Which composter is best for me?

If you’re new to composting it can be difficult to know which bin (or system, if you like to think in systems rather than bins) is best for your home and lifestyle. Our handy guide can help.

Food waste composter/digester

The Green Johanna Hot Composter and Green Cone Food Waste Digester are both designed to accept foods that regular garden composters don’t, such as cooked food, meat, fish and dairy, so all your food waste can go in together. Compare them to see which one best suits your needs.

Green Johanna Hot Composter

  • Produces compost.
  • Also accepts garden waste.
  • Added waste should be a balance of nitrogen-rich content, commonly called Greens, (food waste/fresh grass cuttings/fresh green leaves) and carbon-rich content, commonly called Browns (chopped branches and twigs/wood chips/dead leaves/shredded paper and cardboard).
  • Comes with aerator stick provided to aerate the contents regularly.
  •  Ideally placed on soil or grass
  • One Johanna accepts the average food waste of a household of five and the garden waste from an average-sized garden.
  • With hot composting techniques, higher temperatures are reached than with regular composting.

Green Cone Food Waste Digester

  • Must be dug into a hole in free-draining soil (not clay or chalk).
  • Accepts all food waste, even bones.
  • Doesn’t accept garden waste or paper waste.
  • Doesn’t produce compost – instead it produces nutritious water which drains from its underground basket and feeds surrounding soil.
  • No turning or stirring required.
  • Uses solar energy so requires a sunny spot.
  • Comes with kitchen caddy provided.

Compost Tumbler (by Maze) 180 litre/245 litre

  • Takes kitchen waste and garden waste. Accepts cooked waste if chopped up into small pieces and mixed in well with other waste.
  • Cylindrical rotation design makes turning compost easy. Instead of manually stirring you turn the ratchet handle. The geared ratchet automatically locks rotation in any position.
  • Two compartments mean non-stop composting – when the first compartment is full you start on the second.
  • Can be hardstanding.
  • A cart is available so that finished compost can be removed and wheeled where you want it in the garden.

Traditional Garden Compost Bins

  • Usually used for cold composting at low temperatures.
  • Only take raw fruit and veg scraps, garden waste and paper/cardboard.
  • Require a 50/50 mix of nitrogen-rich Greens and carbon-rich Browns.
  • Available in plastic or wood. Plastic bins tend to be more robust but wood may be preferred for a natural look. 

Lack of space?

Worm farms

Worm farms, also called wormeries, are ideal for small-scale composting and for introducing children to the fascinating world of worms, which is an education in itself.

  • Require a sheltered spot.
  • Worms will digest many kinds of foods cut up into small pieces and other kitchen waste such as shredded paper, egg cartons, scrunched up newspaper.
  • A little management is needed to maintain the ideal environment for your worms, so be sure to read the instruction booklet.
  • Produce excellent worm-made compost – vermicompost – for your garden.
  • Learning fascinating facts about these tiny eco-heroes is sure to turn children into composters of the future.

Bokashi Bins

14 litre Maze Bokashi Bin
  • Kitchen food waste bins that can sit on a worktop or under a sink and accept all chopped-up food waste.
  • Food waste is fermented, resulting in a pre-compost mixture which can be added to a compost bin or wormery, buried in soil in the garden or in large planters in order to break down into compost.
  • Requires the addition of friendly bacteria in a bran or spray to accelerate fermentation.
  • When full of food waste, the container is left sealed for two to three weeks for fermentation to take place anaerobically (without air).
  • Nutritious liquid is drained from a tap at the bottom of the bin and can be used diluted as plant fertiliser or concentrated as organic drain cleaner.
  • Bokashi comes from the Japanese term for ‘fermented organic matter’.

Choosing a compost bin – by the experts

This advice – taken from a webinar by master composters from Garden Organic – provides extra help.

Wooden bins – a sustainable material – cheaper – allows the pile to breathe – looks natural and attractive in the garden – don’t add meat, fish, dairy or cooked food due to lower temperatures – a few bins can be placed together, with one or two left to mature while one keeps working.  

