Can you compost in communities? Anthea shows how

When Anthea Rossouw tried to get people into composting years ago, they thought she was crazy.

‘I just got blank stares,’ she recalls. ‘At the time there weren’t studies that proved what composting could do. People just wanted to throw things in the bin. Composting was a controversial idea.’

But Anthea is passionate about the environment and has a way of bringing people with her. Using workshops to show how to use the Green Johanna, she introduced composting to the housing complex in West Sussex where she was living at the time. This was so successful that it spread to other housing developments and businesses.

Anthea had been a keen recycler for years and pursued her interest by enrolling on the West Sussex County Council Waste Prevention Advisor programme delivered by the University of Brighton. So then when she was living in Walstead Court extra-care housing facility and saw piles of bin bags in the ‘rubbish room’ destined for landfill, she knew something could be done about it.   

With the support of the housing manager, Anthea showed residents and staff how to recycle food, garden and paper waste using three Green Johanna composters.

Her tutor at Brighton, Dr Ryan Woodard, had told her about Green Johannas and she thought they sounded ideal.

‘It was essential to get everyone on board though,’ she says.

 Anthea, front right, with other keen composters and the Green Johanna.

The workshops worked a treat. Waste disposal routines were transformed, as was the rubbish room, now that it was clear of bin bags containing food waste.

 Before long the residents were making their own compost and growing their own food and flowers. ‘We grew the most beautiful tomatoes,’ Anthea remembers.

Anthea approached the task methodically, weighing waste and tracking residual waste.  Waste to landfill was reduced by 55 per cent, black bin bags were reduced from three to one per flat per week. Over a six-month period 280 kg of food waste was diverted from landfill.

The communal gardens were not the only things that blossomed. Residents and staff reported that personal well-being and community spirit also flourished. The projects helped to keep people mentally alert and physically active, through taking waste out to the Johannas, crunching up cardboard containers etc. It also gave neighbours an added reason to chat to each other, acting as a conversational ice-breaker.

Anthea was then asked to introduce similar schemes to other housing associations and businesses. She also ran trials for DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and won the Gatwick Diamond Green Champion award for her environmental work.

She then decided to try the same method of community food waste recycling in a very different place – her native South Africa. Here she introduced composting to struggling townships as part of her work with the Dreamcatcher South Africa Foundation that she had set up in 1991 to alleviate poverty by creating employment. In the community, waste was historically burnt at the dumpsite having a devastating impact on the environment and public health.

Anthea, second left next to Sir Trevor McDonald, receiving the Gatwick Diamond Green Champion award.

On a trip back home, she took three Johannas as luggage instead of suitcases, wrapping her clothes around the Johannas’ circular sections. Using the same training methods as in East and West Sussex, she installed three Johannas in a communal garden managed by local women known as Kamammas (a term meaning matriarch, or community leader).

Anthea says the Kamammas quickly took to working with the Johannas.

 ‘They found the composters didn’t attract dogs or vermin and they were delighted when they saw the quality of compost that was produced and the food they could grow with it.’ This trial was then scaled up to introduce another 25 Johannas.

The food that is grown with the Johannas’ compost is used in the women’s work providing tourists with traditional South African cuisine.  

A Kamamma introduces tourists to traditional South African cuisine.

Anthea divides her time between the UK and South Africa, and she is still in contact with the people she got composting back in the South of England. She is delighted – but not surprised – that the schemes she helped to implement are still going strong.

‘Any system must be sustainable, otherwise there’s no point. To bring about real change you have to go truly local. You need the people to make it work.

‘It takes around three months to introduce a composting project. After that people can stand on their own two feet.

‘Once you give people the skills, knowledge and confidence they become compost evangelists!’

After all these years, Anthea is still a big Johanna fan.

‘We used many other composters before settling on the Green Johanna. I underpin everything with baseline research and I knew the Green Johanna was the one.’

She still loves introducing beginners to composting.

