in the pile. The finer the compost materials are shredded, the faster the pile heats up.

If you have a large garden, a chipper/shredder could save time and effort. It also lets you shred tree leaves, so they’re less likely to mat down in the pile. Some leaves break down more quickly than others. Large leathery leaves such as chestnut benefit from being shredded first.

Evergreen leaves take far longer to rot and should be chopped first and only added in small quantities.

For smaller gardens, you could use a pair of hedge clippers and a board to chop compost materials.

What is leaf mould?

Leaf mould is produced from decomposed autumn leaves that are left to rot down in a container that allows air to access the leaves. It’s dark brown in colour with an earthy smell and crumbly texture, like compost. You don’t need to add anything else – just the leaves.

Leaf mould has similar properties to peat but has the benefit of being a renewable resource. Like compost, it will improve the physical structure of your soil, increasing water retention by around 50 per cent, but leaf mould is actually low in nutrition. All the nutrition is absorbed back into the tree before the leaves fall. It also provides a fantastic habitat for earthworms and beneficial bacteria.

How do I make leaf mould?

Making leaf mould is a very simple, relatively slow process, relying on the action of fungi rather than the fast-acting, heat-generating bacteria of the composting process.

To collect the leaves, you can rake them up into a pile, or set your mower on a high cut setting and mow them up, using the grass collector added to the back of the mower. This mulches them up for you.

The most basic way of storing leaves is to keep them in a black bin bag, pierced at the bottom and sides to allow the contents to breathe.  If the leaves are very dry, moisten them before putting them in the bag.

If you prefer a container, the Thermo King compost bins that we use make life simple because:

  • Two large flaps make it easy to remove compost.
  • The lid allows humid air to escape and is adjustable to summer and winter weather conditions to regulate air circulation.
  • The base allows micro-organisms to enter whilst deterring rodents.

How can I use my leaf mould?

If leaves have been left to rot for two years or more, they can be used as seed-sowing compost or mixed equally with sharp sand, garden compost and soil for use as potting compost..

Leaf mould also makes a great mulch and soil improver, and if less than two years old can be used as autumn top-dressing for lawns or winter-covering for bare soil.

Julie Halford

The long, long life of Green Cones

When people get attached to their food waste digester it quickly becomes a part of family life – wherever they live.

One of our customers, Angela, knew the Green Cone would be essential for the ‘safe, useful, hygienic disposal of kitchen waste’ when they bought an old farmhouse in Spain in 2004. They took the Cone over in their car in 2006.

For several years the family made annual trips to their Spanish house, spending working holidays getting the house and garden ready for their eventual move.

Food waste vanishing act

On one visit a big family birthday was celebrated with 10 guests staying for a full week. The Cone’s underground basket (which is where food waste lands and is digested by micro-organisms) was full after the week, but when the family returned months later they were delighted to find that the basket’s contents had almost completely vanished.

‘We love our Cone and it is really, really useful,’ says Angela.

After all their hard work paid off, they finally relocated to Spain four years ago.

Over the years Angela has seen big changes in attitudes to recycling food waste in Spain.  Kitchen waste in particular needs careful disposal due to the heat and the number of foxes and rodents in the region where they live.

She says: ‘Things have become easier over the past few years as Spain has started to install special organic recycling bins, which have a swing top and drop waste into an underground receptacle that is then cleared very regularly by the council.  

A good ecological cycle

‘So, from nothing less than 20 years ago, we have multiple ways of safe and hygienic organic waste disposal, the most convenient of which is our Cone.

‘To be honest, it is as much of a pleasure to take the bin out to the Cone as it is to go out and pick veggies for supper because it is useful to process things ourselves and know that we are using a good ecological cycle for production and waste.’ 

The couple grow a lot of their own produce and have had to contend with many challenges posed by the climate and mountainous geography. Their Cone has been moved four times, with placement being determined by where there is sufficient depth to bury the basket, which needs to be dug into a hole 54cms deep.

‘When there is torrential rain and it floods over the terrace behind our land it can remove soil down to the bedrock, it was quite a shock the first time we saw this and realised just how little soil covering there is in some places,’ Angela says.

‘As a consequence, we have built raised beds for some of our produce and will be looking to make deeper beds for some others as time goes by.’