Blackwall compost converter – the most common bin – affordable – long-lasting – made from recycled plastic – useful for getting compost out (the bin can be lifted up and removed like a jelly mould) – a base plate is available but an added deterrent to rodents can also be achieved by digging the composter slightly into the ground and putting a  wire mesh under the base – channels of air can be created by plunging a broom handle into the contents.

Green Johanna – reaches higher temperatures – as an enclosed unit it offers greater rodent protection – the twistable top controls ventilation – the solid perforated base means liquid can drain out and micro-organisms can enter – if adding meat, add small amounts, mixed with lots of greens and browns – aerate the top layer every time you add materials – for speedier composting an insulating jacket is available. An alternative way of taking compost out, rather than accessing through the hatches, is to loosen the screws and lift off one or two sections.  Composting slows down in winter but the Johanna continues well and does better than other composters.

HOTBIN – versatile, takes all food waste and also perennial weeds – produces compost quickly – useful in school gardens – contains air channels – needs woodchips as a bulking agent – has a hard surface to discourage rats nesting underneath – requires more attention – more expensive but versatile.  

Wormery – small and self-contained – ideal for small amounts of waste – year-round composting – can be indoors – worms eat the bacteria on the organic matter – no spicy foods or citrus, only small amounts of meat – food scraps are placed on the top section, casts fall to the bottom. Use the worm-made compost on pot plants or round trees and shrubs. NOTE: If the liquid that is produced smells bad it has gone anaerobic and should be flushed away.

Also:

  • Wormery compost is a great improver to shop-bought compost; you can buy the cheapest of composts but turn it into black gold with the addition of your vermicompost.
  • Sheds are not a good place to house a wormery due to temperature fluctuations – a garage or indoors is better.
  • If you need your worms to move out of way as you harvest casts, add melon or banana – worms love these and will obligingly wriggle over to them.  
  • Don’t forget that with a wormery you are responsible for living creatures.

Bokashi bin – ferments waste instead of composting so the contents need to be transferred to a composter after a couple of weeks – this pre-compost  acts as an activator in your compost bin – Bokashi bran is needed – fermented contents of the bin will still be recognisable (some people expect compost) – produces liquid which can be used as a drain cleaner or diluted as fertiliser – good to use two bins to keep the process going – ongoing bran purchase required.

Tumblers – compost is kept off the ground so rodents are deterred.   

Electric kitchen composters – these grind waste as opposed to composting it.

Ridan – giant tumblers with a cog and gear system that makes the handle easier to turn – popular in schools and businesses.

Let it snow – but carry on composting

 Snow is on the ground at Great Green Systems HQ right now – providing a timely reminder not to leave your little green friend out in the cold. (I’m thinking of your compost bin but perhaps you have other little green friends).

Follow our cold weather tips and keeeep composting! (with apologies to Strictly Come Dancing…)

