APRIL TO MAY, 2016
HOTBIN WEEK 1
Tuesday 26th April
Having been collecting paper shreds and cardboard for two weeks, and going a bit overboard with the poor old shredding machine, I am able to start using it up from today. Today was the day I began my hot composting project. Hotbin are the company and hotbin is the product and I have had it here for a few days waiting for the ﬁrst batch of waste.
It came with a few accessories. An internal thermometer for a realistic reading of the top layer of waste, a rake, a kick starter hot water bottle, two securing straps for the output panel and the all-important bulking agent. Having spent a few days studying the forums online – and yes, the hot composting community is alive and kicking – I’m feeling quite conﬁdent. I should able to get it heating up quite quickly as I have an initial batch of quite a lot of partially decomposed waste from my tardis compost bin to put in.
The ﬁrst thing you have to do is prepare your base layer which actually should come up to just above the output panel. This equates to quite a lot of stuff. I layered some sticks from my mum’s old apple tree at the bottom. This layer of sticks was some advice I had read in two different places online. It’s supposed to keep the bottom layers more aerated.
Next, I ﬁltered out some partially decomposed matter from the old Dalek cold composter, mixed it with paper (the same amount again) and added what I estimated was about 10% bulking agent. It equates to 2 handfuls per caddy. I’m not really going about it in a very exact kind of way.
I kept going with a few bucketfuls as per the instructions until the stuff was up to the top of the output panel. I then chucked in a couple more handfuls of bulking agent, stuck the thermometer in and now just have to wait to hopefully see the temperature rise. I have to resist the temptation to peek at the inner thermometer!
Once home from work, I decided to have a ﬁddle with my hotbin. Since Tuesday, it has only reached around 10 degrees during the day and a lot less during the nights. Not really making much progress beyond there. I have been wondering whether the contents are too dry because I have added too much paper (I had been shredding like mad and have bags of it everywhere). Rather than add water I added more oldish stuff from the Dalek and also buried the Kickstarter bottle with hot kettle water into the middle of it. Last time I checked, the temperature had risen to 15 degrees. Nothing astounding, but it sounds as though this is not too bad for such early days.
Sunday 1st May
I was disappointed yesterday morning as it was back down to 10 degrees. Especially since I had fed it a good mix of bread, paper, bulking agent, new waste, old waste, some bone meal and the refilled kickstarter bottle. It seemed a little crazy but the new kitchen scraps and peelings were cold as I had just prepared the veg straight from the fridge, so I warmed the scraps in the microwave for a couple of minutes before mixing it in. What’s the point of adding cold waste when heat is what you need? Also in that mix was orange peel, tea bags and coffee grounds. Warming them up made a lovely Christmassy mulled wine kind of smell.
Well today I was rather pleased as the outside thermometer read 25 degrees which is the warmest I have seen. Then I remembered that the internal thermometer gives the truest reading so I had a quick peek. 40 degrees! This means it has reached the lowest of the hot composting temperatures! It may have helped that I had left it alone for a good two days. I think I’ll wait until the inside reading is 50 before adding other food wastes. I’ll be interested to read the temperature tomorrow morning.
Things are starting to get interesting in the hotbin. I was chuffed to see that it has maintained its heat from last night! And has even risen slightly since I checked this morning. 40-60 degrees is the target temperature but the hotter the better up to 80. I am trying not to lift the lid and am gauging it from the outside reading. So it must now be creeping towards 50 degrees! I have decided that pretty much all food waste can go in. From this point, unless I keep it well fed, the temperature will start to slip again. At the set up process, I realise I put in too much paper waste – an equal amount with the rest which must have been too dry to get it started. So I’m adjusting the balance a little but not too much. On the other hand, it could be that a nice airy lower layer could work favourably. The recommended mix is 1 whole caddy of food waste, plus half a caddy of shredded paper plus a couple of handfuls of bulking agent. Also recommended is that white ofﬁce paper and/or corrugated card is used rather than newspaper or toilet rolls. This is something to do with the fact that the puriﬁcation process of more expensive paper decomposes faster and the air inside the corrugated card helps avoid an anaerobic reaction.