The couple have worked the soil by adding wood ash, compost and goat manure from a farm up the road, but Angela believes more fibre is needed and she wants to supplement it with horse manure. A 5000-litre tank for rainwater has been an essential investment.

Things are changing

Angela says the Spanish are becoming much more interested in tending gardens.

 ‘People have been quite interested in our approach (raised beds, adding marigolds for insect control and so on). Possibly they will become more interested in composting as well since many areas have banned burning of waste, partly as a fire hazard and partly air pollution, so things are changing gradually.’

Her family have seen climate change happen before their eyes. When they bought the house in 2004, almonds started to blossom in the third week of January and the family would come over in February for a week to enjoy the beauty.

‘Now they are blooming in December and it is too cold for the bees much of the time. That has happened in less than 20 years.’

Last summer temperatures reached the low 40s. 

Although the Cone is solar powered and requires a sunny spot, the fierce Spanish sun has proved a challenge and as a result the lid needed replacing recently.

Great Green Systems provided a lid free of charge and sent it to Angela’s daughter in the UK for Angela to pick up on a recent visit.

 ‘I must say that we have been surprised and delighted that the actual Cone has lasted brilliantly all these years. We wouldn’t want to be without it.’

Cones go the distance

Although a Cone is expected to last for at least 10 years, here at Great Green Systems we often find that customers report their Cone has lasted a lot longer.

Another couple delighted at the longevity of their Green Cone are Jack and Joan Milner, of Leicestershire.

They tell us that their Cone, which they bought in 2009, is still going strong and it is only now after 13 years that it might need emptying.  They bought the food waste digester as part of a subsidised scheme run by Leicestershire County Council to divert food waste from landfill.

The Milners, now in their eighties, have been delighted to see the Cone digest all their food waste and also benefit their garden thanks to the soil conditioner it produces that has nourished a once-arid patch of garden.   

The oldest Cone that we’ve heard of belongs to a lady in Scotland, who got it through her local authority, Argyll and Bute District Council, 25 years ago.

The customer’s daughter contacted us when the Cone’s lid blew off in the storms of early 2022, and Great Green Systems replaced it free of charge.

 She said: ‘The Cone is still going strong, a real asset in a rural area where there is no specific collection of green and food waste. ‘

If your Cone is even older than this, do let us know!

A long reign in Spain – Angela’s Green Cone outside her Spanish farmhouse.

Celebrating the Queen’s ‘Make Do and Mend’ Jubilee generation

The Platinum Jubilee celebrations bring to my mind not just the Queen herself but all those of her generation, born in the shadow of the First World War, who have been role models for the rest of us.

The dedication to service that we admire in the Queen is a trait commonly found in people of her generation, no matter what their background.

The Great War must have had a lasting impact on those who were too young to have lived through it themselves but were raised by those who did. It must have been difficult to moan about your own problems when those around you were either traumatised by the trenches or haunted by the ghosts of those who never came back.

In many respects the Queen appears to be more a child of the 1920s than she is a product of palaces, tied more to the time rather than the place of her childhood.

Edward’s trousers

I remember an official photo of the Royal Family that appeared in newspapers around 1980. Journalists had a field day mocking the fact that the hem on young Prince Edward’s trousers had clearly been let down, leaving the old trouser line visible.

The response from Buckingham Palace press office was that the Queen did not believe in wasting anything and liked to get good wear out of her children’s clothes. Just because her son had had a growth spurt was no reason to throw out a good pair of trousers. This wasn’t a fashionable attitude at the time; it seemed laughably fuddy-duddy. This was the dawn of the Eighties; the ethos was not so much Make Do and Mend as Chuck Out and Spend.

But as with so many things, the cycle has turned again and the Queen’s distaste for waste is now fashionable because we know it’s essential.

My great-aunt Margaret was born in the same year as the Queen – 1926.  Although their lives couldn’t have been more different, they shared many common values.   

Orphaned as a toddler, Auntie Margaret was raised by my great-grandmother, who was a widow in her 50s at the time. Her last year in school involved no education at all but was spent knitting socks for soldiers and filling out ration books. She would have loved to become a seamstress but no jobs were available at the time, so at 14 she went into the woollen mill where my grandma also worked to become a weaver.

 Noise of looms

‘I grew up the day I walked into that mill,’ she used to say. The incessant noise of the looms in the weaving shed was deafening and most weavers ended up profoundly deaf by middle age.