Green Johanna

  • Check that the vents at the bottom of the Johanna are not blocked by leaves or debris (or snow!) Air is taken in at ground level so keep this area clear so that air can enter freely. The incoming air goes up past the four ventilation plates on the inside of the base plate, past the maturing compost layer up into the decomposing compost where it provides oxygen for the composting micro-organisms.
  • Also check that the Johanna’s Insulating Jacket doesn’t cover the ventilation holes. The jacket should be installed with the two upper sections pulled down so they overlap the section underneath by about 5 cms. Doing this leaves the ventilation holes clear.
  • In freezing weather limit ventilation through the lid’s ventilation system – twist the lid towards the minimum setting (in summer it should be fully open on the maximum setting).
  • The pre-Christmas period is a good time for getting some great carbon sources ready. Ordering presents or appliances online means they might arrive packed in lovely, corrugated cardboard, which is fantastic for adding airflow to the bin.
  • Now you’ll be glad you stored those leaves. Keep them in lidded containers to keep them dry. If you have loads, keep a large composter, such as the Graf Thermo King 900L, specifically for leaf mulch and take some leaves from the top as carbon sources for the Johanna. Dead leaves are great for absorbing moisture in waste with a high water content, such as bokashi bin contents or fruit waste.
  • If you see tree surgeons at work locally, it’s worth asking if you could take some woodchips or they might deliver them to you for free. Wood chips are good for creating airflow and adding plenty of fungi to the bin.
  • Give the bin’s contents a boost by adding bokashi bran, ground coffee granules or a layer of soil or mature compost.  
  • If you’re setting your Johanna up in winter, don’t be tempted to rush and omit the foundation layer of around 15 -20cms of woody garden waste. Some people ask us if they really have to do this, and the answer is yes. From the beginning, it helps to create airflow from the bottom up through the composter as well as adding structure for drainage. Then add two bucketsful of soil or mature compost to add a healthy amount of micro-organisms right from the start.  

Bokashi bins

  • If you’ve kept your bokashi bins fermenting in a shaded spot outside in the summer, move them indoors. Bokashi bins shouldn’t be exposed to extreme temperatures, which might mean micro-organisms overheating or freezing depending on the season.  When the bin is full and needs to be left to ferment for two to three weeks, if you want it out of the way store it in a garage or shed as long as it won’t freeze.  

Wormery

  • Wormeries should also be placed where they won’t be exposed to extremes of temperatures. Depending on your location, move an outdoors wormery to a sheltered area or if it is to stay outside, cover with a tarpaulin.  Keep worms warm with plenty of bedding and a hessian blanket.

Green Cone

  •  Stock up on accelerator powder – you will need more than usual to boost the process now that there is less sun to provide energy for the solar-powered unit.  
  • Even if you have more food waste than usual over the Christmas period, make sure you never allow food waste to come higher than the Cone’s underground basket. Food waste must never be above ground level inside the Cone itself.

Remember your usual best composting practices, whatever the weather:

  • Regular feeding: Keep adding to the bin to maintain the composting process. The generous 330 litre size of the Green Johanna means the mass of contents acts as an insulating factor.  If your household is small and struggles to add enough content in winter with the lack of gardening clippings, accept food waste from neighbours, as some of our customers do.
  • Chop items up. Smaller items provide a larger surface area for more microbes to work on.  This means higher temperatures and faster breakdown.
  • Ensure a good balance – adding a caddy of food waste (rich in nitrogen) followed by a caddy of carbon-rich materials (dead leaves, shredded paper and cardboard, twigs, branches, woodchips) is a good habit to get into.
  • Check moisture levels – especially if you’ve added a lot of dry autumn leaves (carbon) which could make the mix dry. Composting contents should have a moisture level of around 50 per cent, with the consistency of a wrung-out bath sponge. Add rainwater from a water butt (in a watering can with a fine rose) if the materials are becoming too dry. Don’t just check the top layer, get handfuls from lower down the bin too. Check by using a moisture meter or by doing the squeeze test – wearing gloves, take large handfuls of compost in both hands and squeeze – only a drop or two of liquid should emerge. If there are no drops, the compost is too dry and needs watering.
  • Regular aeration – it’s important to keep adding air to the bin as the aerobic microbes breaking down the waste need air to breathe. Without air, the contents will turn anaerobic and start to smell.   

Don’t forget to pay attention – getting into the habit of knowing what’s happening in the bin enables you to take corrective measures to prevent problems. 

Christmas eco gifts give back to the planet

Christmas Green Johanna

‘Tis the month before Christmas when all through the house not a single thing’s stirring except Rachel’s mouse…

Still on her laptop at midnight, Rachel’s searching for gifts for the family that won’t cost the earth but also won’t cost the Earth.

She’s hit on a solution for her husband Paul’s parents, Dick and Liddy, who are so tricky to buy for. They say they don’t want any more presents because they already have everything they need. And Dick says he doesn’t need any more gloves because he’s not an octopus. Ditto socks.