 ‘They might know nothing now but you know they soon will. People become fascinated to know about all these little creatures in the composter doing their work.’

She firmly believes that if you pay attention to what’s happening in your composter you will learn  how to ‘speak compost’.

‘You soon learn to tell if you need to do something to bring good conditions back. If you haven’t enough garden waste, you can use paper product waste, such as toilet rolls, cardboard, shredded paper. If the contents look dry sprinkle a little water on top.’

The Johanna may have been designed in Sweden to cope with harsh Scandinavian winters, but it has happily adjusted to the South African climate, often turning ‘psychedelic green’ in the sun.

Whatever the shade, it’s still doing a great green job for the planet, wherever on earth it happens to be.  

The marvels of mulch – and other water-saving tips

Mature compost laid as layers of mulch will benefit your garden all year round, but never more than in dry spells.  

 If you have a dry garden you’ll be glad of the protection that mulch offers plants in retaining water and cutting down on evaporation. This means you don’t have to water as frequently.

Mulch the soil after a spell of rain with mature compost to retain moisture. Lay the layers at least 5cms thick after first removing weeds. As it decomposes and is taken into the soil by worms and other organisms, the compost feeds plants and micro-organisms in the soil. Gardeners also appreciate the neat weed-free appearance that mulch creates.

 As well as retaining moisture in summer, mulch also helps rain to penetrate the soil in winter as well as protecting the roots of plants. It also prevents weeds and deters pests.  

 Mulch can be applied at any time around established plants or new plantings. At the beginning of the growing season mulches serve to warm the soil by helping it to retain heat which would be lost at night.

Apart from compost, other popular organic mulches are shredded wood or bark, leaf mould and pine needles. For drought-tolerant plants, non-organic mulch such as crushed stone, slate or gravel is ideal.  

Many of our customers plan their composting year so they’ll have plenty of ready compost in the spring. Some have two (or even three) Green Johannas so that one can be left for its contents to mature for longer, turning into nutrient-rich humus, while the other Johanna is kept active receiving fresh waste.    

The difference between compost and humus is that compost is still actively decomposing, whereas humus has almost completely decomposed.  Humus is rich in nutrients essential for plant growth and also improves compacted soils by making them looser.

Other drought-proofing steps in the garden:

  • When it does rain make sure you catch every drop with a water butt coupled up to a drainpipe on the house, shed, garage and/or greenhouse.
  • Create water collection points around your garden by digging buckets or bowls into the ground to collect rainwater. You can then fill up your watering can on the spot.
  • Don’t waste precious water by sprinkling it on foliage – focus instead on the roots so you get water right to the base of the plant. Use a watering can rather than a hose or sprinkler.
  • Allow plants to go some days without water so they become resilient and able to weather dry spells. They will send their roots deeper into the soil, tapping into moisture underground. *
  • Giving plants a good soak once a week is better than a light watering every day and also saves time.
  • Always water in the cool of the early morning or just as the sun goes down, giving it chance to soak into the soil without it evaporating in the sun.
  • Don’t fertilise when it’s hot and dry as this can make conditions worse. Plants will need even more water to be able to absorb and process the fertiliser. An influx of nutrients also makes the plants want to grow, putting them under more stress.
  • Keep plants in hanging baskets and containers alive by moving them to shaded areas temporarily.  
  • If plants are scorched don’t over-water as this can drown a struggling plant from the roots up. Move struggling plants to a cool sheltered spot, watering gently and mulching. Cut off heat-damaged parts as these can encourage pests.
  • Remember to remove weeds from planted areas as they will compete for soil moisture. Weeds thrive in hostile environments, such as drought. When you’re planting, plant thickly – this helps to reduce moisture evaporating from the soil and creates ground cover so there are fewer opportunities for weeds to root.
  • Cultivate drought-proof areas with plants such as orange and yellow Californian poppies, salvias, lavenders, pelargoniums and grasses. If it doesn’t rain after the first months of planting, most drought-tolerant plants will need watering so that they settle in.
  • Create areas of shade by adding walling, fences and hedges. These will offer shelter from the sun but also in winter protect plants from frost and snowfall.
  • Focus on watering the plants that need it most – such as edible crops, anything you’ve planted recently and plants in containers.
  • Terracotta pots will dry out more quickly than ceramic, metal and plastic, so line the sides with old compost bags before planting.
  • Place drip-trays beneath pots to collect drainage (remove in winter to avoid water logging).
  • Use self-watering pots or baskets.
  • Swap paving for plants – de-pave an area and fill it with plants and mulch to slow down runoff and encourage water infiltration into the soil.

