A Hot Composting Saga (Part 3) - Deja Vu all over again (Yogi Berra)

 Following on from Parts 1 and 2 ...

In order to make inroads into the clematis garden waste ...

Photo 1: Pre-Compost Storage Area
.. I would need to get at least one of my standby Super Compost bins running and preferably both of them. The first job was to empty the Super Compost Bin whose contents had been 'maturing' for 4 months over the 2022 -23 Winter (after an initial hot composting period of four weeks) ...

Photo 2: Five-Month Old Compost in Super Compost Bin

... the compost was transferred to one of my four 'maturation' bins (Photo 2) where it will spend at least six months before it is ready for garden use.

Photo 3: Compost Maturation Bins for Hot Composted Products

Once emptied, the bin was checked ...
Photo 4: Empty and ready to go

... and reassembled. I added a hot water bottle (2.5 litre), to give the new bin a boost, then filled it with a mixture of shredded clematis (Photo 1), fresh grass mowings, shredded paper, and a small amount of biochar (Photo 5). 

Photo 5: Hot Water Bottle and Compostable Matter (1st batch)

In total, about 80 litres of compostable matter was placed in the bin, and for good measure, I also added some urea dissolved in hot water to compensate for the dry shredded clematis and give a nitrogen boost to encourage rapid bacterial growth.

Normally, the bin contents would heat up to 60 ℃ within 48 hours but the temperature only ever reached 40 ℃, even after encouragement with additional hot water bottles. After 7 days, I decided to call it a day on this hot composting run, empty the bin and restart.

I made some small changes for the next attempt: bigger (5 litre) starter hot water bottle, urea solution spray to coat the compostable matter without overwetting, and packing the outside of the base unit with bark to reduce ingress of cold air at the bottom that may be cooling the heap (Photo 6).

Photo 6: 5L Hot Water Bottle and Partially-Filled Bin

There was a slight improvement with the internal temperature momentarily reaching 50 ℃ before cooling down to 30 - 40 ℃. This run was stopped after 8 days and the part-composted contents transferred to my HotBin which was happily chugging along at 60 ℃.

It was now time to give my second Super Compost Bin a try. This run was started with hot (50 - 60 ℃) part-composted material from my HotBin. Surely this couldn't fail. Yes it could. The half-ful bin momentarily achieved 50 ℃ but cooled down overnight to 30 - 40 ℃.

Both Super Compost bins had worked fine in the Autumn of 2022 and nothing had changed as far as I knew. The hot composting process seemed to be starting but the high temperatures were not being maintained. It was time to get a bit more high tech.

... to be continued.

A Hot Composting Saga (Part 2): "Eyes Bigger Than Your Belly"

The story continues from Part 1 ...

Before recklessly agreeing to take all my neighbour's garden waste, I probably should have given a little more thought to the amount and type of garden waste that I was planning to compost. In total, there were 23 very full plastic sacks: the pile shown in Photo 1 was less than half the amount. At roughly 80 litres per sack, there are nearly 2 cubic metres of garden waste, and probably more once the sack contents decompress! 

Photo 1: 10 Bags, less than half the garden waste

Since most of this garden waste was woody in nature (clematis stems), I would need to find a similar amount of truly green waste for a successful hot composting operation. Naturally, I will be shredding this garden waste to speed up the hot composting process and I will also need to have all three of my hot composting bins working [1], [2], [3], [4], [5].

It might take all summer to make significant inroads into this stockpile so I'd better find somewhere to store it. I shredded the contents of four sacks for immediate composting and put the rest out of sight down a side alley (Photo 2):

Photo 2: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The British idiom "eyes bigger than your belly" means to take more food than you can eat (literally) though it is also used in a more general sense of extending beyond one's capacity or capability. In polite company you might substitute 'stomach' for 'belly'.The American equivalent would be "biting off more than one can chew". Both idioms could be applied to this saga.

... to be continued.

