Warm up this winter – get your jacket on

It takes all sorts to make a world, as the saying goes.

At Great Green Systems we know that it takes all sorts to make compost.

We never cease to be amazed at the different results that people get from their Green Johanna. For some people fast compost is the priority, while others want finer, well-matured compost and are prepared to wait longer. Some users are less interested in compost and more concerned with being able to recycle as much of their food and garden waste as possible, diverting it from landfill.

Some customers say they rarely aerate their bin’s contents but still get results they are happy with.  Some use cooler temperatures and get a bin full of worms working away on their compost, while others tells us they never remove the insulating jacket and have no problems.

 Whatever your composting style, one thing we’re all on the same page about right now is maintaining temperatures warm enough to keep the composting process going in the bleak midwinter.

Here at Great Green Systems HQ in Yorkshire, snow is covering the ground but the Johanna in my garden is clearly feeling toasty in her jacket. After a night of sub-zero temperatures, the ground temperature this morning was zero but the first compost temperature we took today was 40 degrees Celsius.

From zero….

 

…to hero

At the coldest time of the year, with temperatures plummeting by the day, the insulation provided by the insulating jacket is invaluable to facilitate regular temperatures high enough to keep the Johanna’s contents breaking down at pace. (In warmer weather, the jacket should be removed if compost temperatures exceed 70 degrees C as this will be too hot for beneficial micro-organisms to survive.)

Additional ways to boost the winter composting process are by:

  • adding beneficial bacteria in the form of bokashi bran
  • adding a bucketful of mature compost or the fermented pre-compost from a bokashi bin, which also help to give your bin’s contents a shot in the arm
  • ensuring that waste materials are chopped into small pieces as these will break down faster than larger items. When adding stored garden waste, make sure pieces are no bigger than 5cms as the more surface area there is for microbes to work on, the faster waste will break down, generating more heat.

Differences in climate and soil biology according to location are factors that can affect composting outcomes, as well as differences in contents due to the household’s diets. People who cook from scratch using a lot of fruit and vegetables will produce more food waste (rich in nitrogen) than people who regularly use ready meals. So two neighbours with the same bin might have different results depending on the number of people in the household and their diet, plus the type and amount of waste their garden produces.  

We have heard of Johanna users who only add garden waste and are happy with the compost produced  –  their garden waste must comprise a good balance of nitrogen-rich Greens (fresh grass clippings and green leaves) and carbon-rich woody Browns. We are surprised that some customers say they don’t aerate the contents as regularly as we recommend – we can only imagine they must be good at providing air pockets in their carbon-rich contents, thanks to inputs such as wood chips and corrugated egg cartons etc.

Full Monty composting (not what you think…)

Some compost fans, like the team here at Great Green Systems, become fascinated by the process and go Full Monty, with a thermometer, pH and moisture measure and water wand among their kit.  We also cherish our stored bags full of raked, shredded autumn leaves and wood chips ready and waiting to go into action as part of an easily accessed carbon army to get through a long winter.

It’s a fascinating subject, but it can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be.

One member of our GGS team is out early every morning to check the temperature of his Johanna and this forms a larger proportion of his daily conversation than might be considered strictly normal but, as we said, it takes all sorts…   He also has a woodchipper to shred the twigs and branches in his garden waste.  In autumn our colleague sets off with his rake to gather the rich bounty of fallen leaves from quiet streets in his neighbourhood (not busy roads where the leaves could be contaminated by lead pollution). In doing this, he says he is also providing a free health and safety service by reducing the risk of slippery leaves on pavements.

We advise people to follow the golden composting rules regarding materials/oxygen/moisture as we want them to be as successful as possible. Some people tell us they break the rules but still get away with it. We all know the type – those Rebels Without a Rulebook whose first job when opening any piece of new equipment is to throw away the instruction manual and proceed by trial and error.  

Perhaps they’re onto something. We know that what puts some people off trying composting is the fear that they might get it wrong. So perhaps we should say there is only really one golden rule: it’s better to start – and proceed by observing and adapting –  than never to start at all.

 To borrow a well-known slogan – just do it.

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