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Worms and HOTBIN composting

Worms and HOTBIN compostingA question we often get asked is; do I need to keep my Wormery now I have a HOTBIN?

The simple answer is no and the key benefit is that the HOTBIN can compost both food waste and garden waste. Therefore you can save space, reduce costs and still keep your food waste out of landfill.

So what is worm composting?

Worm composting is using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a valuable soil amendment called vermicompost, or worm compost. Worms eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm’s body.

So what is HOTBIN composting?

The HotBin is a simple design that helps maximise what nature does by bringing together the right conditions to make hot composting easier. It does this by providing effective aeration between the bottom air inlet plate and the air outlet rotating valve, removing excess water through the valve as steam and allowing you to control the rate of heat loss. You can compost 100% of all domestic food waste in the HOTBIN without inherent problems with odour, vermin and flies. This includes left over meals, plate scrapings, meat, fish, small bones, bread, cakes, pasta and rice. Your food and garden waste will be turned into rich organic matter for the garden every 90 days.

Worms in the HOTBIN?

You do not need to add worms into the HotBin however you can – either directly by adding into the base layer (which is cooler) or inadvertently by adding worm eggs and worms into the bin via small bits of soil and old compost . Most of the worms and worm eggs will be killed by high temperatures (>45C) but a some will find there way down into the base layer and continue to work on the base layer compsot.

However, worms can be beneficial to composting and can be added if you want to. But a word of warning do not add them into the upper active layer (60°C will kill them) only add worms via the hatch panel where the compost will be cooler. Worms will help to decompose waste and leave mucus in the compost which is proving beneficial to soil fertility.

As the HOTBIN is no ordinary composting bin as you can use it to recycle than just vegetable kitchen waste in it. The hot temperatures achieved during hot composting make composting all food waste in the HOTBIN a safe home composting system that recycles a whole lot more than just potato peelings.

So if you were thinking about a Wormery as a form of recycling food waste why not consider a HOTBIN as it composts both your food and garden waste together.

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The Ultimate Guide To Compost Sieving and Sieves

Many people will just use compost ‘as it comes’ from the compost bin by digging it in to the soil around plants or into the vegetable patch.

Sometimes it is preferable to have fine compost for use in potting up seedlings or as I often do, use as a lawn top-dressing (it does wonders to reduce moss!) but large pieces of compost are hard to rake in and can cover the grass and act as ‘mulch’ – not the desired result.

Mature HOTBIN compost at 3 months

Mature HOTBIN compost at 3 months

I have tested a few compost sieves and I thought it was time to summarise how they perform and offer a view on the how worthwhile compost sieving is.

Sieving compost can be tricky and labour intensive – it does not take too many lumps of wet moist compost to clog up the sieves.

HotBin Compost - Good and ready after 3 months

HotBin Compost – Good and ready after 3 months

The Plastic Hand Sieve

A Plastic hand sieve will cost £4-10. These work OK if you just have a bucket of compost to sieve. When you only have small amounts of compost, the price/performance is hard to beat. However, once you start to get into bags or wheel barrow loads;  the hand sieves becomes far to time consuming and difficult. Most of us will just end up with aching arms and a stiff back! The plastic pan sieves struggle with moist compost – it will just roll into balls that won’t sieve. (There are a whole range of metal hand sieves that work the  same as the plastic but cost a lot more).

A 33cm plastic garden sieve

A 33cm plastic garden sieve

The Rotary Sieve

The Rotary sieve cost approximately between £30-40.  Now it is OK with dry compost and handles typical loads/sizes from the HOTBIN. However it tends to clog up when used with moist compost. Some large pieces can jam and you’ll need to stop and clear them before carrying on. (NB this review was based on third-party input not our own test).

The RS150 Rotary Soil Sieve

The RS150 Rotary Soil Sieve

The Watford Sifter

The Watford Sifter costs approx £120-150. It definitely works better with soil than compost. It did struggle with wet compost as it tends to clog and stick in centre of sieve and it did not tip ‘up and down’ far enough to move it from this position. Good for medium or large loads and certainly a good option if you have lots of soil and compost to sieve otherwise you might struggle to justify the cost.

