Ecology Growing Organic Practice Soil Urban


I don’t like to get into the whole G.A.S. thing with growing like I did around music. Of buying stuff. I have enough. Too much in fact.

Horticulture and agriculture are the same as the music business to some extent. Make no mistake, there’s no end of accessories and toys that are marketed to growers and farmers. To say nothing of the cost of land itself. But nowadays I’m a bit weary of being a consumer, and wary of being targeted as one.

Some products, however, are justifiable purchases. I couldn’t simply heap a load of rotting mulch into a corner of my roof garden. It would be exposed to the elements, stink, and be a magnet for pests. So in October 2022 I bought a Hotbin Mini so as to start my own composting. Here is the inside of the pristine bin which is starting to see a lot of wear and tear now.

It’s an ingenious system which drains leachate to a tank beneath it, is insulated by design (accentuating the thermal generation of the composting process), and it doesn’t require turning. The first thing you do is layer a bunch of sticks into the bottom.

Then you load, in layers, green and brown waste.

As I understand it green waste is: food scraps (uncooked vegetables, no meat) and garden waste (weeds are fine). Brown waste is: cardboard, paper and woodchip. This layering of the two kinds of material means that you preserve aeration. If you are just using green waste it tends to coalesce into a sludge. The technical term for this latter effect is anaerobic composting and it generates a lot of foul-smelling methane.

Your aim is to establish aerobic composting which is seen as being the way to get a superior compost. It evidently wasn’t always so, however, as I have recently been reading some sixties’ gardening books which, suggest t’other over the one.

Here’s a rather fetching full bin at the end of last year. [I don’t think those are flowers I grew actually.]

At the top of the bin there is a thermometer. I have never managed to get my heap to the heady heights of 50 degrees centigrade, but when everything is steaming away I have reached 40 degrees. A compost heap is, essentially, a bonfire…

After a straight sixty days last year, just as we were heading into winter, I pulled the plug on the process so as to download my black gold. [A note in passing: you can see the blue leachate cap here at the bottom. I emptied this liquid out and used it as a plant feed a lot last year – but I wasn’t convinced of its efficacy so this year I haven’t bothered.]

I believe that 2022’s compost broke down anaerobically a lot. Looking at it, it does appear a bit putrid. I had a few bad smells out in the garden which this year I have totally avoided.

However, I still got three large pots of excellent compost out of it. I dressed the surface with a good commercial compost to create a tilth and planted in them. Today these pots have an Ash Tree, a Dahlia, and Amaranth growing in them.

To solve the issue of the anaerobic effect I was having, I reasoned that I needed to get more aeration through the Hotbin. This March I went to a hardware store and bought a measure of plumber’s copper pipe.

This I drilled regularly-spaced holes in.

And sunk it down the middle of my new burgeoning heap.

This must have made a difference to the aeration. There are many accounts of people creating this style of chimney in compost heaps. However, the ones I have read of are created by building heaps around pipes (without holes in them) and then removing the pipe once the heap has reached its summit so as to create a natural cavity. Of course, it is highly unlikely I have pioneered a new technique.

Here is the pipe in situ. Towards the end of March I needed some more compost so I opened the bin up to see what was cooking.

To me this looked like a less noxious concoction than my previous batch. No, it doesn’t have that fine, chocolatey, crumbly, look of professional compost. However, mine is not ground up in any way or dried.

I have looked at grinders but reason that’s just another gadget that would sit on a shelf and only be used twice a year. What counts is its richness and biological liveliness – of which I have no way of measuring.

This time I needed to fill two pots to plant on Calendula seedlings that I had started indoors at the end of winter.

Again, the surface is dressed with commercial compost. Here are the Calendula seedlings, or Marigold as they are sometime called, moved onto my own compost.

This time I only emptied half the Hotbin with a view to keeping it running like a perpetual stew.

Here it is again, more recently, running at full capacity.

The Calendula is thriving off it.