Margaret never married or had children, never owned her own home, worked past retirement age scrubbing floors in a doctors’ surgery at night while also caring for elderly relatives. She loved to cook, bake, clean, knit, darn, sew, embroider and tend her potted plants. She never wasted a morsel of food or scrap of material. When she died, I inherited her sewing box full of what she would call ‘bits and bobs’. I can’t for the life of me think of a use for many of these random scraps but I hope I will grow into the sort of person who can.  

Gardener extraordinaire

Another great example of this generation is my husband’s grandfather Sid.  A veteran of the Second World War, in peacetime he was a factory foreman as well as gardener extraordinaire in his free time. When the family were lucky enough to get a corner-plot council house in Redditch with a larger than average garden, Sid made full use of it, growing his own veg and flowers.

  My husband remembers his grandfather in his trademark cravat and hat –  an immaculately-dressed model of working-class diligence and decency. Never one for leisure, Sid also made toys for his three children. While he was busy in his shed or greenhouse, his wife Edna would be baking her locally-famous apple pies and knitting for England, providing jumpers and cardigans for all the family, right down to her great-grandchildren, only stopping in her eighties because of arthritis.

Like my Auntie Margaret, if there was anything Sid and Edna could make or do for themselves and those around them, they did. Their lives were a world away from the Queen’s but in values they were much the same.  In the Queen, whom they very much admired, they saw not merely a monarch but a kindred spirit.

I think of Margaret and Sid and Edna as being in their own quiet ways as responsible for the good things this country stands for as the Queen.

Name that composter

When we discovered at Great Green Systems that some of our customers had given names to their Green Johanna or Green Cone composter, our family was inspired to do the same.  There wasn’t much debate about what that name should be. For his love of gardening, his self-sufficiency, his recycling habits before people even knew the term, it had to be ….Sid.

There is something very reassuring about Sid the composter’s presence in the garden, watching over us as he gets down to work turning our food and garden waste into compost so we can feed our plants and soil. Sadly, Grandad Sid died before hot composters became a thing, but we know he would absolutely approve of this naturally efficient way of turning waste into something wonderful.

Neither myself nor my husband are green-fingered, but I feel that ‘Sid’ is watching approvingly as we finally follow in his footsteps by growing our own veg and flowers.  Sometimes he must be rolling his eyes and thinking the apple has fallen very far from the tree, but hey… every journey starts with a single step, as they say.  

We have a plant in our garden that is a cutting of a cutting from one in Sid’s garden in the 1950s and every time I look at it I feel that we are trying to walk in his footsteps. They are big footsteps to fill.

So on Platinum Jubilee Day on the 3rd of June, in our house we will raise a toast not just to the Queen  but to all those of her generation we have been lucky enough to know and love.

Julie Halford

Green ‘Sid’ – complete with cravat and hat – in Jubilee mood

Browns and greens – what does it mean?

One of the main things that stops people from composting is the mistaken belief that it’s the preserve of experts or keen gardeners, according to research by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme). Fear of getting it wrong, especially when faced with information overload and conflicting advice, holds people back.

One of the ‘rules’ that many people ask about is the Browns/Greens balance. This is a basic guide to help people remember the balance needed between carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials to keep composting microbes happy.

Composting creatures have basic requirements for food just like the rest of us. If the ratio is wrong the composting creatures won’t be as happy and won’t decompose the organic material as fast but it will still happen. Nobody is going to come round giving your finished compost marks out of 10 (unless that’s the way you roll) and it’s unlikely you’ll get a mob of angry worms waving placards at your door. (If you do, be sure to upload the footage on YouTube.)

 The Browns/Greens guide can be useful because it’s easier to remember that twigs are Browns and grass mowings are Greens rather than that twigs provide carbon and fresh grass provides nitrogen.  

Everything breaks down eventually, even an untended heap in the garden. The main reason people want to get the balance right is to produce usable compost quickly and to avoid a smelly mess. Keep in mind that the right moisture level for composting is like a squeezed damp bath sponge, so that if a handful of compost is squeezed it should produce just one or two drops of liquid. This balance is best achieved through a 50:50 mix of dry carbon-rich Brown materials and wetter nitrogen-rich Greens.

What’s the problem?

Your composter will tell you if the balance isn’t quite right. For instance, if you encounter the following:

 Smells – the problem is usually lack of aeration. Remedy this by stirring and adding shredded newspaper.