Just had another check. It’s at 43 degrees and feels decidedly steamy in there. Mustn’t open the lid too often…. But I’ll be adding in some fresh stuff a little later today along with some cooked food scraps which aren’t recommended below 40. I originally planned to keep stoking it until it’s at 50 degrees but changed my mind because I’m in danger of not feeding it enough stuff to keep it going.
My children are becoming hungry eaters during these tweenager years. This might have been a better project with younger, less hungry children! Or I could simply cook more with this extra mouth to feed!
It looks as though the worms have begun their mass-migration. The edges and lid of the bin are a mass off little pinky red bodies. It’s too hot for them and there’s not really much of a cooler lower layer for them to nestle in. Not sure what to do, so I might dig out the rest of my Dalek cold composter and transfer the partially composted material to hotbin and pop as many of the worms as possible back in to their original home. I had no idea so many of them had been added to the hotbin! Worms are no harm to the hotbin but it is clear that the hotbin is harmful to them. They are happy below 35 degrees. Feeling sorry for them. It’s come to this.
HOTBIN WEEK 2
Tuesday 3rd May
The ﬁrst main job today was to try and relocate the unhappy worms from the hotbin to the Dalek. I peeped in and the worms had moved back down from the lid and were congregating around the top of the waste. Considering they were worms, they were all looking rather sluggish. Sorry – groan.
I prepared the Dalek by clearing out the rest of the partially decomposed matter to leave behind the good compost. It was rather laborious but didn’t take as long as I anticipated. I thought there would be a lot more waste to move, but there was actually a nice lot of ready compost and only about a third of a bucket of waste. I scooped out some worms and popped them back home. They were obviously ok because they had buried themselves a few minutes later.
After that it was a case of treating the bucket of waste to the proportions of paper and bulking agent before tipping it all in to hotbin. With all this activity the temperature had fallen quite a bit but I was conﬁdent that it would soon rise again.
One of the noticeable and pleasing aspects of hot composting is that even after adding ﬁsh skins from our meal last night, there was no ﬁshy smell at all. The house smelt ﬁshier than the skins in the hotbin! This evening I came home to ﬁnd that the inside temperature was just over 50 degrees! The record so far! I am wondering whether my adding of some unwanted Spanish bluebells has had the same effect as adding grass which is supposed to give a real temperature boost with the correct mix of other stuff.
I came home this evening and visited the hotbin. It has reached its compost accelerator temperature of 60 degrees and is steaming like a geyser! So happy! This thing has kept me occupied for a few weeks now but now there’s not so much to do apart from keeping it fed. The great thing is, no more food waste to go out for the bin men. None went out this morning which is weird. Sadly, I have been unable to rescue many more worms. Those little guys have worked so hard to make great compost in the Dalek and now they can BE compost. RIP my slithery friends.
I’m wondering what brought about the shift up in temperature. The kick start bottles must have helped a lot, perhaps along with the fact that I thought I had initially been adding too much paper. Maybe the microwave warmed mix of new food waste helped.
I ﬁnd it interesting that all the online advice says that there is usually a difference of 10 degrees between the two thermometers. Mine are showing 20-25 degrees apart and I can’t help wondering why. I can tell the inside temperature is correct as it wouldn’t steam in that way.
Yesterday, more new stuff was added to the hotbin which has been at around 60 since it reached that temperature. I noticed some worms had just managed to escape before dying on the paving slab and there were others that died just as they were trying to push their way out of the collection hatch. Poor things. Today they were a bit smelly so I returned them to the bin to become what they eat.