A Hot Composting Saga (Part 1): When is Green Waste Not Green Waste?

Mary came home one day after having spoken to a neighbour who was putting out green waste for collection the next day by the dustbin men & women. Our neighbour had cut down a large amount of clematis growth and packed it in plastic bags - itself not an easy task. The bags, purchased from the local council, had a message printed on them:

This waste goes to landfill or incineration

Please consider home composting

Our neighbour was unaware of this small print and, not unreasonably, had assumed the local Council would compost the green waste at a local composting facility. Sometime in 2023, Herefordshire Council will start a fortnightly collection of seasonal garden waste but this service is not currently available

Clearly, we could not let this go to either landfill or the incinerator so I agreed to take all of our neighbour's green waste and compost it at home. Little did I know what a Herculean task I was about to take on. Although, in hindsight, a better description of the job might be Sisyphean.

... to be continued.


Frost Protection -Asparagus, Potatoes, Fruit Trees & Bushes

 On Sunday (23rd April), we were warned of widespread frost for Monday night and Tuesday morning due to an influx of Arctic weather (Figure 1). Subzero temperatures overnight were predicted even for  Herefordshire.

Figure 1: Sunday's Weather Forecast for Monday Night/Tuesday Morning (BBC)

This evening's forecast (24th April) has reined in those low temperatures somewhat so we may avoid a ground frost (Figure 2) tonight/tomorrow morning.

Figure 2: Monday's Weather Forecast for Monday Night/Tuesday Morning (BBC)

This news came a bit late as I had already taken frost-protection measures for my asparagus and potatoes. 

I covered the asparagus bed with a mulch of bark (added benefits include water retention, slow-release fertilizer and making the plot less attractive as a cat's toilet) to protect the sub-surface shoots. Then added a 'cloche' to protect the above-ground spears (Photo 1). In this case, the 'cloche' was a mini-greenhouse normally used with my Salad/Veg Planters.

Photo 1: Asparagus Bed Frost Protection

Since the frost is not predicted to be too severe (possibly non-existent), the apple, cherry, pear, and soft fruit trees/bushes should be fine.

Photo 2: Red Windsor Apple (23/4/23)
Photo 3: Stella Cherry Tree (15/4/23)
Photo 4: Comice Pear with Blackcurrants in the foreground (14/4/23)

However, the first potato shoots have just broken through (Photo 5) so will need some protection from the frost.

Photo 5: First Potato Shoots (23/4/23)

This is simply done by covering the emerging shoots with soil (earthing up) or, in this instance, with my garden compost (thereby adding extra slow-release nutrients at the same time).

Photo 6: Freshly-covered potato shoots (nothing to see here)


But Butt - Herb Garden

 Back in December last year (2022), one of our water butts developed a leak following a prolonged bout of frosty weather.

Photo 1: Frost Damage

The leaky butt has since been replaced with a slightly larger version (227 litres rather than 200 litres, Photo 2) ...

Photo 2: Replacement Butt in-situ

... but what to do with the old one? I suggested a herb garden close to the back door and therefore easily accessible to the kitchen.

The original, now defunct, waterbutt (identical to that shown in Photo 3) was installed in 2006/7 when Mary's Art Studio/Shed was built - so a decent lifespan cut short by -8 ℃ temperatures!

Photo 3: 200Litre Garden Waterbutt

I recovered the tap in case I needed it for one of the three remaining identical butts still in full working order. The barrel was cut (Scorpion electric saw) into roughly three equal sections. I had imagined the middle section would be act as a base to raise the soil-containing bottom section off the ground.

Photo 4: Two of the Three Waterbutt Sections

However, Mary pooh-poohed this idea ...

Video 1: Pooh-poohing is a serious matter

... and said she just wanted a single section containing a herb garden.

The container was placed near the back door, crocks placed in the bottom ...