The Watford sieving HOTBIN compost which is 3 months old and typically wet

The Watford sieving HOTBIN compost which is 3 months old and typically wet & sticky

Likes / dislikes:

  • You get two screens – fine and coarse.
  • Easy to push ‘up and down’
  • A bit of a ‘pain’ to get the retained coarse material out of the sieve tray. In the end, I was continually lifting the whole box and tipping it out. It’s a heavy lift when not much is sieved. This issue goes away if most of the soil/compost gets sieved through – but if it is all fine in the first place there is no need to sieve!

The Scheppach Sieve

The Scheppach  costs in the region of £350-400, this has to be a serious piece of kit. It is a trommel design (rotating cylinder) and uses and an electric motor to turn it so it also needs an electrical supply! It will handle significant volumes of soil and compost. We have not used this kit, but we know three large-scale gardeners/composters who do and they all rate it highly. If you are only using it 1-3 times a year, our opinion is it is questionable how much value you will actually get. Probably one for the professional and/or allotment/community schemes where you can share it. PS: It also takes a lot storage space.

The Scheppach RS400 rotart sifter

The Scheppach RS400 rotart sifter

The Compost Sifter

Compost Sifter costs £155 (excl £40 delivery to UK). This is very new and comes from Belgium. It uses a similar rotary tunnel (trommel) design as the Scheppach – but it is turned manually via a handle. By long way, it required the least effort and sieved more faster. The mesh (hole size) is smaller than the others (8mm) and this means it won’t sieve wet compost (based on our test of HOTBIN compost). However, after initial disappoint with wet compost, it absolutely cleaned up when it came to dry compost. Our current favourite – we may even resell it with a special HOTBIN specific tweaks!!

The Compost Sifter - Assembled with just wheels to go

The Compost Sifter – Assembled with just wheels to go

Likes / dislikes:

  • Ease of turning – real winning feature
  • Retains oversize and easy to get it out via panel that detaches
  • It is very heavy – fine once set up on wheels, but you may need 2-people to get it out of box and set up on the frame.
  • It still struggles with wet sticky compost – but so do all the rest!

Summary

Sieving compost can be tricky and labour intensive, especially if it is wet and sticky as it tends ball into large lumps and clog sieves.

After numerous tests on HOTBIN compost, we think we are on solid ground to say if you want to sieve the naturally sticky wet HOTBIN compost you will have to dry it first (see how below). All the sieves will perform significantly better with dried compost.

Our next question is: Is it worth sieving compost?

This is not just about the cost of the sieve and the time and effort that goes into sieving. The most beneficial part of compost is the group of humeric substances. These compounds impact soil fertility as they enhance root uptake of minerals and water. It therefore follows the biggest benefit comes from digging humeric substances into the root zone. If digging in, one has to question if the effort to sieve out any big bits.  Large over sized lumps will compost down in soil over 12-24 months. As long as the total volume of large pieces is low, the ongoing composting of these pieces is unlikely to affect nitrogen availability during the final composting period. With HOTBIN compost there is always about 10-15% of small 0.5-1.5cm wood chip (bulking agent) pieces that remain in the compost. Our tests show these pieces are covered in layers of humeric compounds. We believe these pieces of wood chip are slowly composted as they are coated and protected from rapid decay. Whilst in the soil, small pieces of wood chip also aid aeration and soil tiling.

There are applications where sieved compost is useful e.g. when used as a lawn top-dressing (i.e. raking in a thin layer of compost on to the grass), or when creating a potting mix for seedlings. Lawn care is a huge part of British gardening. I personally have seen good results from top-dressing moss ridden lawns (high clay, poor drainage) with sieved compost. For those of you that want to drop dress, the method is outlined below.

In summary, for most compost users and most types of compost application, we do not believe drying compost and then sieving is worthwhile.