After my family and I had ﬁsh and chips at a friend’s house, I came home with all the left overs and boxes. I spent a good while mixing all the left overs for the hotbin’s tea and throwing it all in. Sadly, there was a huge amount of wasted food, but it doesn’t seem so bad when it’s all going to make compost for the garden. That’s what I’m loving about the hot composting! I mixed in some paper, grass clippings and bulking agent and then started to cut up the corrugated food boxes. Hotbin would like that too mixed in with later food offerings.
There is no sign of ﬁsh and chips in the hotbin and the temperature started the day at 55 degrees which is still a great composting temperature. It might have a faint ﬁshy smell but it isn’t very noticeable. At the end the day, hotbin has reached 65 degrees. Still ok and the hottest yet!
HOTBIN WEEK 3
Once home from work, I found a packet of pure wool that my neighbour had left for me – “for Mr Hottie the hotbin”. She explained that it’s part of the insulation for some food goods she is having delivered and that there might be more to come. If air is to circulate and everything works better mixed together it is unwise to throw in one big batch of wool. For the same reason I have only been adding a couple of handfuls of grass to each caddy.
There has been a bit of a gap in adding new waste and the lid temperature is reading 20 degrees which is a bit of a worry. Not too bad inside though at 45 degrees but still a big drop from 60. This is interesting because although the literature suggests adding two caddies of waste per week to keep it topped up, up to two days ago I have been adding more along with grass cuttings to top up on a more regular basis. Opening the lid this time though there is a truly awful rancid smell! A kind of stronger than the maturest stilton, cow pat, acidic smell. I had to shut the lid swiftly for fear of the smell drifting inside the house. If there is a putrid smell it could be turning anaerobic meaning not enough air and it is probably the grass causing it. The way to remedy this before it is too late is to add a sizeable heap of extra corrugated card and stir it into the top layer. The card I added were the 6 cut up ﬁsh and chip boxes from Saturday along with all the usual stuff with just a little grass plus some separated wool.
Checked the hotbin before work. It was getting back to normal at a good 55 degrees. After work I could add lots of orange peel to the caddy as my children and I had fruit as a snack. The smell had improved to its normal earthy goodness and the temperature was back to 60.
This morning the hotbin has reached a new high. 67 degrees! Chug chug! This is the more positive aspect in hot composting with grass. However the grass I had ready for future days has been steeping in rainwater and I now say with certainty that grass without enough air (card) smells putrid. (It’s that sharp cow dung farmyard smell). I tipped out the water onto the garden and green-binned the remaining very soggy grass. Next time I have grass to store for caddy batches, I am keeping it loosely covered. Now that I have no more grass left, I will see the effect on the temperature and predict it will fall. Today I had something new mixed in to the kitchen caddy. Pants. Cotton pants. My eldest has a pair with quite spectacular holes. I have thrown away the elastic, cut them up and thrown the pieces in with the bulking agent, card, veg peelings, remaining grass and teabags. I really don’t want the hotbin to get much hotter. Over 80 degrees and the bacteria all die off! Another thought is that despite all this new stuff I am adding, the level of waste inside never seems to get any higher. I am considering a local appeal for old pants and grass cuttings; peelings and chicken droppings. Perhaps not a good idea in retrospect.
When we arrived back home from a shopping trip, we found two sacks by the hotbin and there was a text to my husband. “I have left a deposit by the hotbin. Oh, and there are also two bags of animal bedding”. I have been asking our friends round the corner for their waste animal bedding as apparently small herbivore pet urine is great for hot composting. Wasn’t expecting two whole bags full though. Hubby said he could smell it from right round the other side of the house. I couldn’t.
After some searching on the hotbin website, I found out that hay composts easier than straw. I had to google the difference between straw and hay because I have always assumed them to be the same thing (a common mistake, apparently). Hay is grass that is harvested before any ﬂowering or seeding has occurred. It is sweet and nourishing eating for animals and softer too. Once grass has ﬂowered and seeded, such as for farmers’ produce, straw is basically the by product which is tough, inedible and not nutrient rich. As our friend’s pets eat the hay, the grassy stuff left in the bags must be straw. I think that with my hotbin steaming away as it is, it won’t be a problem. One day, in about three months hopefully, I’ll ﬁnd out when it’s compost collection time.