Photo 5: Ready for the Soil/Compost

... and filled with a 50:50 blend of recovered coir compost and homemade garden compost. Mary has started to add a few herbs with more to follow:

Photo 6: Herb Garden starting to take shape

Unfortunately, it did mean two-thirds of the waterbutt were despatched to the local Waste & Recycling Centre rather than being re-purposed.

Stop and Smell the Flowers

 There is a decent amount of colour in the front garden wall at the moment ...

Photo 1: Front Garden Wall (11th April 2023)

Photo 2: Front Garden Wall (11th April 2023)

Photo 3: Front Garden Wall (11th April 2023)

... although it is the smell rather than the colour that has attracted a nearby neighbour.

Video 1: Smelling the Flowers 1

Probably the strongest smell is from this wallflower (Sugar Rush Orange F1) seen in Photo 1. Here is a close-up ...

Photo 4: Sugar Rush Orange F1 Wallflower

Dwarfing in habit and sweetly scented, it is ideal for walls and pots. It is certainly appreciated by passers-by.

Video 2: Smelling the Flowers 2

First Crop of the Year - Asparagus

 The first asparagus spear of 2023 was spotted on the 10th of April ...

Photo 1: Asparagus Spears (April 10th 2023)

... which was a few days earlier than 2022. However, in 2021, the first spears appeared nearly 2 weeks earlier at the end of March.

When the first asparagus spears emerge after their winter dormancy is dependent on the soil temperature as it warms up in late winter/early spring. Asparagus requires a soil temperature of at least 10 ℃, or maybe 5 ℃, for the shoots to start growing. I measured the soil temperature on the 18th April, after the emergence of several spears, using my well-used soil/compost thermometers (Photo 2). The larger dialled thermometer is measuring soil temperature at 30 cm depth (~ 9 ℃) and the smaller one at 10 cm (~13 ℃). 

Photo 2: Measuring soil temperature of the asparagus plot

The asparagus crowns were originally planted at a depth of about 20 cm. If I'd thought about a bit more then I would have started measuring the soil temperatures earlier in the season - maybe next year?!

Clearly, soil temperatures are now sufficient for the asparagus patch to start its productive phase.

The first appearance of an asparagus spear at this location (assuming the variety does not change) could be an example of a phenological measurement. At the moment, I only have three data points (2021, 2022 and 2023) so insufficient information to make any inferences - and not for a good number of years unless the climate undergoes some very rapid changes.

Nevertheless, in the absence of a time series on soil temperatures (ideal option), it might be possible to discern some patterns by looking at weather parameters that might reasonably affect soil temperature. For example, air temperatures (including daily/weekly/monthy minimum/maximum/average temperatures), sunshine hours, rainfall, wind speed/direction.

Looking first at mean (average) daily temperatures for the period January 1st to March 31st for each of the three years (2021-2023) - see Figures 3 - 5. Nothing in particular jumps out from the temperature profiles. 2022 had the more consistent temperature profile with fewer 'frosty' dips but also had the latest date for spear emergence. 2021 was the earliest by some distance with perhaps the most stable high March temperatures plus extra warmth at the end of that month - maybe that extra warmth was just enough to bring the early shoots to the surface.

Figure 3: Daily Average Temperatures for Jan-Mar 2021

Figure 4: Daily Average Temperatures for Jan-Mar 2022

Figure 5: Daily Average Temperatures for Jan-Mar 2023

 We shall consider sunshine next as this has a warming effect on the soil (Figures 6 -8). March 2021 ended with high average temperatures (Figure 3) and strong sunshine values (Figure 6) - both helpful for soil warming. However, March 2022 was sunnier than March 2023 despite the latter having an earlier appearance of asparagus spears.

Figure 6: Daily Solar Radiation Values for Jan-Mar 2021

Figure 7: Daily Solar Radiation Values for Jan-Mar 2022

Figure 8: Daily Solar Radiation Values for Jan-Mar 2023

Other temperature data (e.g. minimum daily) shows no obvious relationship with the first appearance date of asparagus shoots. Well, that will not stop us enjoying the first taste of asparagus this year - albeit, a rather small taste since this is the only spear available at this moment!!