 Ants – the problem is too much dry content. Remedy by watering gently with a small watering can and mixing in well.

 Flies – the problem is too much poorly-covered nitrogen/Greens content.  Remedy by stirring the surface, then covering with a layer of soil.

Here’s a quick guide to common organic waste materials you may want to compost:

GREENS: NITROGEN

  • Food waste
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Fresh weeds
  • Flowers
  • Soft prunings
  • Plant debris (chop up stems)
  • Seaweed/kelp
  • Coffee grounds/filters
  • Tealeaves
  • Hair and fur (very slow to compost but add useful nutrients)

BROWNS: CARBON

  • Dry leaves
  • Straw and hay
  • Shrub prunings
  • Pine needles/ cones
  • Newspaper and junk mail (scrunched up to keep air circulating) 

(Paper in large amounts is best recycled to make more paper but can also be added to the compost heap, providing a good counterbalance to kitchen waste and grass mowings.)

  • Brown paper bags, scrunched up
  • Sawdust (balance with nitrogen-rich materials if using in large quantities)
  • Straw (If adding in large quantities, mix with wetter ingredients)
  • Pet bedding from herbivores
  • Cardboard egg boxes
  • Eggshells (may still be visible in tiny pieces in rotted compost so crush them first)
  • Wood chips

Mulch ado about mowing

 Grass mowings (Greens) are a good compost activator but too many can make compost too wet so are best balanced with carbon (Browns) such as dry leaves or cardboard.

You can cut down on the volume of mowings to be composted by leaving them on the lawn, where they will rot quickly and disappear.  A mulching mower is useful because it chops the mowings into smaller pieces. Mowings can also be used as a soil mulch around shrubs and plants.

Check out the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on our website for individual composters.

Life with a Green Cone

Get the basics right and life with a Cone at home is simple and convenient.

The Green Cone’s basic needs are:

  • A sunny spot
  • Well-draining soil (not clay or chalk)
  • Accelerator powder to boost digestion

Where shall I put my Green Cone?

All the instructions you need are included in the instruction manual, but here are a few pointers worth remembering.

When thinking about where to place the Cone, as well as finding a sunny spot it’s a good idea to think about how easy it will be to get to in winter months to empty your kitchen caddy.   

More than 90% of the waste added to the Cone will be turned into water, which must be able to drain freely away for the unit to work properly.

How do I know if I have good drainage?

If you’re not sure whether your soil has good drainage or not, you can check by doing the following: dig the hole required for the Cone (about 70cm wide by 54cm deep) and pour a bucket of water into it. If the water remains for more than 15 minutes you have poor drainage and will need to enlarge the hole to 90cm wide by 70cm deep. Provide extra drainage by mixing soil from the hole with gravel, stones, or small pieces of broken bricks and pots and placing some of this mix in the base of the hole so that when the assembled Green Cone is added the basket sits 3cm below ground level. Then use the gravel/soil mix to backfill gaps around the Cone until the bottom rim of the green outer cone is fully covered.

How do I look after my Green Cone?

Basic maintenance involves ensuring that the Cone’s green rim always remains below ground level.

In the first few weeks after installation check that soil has not settled and left the green rim exposed. This could also happen after heavy rain. If this is the case, make sure to add additional soil and compact it around the Cone to keep the rim securely underground.

How much waste is too much for the Green Cone?

Remember that food waste should only ever be in the underground basket: never allow waste to build up so that it is above ground level inside the Cone itself.

The Cone is expected to cope with the food waste produced by the average family of four, but this can vary greatly. If you find you regularly have more waste than the Cone can cope with you may need another Cone to cope with all your leftovers.

If you find that in autumn and winter the digestion process has started to slow down and the waste in the basket doesn’t appear to be reducing, simply add a little more accelerator powder.

Why the Green Cone is a bear necessity

The Green Cone was designed by an engineer in Canada to solve the problem of bears pushing over rubbish bins to get to food waste. While bear-proofing may not be on your list of requirements, the Cone is sure to deter local foxes.

If vermin are a problem locally, you can add additional deterrents by hardening the area close to the Cone with bricks or rocks and by positioning the Cone away from fences, woodpiles and bushes.

If pet waste is to be added to the Cone, the unit should not be placed in soil where vegetables are grown or close to any water source. Pet waste should only be added  in small amounts and never in bags.