They’re already keen recyclers and want to do their bit for the environment in an easy way for people in their eighties.

So how about a Green Cone food waste digester? It takes all food waste, even bones, and no stirring or turning is required. It doesn’t produce compost, but that’s OK; Dick and Liddy will be perfectly happy with the nutritious soil conditioner that will seep from the underground waste basket into their flower beds once worms and microbes have broken down the food scraps.

Dick will like the fact that they’re in control of their own food waste, turning something that harms the planet in landfill to something that heals it by nourishing the soil. Liddy will love the idea that, in their own small way, they’re doing something to save the planet for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The little we can do is a lot – that’s Liddy’s motto.

Composting for a busy brother

For her brother Stephen, who is officially the busiest man on the planet (which he would love to save if he could only get the staff), Rachel plans to get a Green Johanna hot composter. He’s seen Paul and Rachel’s Johanna at work in their garden and has even been known to make himself useful by emptying the kitchen caddy into it. The idea of having a ready supply of his own free compost would definitely appeal too.

Green Johanna Winter Jacket

Worm-farming for children

Stephen’s wife Jill would also like to save the earth; she just doesn’t want it being traipsed through the house on the children’s muddy boots. So Rachel thought a great present for their children, Billie and Ben, would be a wormery. She managed to sell the idea to Stephen by saying it would get the kids interested in eco-science (anything educational always gets his vote), and Jill agreed when she knew the Maze Worm Farm could be kept in the shed. Rachel knows the kids will be fascinated by the process, and if through harvesting their own vermicompost they gain a passion for gardening, well…that’s the very definition of a gift that keeps on giving.

Rachel suspects it might become her job to teach her niece and nephew how to harvest the compost, but it will be more than worth it to see them giggle when she tells them that this nutritious soil food is essentially the worms’ poo. If you’re under 10 it doesn’t get much funnier than that.

Gifts for the eco-conscious young

What could be better for Rachel and Paul’s son, George, than a Compost Tumbler for the back yard of his student house? The compost it produces will come in handy for all their potted plants and vegetable raised beds, as well as at the  community garden where they help out.  

And a useful stocking filler would be a kitchen cooking oil container. George has taken on the job of storing his household’s used oil in various containers to take to the local recycling centre where it’s collected to be turned into electricity. But this purpose-built 3 litre container with its secure lid will make it so much easier to store and transport the oil.

George has had to stop his housemates pouring their used oil down the sink, which they thought was the right thing to do. In fact, what happens is the oil binds with other objects that should never have been flushed away, creating huge fatbergs that block sewers. Everybody thinks their own little bit of oil can’t do any harm but try telling that to the engineers who get the lovely job of breaking down these monster blockages so that the rest of us can flush the toilet confident the waste will just disappear. Sewage backflow anyone?

Every millilitre adds up. Isn’t this at the heart of recycling? Grandma Liddy says: The little we can do is a lot. And she’s right; there are no small acts.

A present for the planet

For Millie, George’s girlfriend, Rachel will get a bokashi bin. Millie showed great interest in Paul and Rachel’s Maze Bokashi Bin when she saw it on their kitchen worktop and was fascinated when Rachel explained the anaerobic process which ferments all food waste, turning it into pre-compost. Well, not every girl wants scented candles…

14 litre Maze Bokashi Bin

Millie will be able to feed her houseplants with the diluted bokashi ‘tea’ fertiliser that drains from the contents of the bokashi bin. The tea can also be used concentrated as organic drain cleaner. Another freebie – what’s not to like? When the food waste has fermented to become pre-compost pulp, she will add it as an accelerator to the Compost Tumbler to break down into compost.

Paul suggested that with all this festive recycling going on, perhaps he could give back to Stephen and Jill the flashing-nose Rudolph jumper they gave him last Christmas?

Rachel said no.

Spare Parts