Turning to Green Johanna after composting flops

 

One bad experience can put people off composting for life.

Something we hear a lot is – we had a composter for years but it just sat there doing nothing.

This was the experience of Adam and Hayley. After a few attempts, despite their best efforts, they kept encountering the same problem – very slow breakdown of waste materials with hardly any compost produced.  

But they were still keen to have another go, this time using a Green Johanna for the first time.

We’ll follow Adam and Hayley’s progress and answer any questions as they arise.

Setting up

Getting their Green Johanna up and running, Adam and Hayley found:

  • Instructions were easy to follow.
  • They were able to assemble and set up the composter in an hour.
  • The instruction manual was handy for answering questions.
  • They were able to get started without any issues.
  • Assembling the Johanna in sections meant it was easy to move around to choose a spot in the garden compared to the pre-built composters they had tried in the past.

Handily, a tree in their garden had fallen down in the wind so they had a ready store of twigs and branches to use as the foundation base in the bottom of the bin to provide airflow and drainage. This stage only took about 10 minutes to sort out.

Despite their earlier disappointing composting experiences, the couple are keen to try again because of the many benefits home composting brings – both to the environment and to the user.

Adam said: ‘I’m really excited to continue to use the Johanna and get some compost.’

We’ll report back on Adam and Hayley’s progress.

Outside the box: Setting up, helped – or rather watched – by Archie the amazing Shihpoo.

Choosing the spot – base in place.

Getting the sections in line.

Adding twigs to create a foundation for drainage and airflow.

Jacket on and good to go!

Taking tea with milk, sugar – and plastic?

Every day 165 million cups of tea are drunk in Britain – and that’s just in our house.

Since today is National Tea Day (April 21), I expect a lot more facts will be shared and the ones I’ll be paying close attention to are those concerning plastic.

Like millions of other tea drinkers, I was alarmed a few years ago to learn that most tea bags contained plastic – polypropylene – used to heat-seal the edges of the bags.

This news sparked health concerns among tea drinkers as well as raising questions about the effect on the soil and wildlife when these tea bags were composted.

  Of those millions of cups of tea drunk every day, 96 per cent are made with tea bags. So if you were home-composting your share of those tea bags you might have been unwittingly leaving bits of microplastic (tiny pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size) in the soil.

As a result of the controversy, manufacturers started to remove polypropylene from their teabags. Naively, I thought that was the end of it and that now in 2023 we would all be taking our tea with milk and sugar but no plastic, thanks.  

While talking to a customer recently, the topic turned to composting tea bags. We both remembered early attempts at plastic-free teabags that led to the bags dissolving in the cup, but we didn’t know the current state of play. I resolved to find out more – more of which later.

 Like many Brits, I feel there are few situations in life that can’t be improved by a nice cup of tea. My day can’t start before a pint of Earl Grey has entered my system and the rest of the day is propped up at regular intervals by yet more tea. Is this a psychological thing? The very words, ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ appear to have a soothing Pavlovian effect on my nervous system. So why, on any given day, are there half-cups of cold tea littered around the house and office? It’s as though the thought of having a cup of tea always seems like a good idea even if I’m not that bothered about actually drinking it.