No bags of any kind should ever be added to the Cone as this will hamper the digestion process.

Keep carbon in the garden – compost!

When I was a child anything we’d finished with went in the dustbin: food waste got chucked in there along with newspapers, jam jars, tin cans, broken toys, cigarette butts, whatever. Some of the rubbish may still be there, in a landfill site somewhere in West Yorkshire, rotting away having been dumped in 1972.  

Back then we didn’t give a second’s thought to what happened to rubbish. All we knew was that the binmen came on a Monday morning to take it Away. We didn’t know where Away was; as long as it was Away from us we didn’t really care.

 Now we know – and we care.  ‘Away’ was to landfill, where it rotted, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. We didn’t know it then, but we were contributing to global warming and the climate crisis we know today. Once you know, you can’t un-know…suddenly it’s not so easy to just chuck your apple core in any old bin.

What about compost?

But while everyone now knows about the negative impact of landfill waste on the environment, not as much is widely known about the positive solutions offered by compost.

To many people the word compost conjures up images of old men in wellies pottering about on allotments like characters from Last of the Summer Wine. Or eccentric city types escaping the rat race, like Tom and Barbara in The Good Life. It sounds cosy, quaint, grandadish, nowhere near as important as it really is. Perhaps it needs a marketing rebrand and new name – soil medicine, perhaps, or earth regeneration booster. Anything to bring it in off the allotment and into the mainstream.

Why is compost – sorry, soil medicine – so great?

Around a third of the average UK household’s waste is biodegradable and could be composted. It’s a no-brainer when you consider the many benefits.

Compost:

  • boosts soil quality
  • prevents soil erosion
  • improves soil drainage
  • absorbs water (slowly releasing it to grass and plants)
  • improves plant productivity and quality
  • captures carbon from the air and pulls it back into the ground.

That last point is particularly impressive – compost actually captures carbon from the air and pulls it back into the ground, right where we want it, mitigating climate change.

So if you have one of the UK’s 15 million gardens you have access to a small patch of the earth that makes up this planet.  Nurture it and you nurture the planet.

There is now such a wide variety of composters to suit every home and lifestyle (see Blog – At a Glance – Which Composter?) it’s never been easier to get the composting habit.

But whatever form of composter you choose – hot composter, food waste digester, compost tumbler or traditional garden compost bin – you are doing your bit.  If you have no space for a garden composter you could try small-scale composting with a Bokashi bin or wormery (fascinating educational projects for children, the next generation of composters). Even if you don’t compost you could consider donating your food waste to people who do,  via the ShareWaste app.

As the saying goes:  It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can do only a little.

If the little that you can do is change which bin you throw your leftovers in, that’s actually a lot.  

As Jen Gale says in her book The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide: ‘There are ways to fit sustainable living into the life you lead. To change your impact without radically changing your life.’

Basically, composting is about changing the bin you throw your waste in. Depending on the bin you choose (or even making your own heap) it can be as small or as a big a change as you want it to be, as simple or as complex depending on your level of interest. Who knows, one day you might even be out there in wellies on an allotment!

A win-win solution to climate change

Your composting efforts, no matter how small, are part of a global crusade. An alliance was formed in 2021 to spread the composting message on the world stage. On December 5th – World Soil Day – the International Compost Alliance was launched, uniting composting associations from the UK, Ireland, Europe, North America and Australasia.

The Alliance’s aim is to ensure that compost and its role in soil health and food security is central to global efforts in tackling climate change. It plans to raise awareness of the essential role that compost plays in boosting soil health, improving crop productivity and water quality as well as supporting biodiversity and preserving natural resources.

In a joint statement the Alliance said: ‘Despite organics recycling being an affordable and proven solution to the climate mitigation and methane emission reduction goals, it remains an underutilised and undervalued technology. … Compost is a win-win solution to climate change – not only does recycling organic wastes reduce emissions, compost also brings many benefits when used on soils too.’

According to the charity Garden Organic, the health of the earth’s soils is fundamental to life as we know it, yet half the planet’s topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years. The charity urges people to take simple steps to redress this in their own gardens by regularly topping up beds with compost and ensuring soils are not left bare without vegetation cover.

This is one fight we’re all in together.

So, change the bin you throw your scraps in – and start saving the earth today.

Julie Halford

 

Spare Parts