I cleared up the area around the hotbin to create a plastic cover for waste material to store without getting rain waterlogged. It also meant I could try some waste animal bedding in the hotbin as after the tidy up process I had reclaimed a bucket. I had read somewhere that you can’t just throw animal bedding in. Like the mown grass, you have to mix in cardboard and paper, bulking agent and kitchen waste for a good balance. The problem was that I only had less than a caddy of kitchen waste. I ﬁgured that I could dead-head the remaining bluebells and do some weeding, it would ﬁll out the gaps somewhat.
One of the great things about hot composting is that you can throw in weeds and not worry about the seeds being reincorporated into the garden as they can’t survive the heat. In this way, I mixed up two bucket loads of material and gave it all a good mix around once tipped in, using the Dalek mixer because it can be used to pull up material from deeper down. It was slightly disconcerting watching the temperature drop to 30 degrees but gave it the beneﬁt of the doubt. I have checked the internal thermometer this evening and it’s back to a toasty 50. I still have a sack and a half of animal bedding to get rid of! Thankfully it wasn’t as smelly a job as I thought it would be. I suspect I have a defective sense of smell but neither have my family complained about unpleasant odours apart from on pet poo delivery day. And we walk past the hotbin area all the time!
HOTBIN WEEK 4
Today I ﬁnally used up the ﬁrst sack of animal bedding in which the faeces were turning a deﬁnite hue of green. Also, the rest of the weeds and bluebells went in. It’s strange to think of weeding taking such a new meaning. In effect I am now harvesting them to make compost for the wanted element of our future garden. I will never complain about weeds again. However that’s not to say I wish them more present!
Hotbin has been chugging away at almost 70 degrees since Tuesday morning and after adding the mix of waste earlier, it is now the end of the day and it has now returned back up to this temperature.
It was my son’s party yesterday and today there were a lot of pizza crusts to compost as well as a lot of other kitchen waste. One of the beneﬁts of hot composting is that I am ﬁnding myself eating much more fruit and veg. Today then, I could get started on the second bag of animal waste. I’m actually looking forward to it all being gone to be honest not for any reason other than it not being the most pleasant of materials to dig in to. Of course I have been wearing gloves to pick up handfuls of the stuff but …..still…. you can imagine.
There are some enormous weeds that have grown so I can get two jobs done at the same time by mixing them in and in this way with the usual cardboard and bulking agent I should be able to get rid of it in two or three days. My friend has asked me to let her know when I want some more. It won’t be for a while. When I ﬁrst opened up the hotbin lid today, it was piping at 70 degrees and the steam rose higher than the level of our ﬁrst ﬂoor! Imagine what that would have looked like on a frosty winters day!
Today we have emptied the loft of unwanted boxes. It seems criminal to simply fold them up to take to be recycled at the tip when I could be making lovely soil from them. But after going a bit mad storing up card and paper waste before the hotbin even arrived, I have enough stored. Anyway, chopping all those boxes up would be utterly tedious.
I’m actually invading week 5 of my hotbin journal, but only because I just wish to say goodbye for now. Later today, I will be adding some new stuff to hotbin as batch cooking has been the job for today and there is a lot of kitchen waste. I also still have animal bedding to go in so it will make a good varied mixture. The hotbin is at a very consistent 60-70 degrees and I feel as though it can be maintained easily as long as I stick with the cardboard and bulking agent. The bags full of shredded paper and card have barely been touched and there’s quite a bit of the bulking agent left that was originally sent with the hotbin. I plan to dry out some old mulching wood chips we have left over and will move on to using that next. It will be interesting to see whether it makes a difference.
When it is time to empty the hotbin in August, I will take up my journal again. It has been fascinating so far!