 I’ve realised I have a blind spot when it comes to wasting tea. I take great care not to waste food but don’t give the same consideration to drinks; it’s as if because they’re liquid they don’t count. So many problems with waste are caused through us being creatures of habit.

Of course, I’m using energy every time I put the kettle on, not to mention wasting the tea, the water and soya milk that’s used if I don’t drink the whole cup. So this is one robotic, wasteful habit that I’m in the process of breaking. From now on I will be mindful not mindless about putting the kettle on.

I stopped drinking my regular brand a few years ago because of concerns about plastic and switched to Hampstead Tea. I was particularly interested to learn about this brand’s commitment to biodynamic farming – an organic, ecological approach, employing the use of manures and compost.

Researching the subject has made me switch to loose leaf tea.  Then I don’t have to think about plastic particles, bag materials or questions of compostability.

Tea bags only became freely available in the 1950s, meaning that many generations before me had to contend with tea leaves and old-fashioned teapots. And they all seemed to cope just fine, along with other challenges such as having to slice their own bread. When I think of family members talking about how hard life used to be, there were memories of poverty, short life expectancy, outside toilets and tin baths, but I don’t recall anyone ever saying, ‘And on top of all that, we didn’t have tea bags!’

Other advantages of being a loose (leaf) woman:

  • Less package waste
  •  The tea itself tends to be less processed and retains more of the original flavour
  • You can adjust the strength and even blend your own.

Modern teapots have built-in infusers, meaning it’s easy to get the tea leaves into the compost and wash out the pot.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you want to home compost your tea bags.  Tea leaves are ideal compost material, providing high levels of nitrogen (even higher than manures) and small particles so compost bacteria have more surface area to work on.

On my internet trawl to find out more about plastic in tea bags, I found confusing and conflicting information, with experts arguing about the merits of bioplastics.  And that’s before you start reading comments underneath articles. The word biodegradable is also bandied about by many interested parties as though it’s an ecological holy grail when all it means is that material will break down eventually, but you won’t know how long that will take and under what conditions.

Online information also quickly goes out of date because some tea brands are still working towards their plastic-free goals, which might have been achieved after articles have been published.

 I’ve spent several hours that I’ll never get back reading through studies and articles; my advice to a home-composting tea drinker would be to contact your favourite brand and find out where they are on the plastic-free/compostable journey.

Points to consider:

  • Many tea brands are still using polypropylene. If tea bags contain plastic, you can compost the leaves but throw the bag in general waste. Plastic in tea bags sent to landfill will still enter the soil.
  • Be aware there may also be hidden plastics in sachets or string-and-tag bags.
  • Many brands that don’t use polypropylene use polylactic acid (PLA). This is a plant-based polymer (sometimes referred to as a bioplastic). It can also be called Soilon.
  •  Plant material sources include corn starch, which can come from genetically modified (GM) maize – but this cannot be used in organic teabags.
  • While PLA is biodegradable, it requires industrial composting to break down because most ordinary garden composters might not get hot enough (44 – 60 degrees Celsius) to break down the bags.  It is thought teabags containing PLA could take several years to degrade, and it is not known exactly how harmful it might be to organisms in the meantime. If your council has a separate food waste collection, teabags made with PLA can be placed into your food waste bin to be industrially composted.
  • Like oil-based plastics, if bioplastics end up in the ocean they can present a danger to marine life.
  • The origins of the tea bag might have been accidental – in 1908 an American tea importer who shipped silk tea bags around the world found that customers, instead of removing the leaves from the bags as he intended, found it easier to brew the tea with the tea leaves still enclosed in the porous bags.

Among comments following an online BBC report from 2019 are some from people who had been putting tea bags in home compost for years until they realised they were having to pick plastic remnants out of the soil – even 15 years later. One reader commented he had stopped composting tea bags for use as garden mulch when he saw birds picking up the bag remnants and using them in their nest building.