Compost and lawn top dressing

  • In late Autumn take out your HOTBIN compost and dry it (we spread it out as a thin layer on patio / large sheet polyethylene)
  • Add dried compost to compost sifter or like to sieve
  • Sieve and bag up
  • Spread on grass and rake out to about 1cm layer.

This will take huge quantities of compost – but the rewards is you won’t be spending much on lawn fertiliser or moss killer!

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This AUTUMN could be the time to RETHINK composting?

RETHINK composting this AUTUMNAutumn is coming – It’s will soon be time to start that big garden clear up again! Should you start to RETHINK your composting method now too?

You may well have wheel barrow loads of plant and weed being removed over the next few weeks.

What are you going to do with all your autumn garden waste?

1) Pile it all up as normal in that big heap – come back in spring hopeful of compost but most likely disappointed that you face the prospect of waiting another 12 months for your compost?

2) Take a different approach – join the HOTBIN composters and be sure of a fabulous batch of compost ready to dig in with you spring planting preparation?

3) Leave it out for the council green waste team to sort out – Oh dear! All that fuel, cost and effort to centrally reprocess it. Taking all that goodness from your soil this year, which means next year it has to be replaced by buying even more fertiliser, that takes even more energy and resources to make?

Composting during the cold autumn, winter and early spring months can  usually be a very slow process. Especially when the temperature falls below 5C, the rate the bacteria work is almost nonexistent. The secret to fast composting is heat – and lots of it. Compost forms 64 times faster at 60C than it does at 10C. If you can keep your waste hot (between 40-60C), it will compost in 20 to 90 days!

There are many help sites that recommend building huge piles (minimum 1X1X1 m3), and then turning them regularly to keep them aerated and hot. But even this technique will struggle in winter as the heat produced by the bacteria is quickly lost to the cold air. (And it requires quite a bit of effort and space too)

This is why so many HOTBIN composters are happy – all the hard work to help support natural high temperature composting is provided by the HOTBIN. As long as you keep feeding it every week with enough waste – it will keep running at 60C. It has been tested and proven even with outdoor temperatures as low as -15C.

Not only can you get rid of all that garden waste, you will also be able to compost all your food waste over winter too.

Now if you were an early HOTBIN starter, your HOTBIN might be full already! If the bottom layer has been in there for 90 days, now is a good time to empty it to make room for your  Autumn garden clear up.

It is always best to shred as much as you can (the smaller the pieces, the larger the surface area, the easier it is for the bacteria). Now if you don’t own a shredder  then you can always use your lawn mower!.

Now you are ready to fill up HOTBIN to the top and get it back up to 60C .

If you have a large garden you may still have too much waste . So the best thing is to store it in pop up bag or on another heap. Remember to keep it covered to protect  it from the rain. Where possible we suggest you store bags on stones/gravel so water drains out and some air can get in through the holes in the bottom.

You can add the excess waste every 4 days (about 20 litres 10 cms depth). As the ‘waste pile’ gets colder and older, reduce how much you add each week – But keep adding your food waste! (The bacteria need some easy to digest waste to keep the temperatures at HOT composting levels between 40-60C).

Keep going until all autumn waste is gone.

As soon as you start to collect a lot of autumn leaves – check out the ‘composting autumn leaves post’ as you need to tweak the recipe to hot compost leaves.

Remember the key to keeping it HOT is a BALANCE of ‘easy to digest waste’ made up of green stuff, food waste, plus shredded office paper’ (which creates heat quickly) with the hard to digest woody cuttings (heat released slowly), or partially composted waste (energy depleted).

Why not take up the challenge – find out what others have experience by visiting our product reviews at www.hotbincomposting.com. Explore more about how it works by looking at our extensive ‘how to compost’ database, for example our ‘principles of hot composting’ article.

The HOTBIN is a simple design that helps maximise what nature does by bringing together the right conditions to make HOT composting easier. It does this by providing effective aeration between the bottom air inlet plate and the air outlet rotating valve, removing excess water through the valve as steam and allowing you to control the rate of heat loss.

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