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

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

 

And then there was ‘George’

Before buying their Green Cone in 2009, Jack and Joan Milner, from Leicestershire, thought the prospect of being able to safely dispose of leftovers that included cooked food, meat and dairy sounded almost too good to be true.

‘We were a bit sceptical at first,’ admits Jack. ‘We had already tried having a compost bin but we were not systematic enough to make it work.’

But at the time Leicestershire County Council was offering residents subsidised Cones to encourage them to recycle food waste at home instead of sending it to landfill. So the couple decided to give it a try.

A place in the sun

 Under the scheme at the time, the council arranged for Green Cones to be installed on their residents’ behalf since the units must be dug into a hole in the garden.

 Once this was done, and the Cone was in place in a sunny spot near the kitchen door, the Milners began to feed it their leftovers, including bones.

‘It wasn’t long before the Green Cone was called ‘George’ (don’t ask us why!) and we fed him daily,’ says Jack.

 A pleasant surprise

The couple, now in their eighties, were quickly won over by George’s powers of digestion. ‘We have been very pleasantly surprised.’

Jack and Joan sometimes have to deal with the common problem of visiting dogs and cats leaving a little deposit on their lawn, but ‘George’ has even been efficient at dealing with this.

Most of the waste deposited in the Cone breaks down to become nutritious water that drains from the underground basket into surrounding soil. The Milners have noticed the effect of this soil conditioner on their garden.

A very good buy

Their Cone was placed in an arid spot which sported a few Lily of the Valley flowers and these soon began to flourish, becoming ‘a superb patch two metres in diameter.’

Jack adds that their Cone is now becoming a bit brittle but still ‘completely serviceable’, and it is only now after 13 years that it might need emptying.

‘Overall, George has been a very good buy.’

What’s in a name?

Incidentally, the Milners are not the only customers who have found themselves giving a name to their food waste digester. In our reviews section is a family who named their three Green Johanna Hot Composters Bertha, Belinda and Beryl. Whatever you may wish to call your Cone (and names are not obligatory, we don’t check!) we’re sure life with your own George, or Daisy or Engelburt will be just as good as the Milners’ experience.

And remember, Great Green Systems are here to help if you have any queries or problems.   

At a glance – 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 and Green Cone are specialist units designed to accept foods that traditional garden composters don’t, such as cooked food, meat, fish, dairy and bread, so all your food waste can go in together. They use natural processes to break food down without producing methane.

Green Johanna (also called a hot composter)

  • Produces compost.
  • Also accepts garden waste.
  • Prefers a sheltered spot.
  • Comes with aerator stick provided.
  • Modular design means large amounts of compost can be removed.

Green Cone Food Waste Digester

  • Must be dug into a hole in free-draining soil.
  • Doesn’t accept garden 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.

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

  • Only take raw fruit and veg scraps (no cooked food), garden waste and household paper, cardboard etc.
  • Require a 50/50 mix of nitrogen-rich waste (fruit and veg waste, grass clippings) to carbon-rich waste (straw, paper, cardboard, wood chippings).
  • Available in plastic or wood. Plastic bins tend to be more robust but wood may be preferred for a natural look. 
  • Contents require turning to aerate the mix.

Lack of space?

Wormeries

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. To take their interest further, there are many excellent books on the subject, such as Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof and Composting With Worms by George Pilkington.

Bokashi Bins

  • Kitchen compost bins that 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.
  • 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’.
  • Bokashi enthusiasts often keep several bins on the go to ferment all their food waste.

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Spare Parts