At home, our Green Johanna’s contents reach regular temperatures of between 40 – 60+ degrees Celsius; we measure the temperature every day. According to the Carry on Composting website, Composting – www.carryoncomposting.com, the corn starch Soilon can hot compost in 6-8 weeks. The site recommends cutting a couple of holes in tea bags so composting bacteria can easily access the leaves, accelerating the rate of decomposition.

The Ethical Consumer website Is there Plastic in my Tea? | Ethical Consumer features a chart based on information from Feb/March 2022 that lists the following as ‘best brands’: Clearspring, Essential, Hambledon Herbs, Hampstead tea, Heath and Heather, Higher Living and Dr Stuart’s, Pukka, Qi, Postcard, Teapigs, Yogi Tea.

The site also lists middle companies ‘who are using some PLA, or are in the process of switching’, as well as the worst. But bear in mind that the situation might have changed since then.

I’ll end with some ideas for homegrown tea that I read in the Comments section of one article.

 Easily sourced throughout the year from your garden:  
(dried) rosehip tea
(dried) chamomile tea
Fresh peppermint/spearmint tea
Fresh nettle tea

For winter (all easily sourced from one’s larder)

dried/root ginger tea
fennel seed tea
liquorice root tea
cardamom tea

Also recommended: cinnamon stick/star anise/vanilla pod tea.

I’m tempted to try some of these. Maybe my Earl Grey will meet competition.

Julie

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 two or three 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. 

Mark

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

Tips to send the rat pack packing

Some of our customers claim the Green Johanna is rat-proof as they have never had any problems with these unwelcome visitors.

That is the experience of most people, but since rats have been known to chew through concrete, glass and even some metals nothing can really be called rat-proof.

However, there are steps you can take to deter rodents by making your compost bin and garden so unattractive to them that they will move on to a more accommodating environment.

If there’s a problem with rats locally it’s worth checking whether a neighbour is exacerbating the issue by leaving food out for wildlife. This was the experience of one of our customers, who discovered that his next-door neighbour was getting animal bones from a butcher and leaving them in his garden overnight to feed foxes. The neighbour even thoughtfully left his garden gate open at night to encourage visiting wildlife. But foxes weren’t the only ones coming round for a feast.

 Such issues obviously need to be addressed first. If there is a persistent problem in your neighbourhood consider professional help to sort it out.   

The Johanna has been designed to be as unwelcoming to rats as possible – the integrated base features small holes of 4.5 mm diameter so worms can easily come and go but rats are deterred.

Additionally, both the base and doors are secured to the bin with screws to make it difficult for rodents to dislodge them. The Johanna also has thicker wall sections than most other garden composters and is around two to three times heavier, making it more robust.

Using the Johanna’s Insulating Jacket also provides another layer of material, as well as providing insulation to keep temperatures high enough to discourage rats.   

As part of the Green Johanna’s and the Green Cone’s five-year guarantee, Great Green Systems will replace any parts that suffer rodent damage.

Recommended deterrents:

  • Discourage rats from making a home in your garden by sealing access under chicken houses, sheds or decking that can provide shelter for them.
  • Keep your garden tidy and well maintained – check for anywhere that rats could burrow under or through.
  • If you store bird feed or chicken food in the garden, make sure it is in lidded containers and kept off the ground. Sweep up any fallen birdseed as birds are messy feeders. Put paving slabs under a bird feeder so any fallen seed can be easily swept up.
  • If you can, site your compost bin in an open, uncluttered area as rats hate being exposed. Open space makes them nervous. If you know there is a rodent problem locally, try to avoid siting the bin along fence lines or near log/brick piles and shrubbery or thick vegetation that provide protection for them. Rats have poor eyesight and use fences and walls to run alongside for direction.
  • Protect the composter’s base – place paving slabs or bricks around the base. Placing thorny prunings around the composter will also make access difficult.  
  • Rats hate noise and being disturbed, so bang on the bin with sticks every time you go past so they get the message this is not a peaceful place.
  • One customer recommends creating a stockade fence of bamboo sticks around composters. Push each stick into the ground as closely as possible (easier to do after rain).
  • Keep the bin active. If you’re going away ask someone to keep your composting activity going for you so the bin is not left undisturbed for weeks.  
  • Make sure bins are not overflowing and food caddies are locked tight.
  • Maintain drains – rats can come up through poorly maintained drains.
  • Keep an eye out during bad weather and flooding as rats are likely to be on the move looking for shelter.
  • Place builders’ mesh (available at DIY stores) underneath the composter.  The Johanna already has an integrated base but mesh would provide an added deterrent.
  • Rats hate strong smells so try planting mint round the bin or scatter chopped onion around – refresh the onion every few days.
  • Make a spray using peppermint, eucalyptus or citronella essential oil – use one part essential oil and nine parts water in a spray bottle. Then spray this mixture around the edges of your garden.
  • Also sprinkle chilli powder, cayenne pepper and cinnamon around as well as spreading lavender and bay tree cuttings around the base. The fermented contents of a bokashi bin are said to be a deterrent as rats dislike the sour smell.
  • A niche solution – if you happen to have access to owl feathers then scatter them around your garden.  Rats sense threats easily so feathers from their predators scare them.  
  • Rely on rodents’ old enemies – keep a cat or terrier.
  • An obvious point but sometimes overlooked – be vigilant that you never drop any food waste around a composter, bin or food caddy.

With the Green Johanna:

  •  Keep temperatures in the bin high by adding the Insulating Jacket, regularly adding bokashi bran, and keeping the bin filled and aerated. Hot composting generally discourages rodents because of the heat and the fact that food scraps are quickly broken down.
  • Ensure food waste is well chopped to provide more surface area for microbes and accelerate the breakdown process. Smaller pieces are also easier to stir and mix with garden and paper waste.
  • When setting up the composter, wait until the composting process is well under way (after four weeks) before adding cooked food scraps.
  • Cover additions of food waste with plenty of chopped-up woody garden waste, cardboard or dead leaves and aerate well. Cover with fresh compost or soil.
  • Aerate composter contents regularly.
  • Keep compost contents moist. Moisture levels should be around 50 per cent. You can use a moisture meter to check or do the sponge test – take a large handful of compost  and squeeze. If one or two drops of liquid come out that is likely to be right – the compost should be the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. Add water if needed in summer months, preferably rainwater from a water butt.

With the Green Cone:

  • Ensure that the top of the black basket and the bottom lip of the green outer cone are below ground level, so that any odours are filtered out into the surrounding soil.
  • Never allow food waste to come higher than the top of the underground basket. Food waste should never reach as high as the Cone itself.
  • Press builder’s mesh (available at DIY stores) into the soil of the hole you have dug for the black basket to provide an additional deterrent.
  • Add accelerator powder regularly to boost the breakdown process.
  • Ensure the Cone is in a sunny spot as the digester relies on solar energy to enable efficient digestion.

Councils helping residents to compost

Kerbside food waste collections represent a revolution in waste disposal but also in the daily routines of millions of people.  

To date, only around 50% of English local authorities operate a separate food waste collection. But change is coming. Before long, all residents will be separating out food waste from residual waste. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already made the change.

According to WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) national kerbside food waste collections will mean a reduction in greenhouse gases of 1.25 million tonnes per year. 

Those local authorities that have already made the change have succeeded in getting a vital  message across to their residents – food waste recycling really does make a difference. Once you know that food waste in landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, it’s hard to just chuck your apple core in any old bin.

7 Litre Kitchen Caddy

Turning food waste into compost is the single fastest and easiest thing people can do to combat climate change.  So it makes sense that many people want to bring about this incredible transformation themselves, by taking charge of their own food and garden waste and turning it into compost for their garden, allotment or community project.

For almost 20 years, Great Green Systems has been working in partnership with local authorities around the UK, running schemes offering discounted food waste composters to those residents who want to recycle their food waste at source, right in their own gardens.

