Homemade composting: getting usable compost from the hotbin

So in this week’s video, we are answering some questions that came in about our compost process.

We posted some funny wee videos on social media recently, just for a bit of fun but unexpectedly they generated a whole heap of questions about my composting process. So I thought I’d have a go at explaining things as, after all, I know a lot of you guys may not know the story of my compost adventures or you may not make your own compost so don’t really understand how it all works.

So this was the original snippet of video I published.

It was only meant as a bit of fun and was generally on the theme that another Instagram bod had used around the Tomato Hokey Cokey. I took that idea for the Compost Hokey Cokey. @Lizgrowshappy had coined the hashtag to describe how tomato growers were coping with the spring weather and having to take their tomato plants into the garden during the day to get them used to sunlight and the weather but then having to bring them in at night because it was too cold. In out, in out…. I was remarking on the similarity of my process for getting my compost into a usable state.

Now I know most of you guys have been with us for a while now and know the whole composting adventure we’ve been on, but in case you are new to the party, here’s the last post/video on the subject to catch you up before you delve into this week’s fun.

So basically, what came back from a lot of the new folk following us were 3 main questions:

Why don’t I use the traditional pallet bays like other folks?

Well very simply put, I stopped using a more traditional compost pile purely due to space. And this is a major factor, if, like us, you garden in an actually city garden where you really don’t have a lot of space to do all the different things you want a garden to do. It’s a good thing to be aware of actually, because loads of the folk I follow on youtube or social media are either allotment growers with a larger dedicated plot of land to grow on or they have bigger gardens (even though they claim that their acre is actually not a big garden 😀 ). So it’s good to know if the person you are watching is in the same situation as you so you know what is possible or not and what the pitfalls may be… but I digress. So traditional compost piles… yup we had a single bay built from pallets, which is the most common material you’ll see them built from. However, the traditional system works best if you have multiple bays so that you can fork compost from one bay to the other to “turn it” and so that you can have piles of compost in different states of maturity. Because did you know that traditional composting can take a year or usually more to be ready to use? We just don’t have the space for more than one bay so I was having to try to turn and manage it all using only one bay, which was pretty hard going.

Now the other thing is that the traditional system uses open topped bays, so that posed two problems for us. Firstly it rains A LOT in Scotland. So trying to keep the pile dry was quite hard going and secondly, sometimes it stank and my neighbours dining area in their garden was right next to our compost bay. Not ideal.

Now I know (cause it happens every time I mention this) that there are plenty of areas in our garden that we could build a three-bay compost system on, but that means giving up part of our garden which we already use and it would be unsightly. Remember I said this is a garden and not an allotment? Well, that’s an important point to remember. A garden has to serve many purposes, one of which is that it is a pleasant area for us to use attached to the house. I don’t want to look out or sit in a garden and stare at big compost bays. So we opted for the much smaller footprint of a single bin which also has the bonus of being a sealed unit, so no smells.

Why do I sieve my compost?

Oh yeah, this is actually a good question for me to talk about because I think it’s something that folk who don’t compost will be confused by. So let me start by saying this. The compost you buy from the shops has already been sieved (filtered). Yup. So compost, when it’s just been made, will have bits and pieces in it, like bits of twig or little bits of eggshell etc that haven’t completely finished composting.

Now, depending on how you are using that compost, you may leave those and use it as is. For example, when I am digging the compost into a bed to refresh it. I just use it straight from the bin as is. However, if I am using it as a mulch (so on the surface) I don’t want those ugly bits on show. So I’d sieve them out.

Or maybe I’m using the compost in pots for growing. In which case I want a much finer compost with those big twigs etc taken out. So again you sieve the mix to take those bits out and put them back in the bin to finish.

Lastly, sometimes I actually double sieve the compost to get it as fine as possible. Usually, because I am sowing seeds in it. With seed sowing and seedlings, you want as fine and light a texture as possible so that nothing can damage the wee seedlings. For doing this I sieve in my big course compost sieve that we made as normal and then I sieve again using a much finer garden riddle.

compost from the hotbin

That gives me beautiful fine compost.

Why do I put my compost out in the sun like that?

Ah-ha, so this ties in with the other question about sieving. When my compost comes out of the hotbin it is generally wet and claggy. This means it won’t easily pass through the sieve and instead usually blocks it. It is one of the most annoying things I have found with my hotbin composter. The compost is quite wet, no matter what I do. I suspect the new models might be better as they have a tap to drain the compost tea away (leachate) but mine doesn’t, so it pretty much stays in the bin. I can’t say for certain though as I’ve never tried the new hotbin.

So, compost coming out is a bit on the wet side and I want to sieve it? Well, the best way to dry it is to spread it out on a tarpaulin in the sun. It works fabulously, as long as there is sun but… this is Scotland folks. See the previous comment about the rain. So yup, if it looks like it’s going to rain and ruin my hard work, that compost gets bagged up and put away until it’s sunny again. Hence in, out, in, out… the compost hokey cokey.

If you want to see the whole process, including the sieving and see the finished compot then I’ve posted the video up in the header as usual. Have a watch to enjoy all the fun of making your own compost with my hotbin composter. And if you are interested in the actuall materials that go into my bin and how it works then there are a whol playlist of videos you might find useful, including me struggling to get the bin to work in the early days.

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