 Such schemes typically divert an estimated 250kg per family per year from landfill or treatment centres.

In 2020 Cumbria County Council estimated that over five years their scheme offering residents subsidised food waste composters (Green Johannas and Green Cones) had succeeded in diverting more than 5,000 tonnes of food waste from landfill, an average of 87 tonnes per month.

Recycling food waste

Green Johannas tend to be chosen by people who want to recycle garden waste as well as food waste, and also produce their own compost.

Green Cones accept only food waste and do not produce compost but a soil conditioner that nourishes the soil in which they are embedded.  Because Green Cones require no stirring or turning, they are often chosen by people who want the simplest possible way of recycling food waste.

The Green Johanna

Judith Bradshaw, waste prevention officer for Cumbria County Council, says:

‘Food waste digesters are a great way to reduce household waste in the county and offer an easy way for the householder to treat their food waste at home. The scheme has been very well received around the county.

‘I purchased a Green Cone to use alongside my existing composter which already works really well. I now have the means to treat all of my food waste, both cooked and uncooked at home, as the two bins complement each other perfectly.’

The Green Cone

Research by WRAP shows that the benefits derived from composting go beyond improved food waste disposal.  When householders take responsibility for their own food and garden waste, a positive attitude to recycling in general usually follows, meaning that other recycling rates also improve.  As people become aware of how much food they throw away, they also tend to reduce the amount of waste they produce.

In addition, an increased awareness of the role that compost plays in helping soil to capture carbon in the atmosphere and store it in the ground, means that people feel they are doing their bit in the fight against the climate crisis.

Different challenges

Every local authority region faces very different challenges with regard to waste disposal. Our partnerships have included local authorities from the length and breadth of the country, from the Scilly Isles to the Orkneys. The geographical areas covered by our partner local authorities are diverse, from large land areas with spread-out populations to urban areas with multi-occupancy residences.

It’s not only homeowners with gardens who benefit from food waste composting. We have seen amazing results with small-scale community composting schemes in housing association complexes.

When 33 Green Johannas were installed across eight flats sites across East and West Sussex and Surrey (run by Housing 21 and Amicus Housing), the communal gardens were not the only things that blossomed. Residents and staff reported that personal well-being and community spirit also flourished. The projects helped to keep people mentally alert and physically active, through taking waste out to the Johannas, crunching up cardboard containers etc. It gave neighbours an added reason to chat to each other, acting as a conversational ice-breaker, not to mention encouraging them to grow their own flowers and food using the free, organic compost they had created.

Environmental benefits

Composting appeals to people for different reasons. For some it’s because they’re enthusiastic gardeners and see making their own free, organic compost as a no-brainer. Others are converted to composting when they learn about its benefit to the environment.

For instance, compost:

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

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.

Council officers tend to be composting enthusiasts themselves. 

Debbie Lee, recycling liaison officer for Redbridge Council, sent us an update of her Green Johanna, saying: ‘I am still completely in love with the product. The Green Johanna is one of the most wonderful pieces of waste minimisation there is around!’

Andrew Jenkins, waste prevention team leader at Buckinghamshire Council, says:

‘The Green Johanna and Green Cone are a brilliant way for residents to put their food waste to good use in the garden and it saves food waste being collected and transported by the council.’

Charles Nouhan, recycling and commercial manager for Sevenoaks District Council, says:

‘Green Cone and Green Johanna food digesters remove all food waste produced by a typical UK household. It is a great solution for residents who have a bit of spare space in their gardens, and a huge help to the local council’s efforts to reduce household waste.’

Amy Williams, lead waste technical officer at Wiltshire Council, says: 

‘These composters are a great way of reducing the amount of food waste that is put into residents’ general waste bins, which ultimately reduces the volume of waste that the council has to dispose of.’

The Great Green Systems motto is – Feed the Earth with Your Food Waste. With the help of our local authority partners, we’re proud to be helping thousands of people to do just that.

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.

Cool tips for composting in a heatwave

The temperature is 28 degrees Celsius as I write this article, but as we know the British weather gods like a laugh so it might well be bucketing down by the time you get to read it.

Not to be put off, we’ll take the risk and keep that provocative little word ‘heatwave’ in the title.

A heatwave is defined as a period of excessive heat for at least three days and nights. Whether what we’re experiencing is a heatwave or what other countries might call summer, it’s still worth paying special attention to what’s going on in your compost. (After all what else would you talk to friends about?)

The summer months are when the composting process is at its quickest. Bacterial activity is faster, using up more water and more evaporation takes place. Heat is an important element in composting but if temperatures get too high the aerobic microbes digesting the waste die off and the process stalls.  We need to ensure the microbes are getting the oxygen and moisture they need to survive and thrive.

A compost thermometer is useful to keep an eye on temperature. If the compost temperature gets above 70 degrees Celsius there are steps we can take to cool it down to prevent anaerobic microbes starting to dominate. A sign that compost has turned anaerobic (without air) is if there is a bad smell.   Healthy compost smells neutral and earthy. 

Steps to take: 

  • If using an insulating jacket on a Green Johanna this should be removed.
  • Open the vents in the lid on your Green Johanna by twisting to the maximum position (or on other composters if they have this feature).
  • Check water levels – compost should always be moist like a wrung-out sponge. Moisture levels should be about 50 per cent. Check this either by using a moisture monitor or by doing the squeeze test – take large handfuls of compost and squeeze; one or two drops of liquid should be visible. Less is too dry, more is too wet. 
  • Increase moisture levels in dry compost by adding materials which contain a lot of water, such as fruit and veg peelings and grass mowings. Fresh grass is about 85% water.
  • Add grass in small amounts and mix in well as you aerate the compost materials so the clippings are dispersed. Beware of adding large amounts of grass mowings at once as they can clump together and become a slimy mess. Add them in thin layers mixed with carbon-rich materials that are good for providing air pockets, such as wood chips, shredded twigs or torn corrugated cardboard.
  • Give the compost a few turns with a garden fork to allow heat to escape.  You will also be able to see how dry the compost is inside.
  • If your compost is very dry and you need to add water, it’s best to use rainwater from a water butt if you can rather than tap water since chemicals in the water system that are safe for humans can kill some of the microbes you’re trying to nurture in your compost.  Don’t soak the bin as the water will not be distributed evenly. Add water in different dry places as you turn the compost by using a small watering can with a fine rose head.
  • You can ensure oxygen reaches deep into the compost by making a chimney – push a stick down into the compost from above and remove it so you have opened up a pathway of air.   
  • Adding dried leaves or hay will slow down decomposition in the compost, helping it to cool down.
  • Adding bokashi bran or the fermented pre-compost contents from a bokashi bin to a composter increases the temperature inside the bin – sometimes by as much as 20 degrees, so you don’t want to add these to compost that is already close to 70C.

Keeping wormeries cool

  • Worms work best in a constant temperature that isn’t too hot or too cold, ideally between 15-25 degrees Celsius. If the temperature in the bedding is getting close to 30C you should take action to cool it down.
  • A cool area such as a cellar or basement is a good spot for a worm bin during a hot summer. 
  • Worms stop eating in hot weather so stop adding waste or at least add very little.
  • Add some corrugated cardboard to aerate the bedding, adding airflow to allow the wormery to cool down.
  • If adding waste you could leave it in the fridge for a while, which will also cool the bin down.
  • Put an ice pack or frozen water bottle outside on top of the wormery for a short time.
  • Adding water is important in hot weather. You can flush your Maze Worm Farm with half a small bucket of water (5L) once a week to keep conditions moist. When doing this, replace the liquid collection tray with a container that will hold the sudden influx of water.
  • Pre-soak any dry materials such as newspaper before adding to the worm farm.

And finally, enjoy the sunshine while you can…

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