Photo 3: First Asparagus Ready for Cutting (19/4/23)

View from the Rear Window - March 2023

"March 4th", the only day that's also a sentence" - John Green

"In March, Winter is holding back and Spring is pulling forward" - Jean Hersey

"Flowers and colours everywhere, I'm so glad that March is here" - Anamika Mishra

March 2023 in Herefordshire was grey and ordinary except for a sprinkling of snow on the 8th and 9th of the month (Photo 2). In fact, everything weatherwise was in moderation - it seemed to rain on most days, but only gently, with sunshine only an occasional intruder. Consequently, temperatures were restrained with no really hot or cold days and only the occasional overnight frost.

At the beginning of the month, the pale pastel colours of cherry blossom, hellebores and viburnum were dominant interspersed with flashes of colour from the daffodils, croci, pansies and primroses. (Photo 1). By the end of the month, colour vibrancy goes up a notch with the appearance of hyacinths and the first tulips (Photo 3) and the flowering cherries are in their pomp.

Photo 1: Rear Garden Scene on 2nd March 2023

In between, we had some snow (Photo 2) - a fairly uncommon occurence in Hereford these days though we can often still see it on the Welsh hills some 15-20 miles away.

Photo 2: Rear Garden Scene on 9th March 2023

Photo 3: Rear Garden Scene on 31st March 2023

March's daily photos are collated in the timelapse video below (Video 1) put together using Clipchamp on a Chromebook.

Video 1: Timelapse Video of Daily Rear Garden Photos for March 2023

Summary of Weather Parameters for March 2023

Cooling and Heating Degree Days have been added to the list. Sunshine hours are estimated from average daily solar radiation values measured by the Davis weather station. A list of average and total weather parameters is given in Table 1.

Mean daily temperatures were typical for March. Low pressure dominated the month resulting in less sunshine and higher rainfalls.

Table 1: Average/Total Weather Statistics for March 2023

March 2023

Weather Parameter



Average Monthly Temperature 

8 oC

Maximum Monthly Temperature

18 oC


Minimum Monthly Temperature

-3 oC


Number of Air Frost Days


Number of Hot Days (> 25 oC)


Monthly Precipitation

68.2 mm

Greatest 24 h Precipitation

15.2 mm

9th - 10th

Number of Dry Days


Monthly Sunshine Hours (estimated)


Average Wind Speed

4 km/h

Highest Wind Speed

51 km/h


Maximum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1034.3 hPa


Minimum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

980.4 hPa


Average Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1006.7 hPa

Heating Degree Days


Cooling Degree Days


Daily minimum and maximum temperatures are shown graphically in Figure 1. Cold for the first third of the month with temperatures picking up in the final two-thirds. Overall, temperatures were around the average for March.

Figure 1: Daily Minimum and Maximum Temperatures (March 2023)

Figure 2 presents the daily rainfall and sunshine hours (using solar radiation as a proxy). Relatively few sunny days, plenty of overcast skies and some rain on most days.

Figure 2: Daily Rainfall and Solar Radiation (Sunshine proxy) for March 2023

March temperature stats for the last four years (2020 - 2023) are shown in Figure 3. This year's mean monthly temperature turned out to be 'normal' based on this short time series. The number of frost days in 2023 was slightly higher than normal and we did not see daily maxima above 20 ℃ as we have in the previous two years.

Figure 3: March Temperature Data for the last four years (2020 - 2023)

Figure 4 compares sun, wind and rain values for the last four years. March 2023 had much higher rainfall, less sunshine and fewer dry days than any of the previous 3 years.

Figure 4: March's Rain, Sunshine and Wind Statistics for the last four years (2020 - 2023)

The UK Met Office report for March 2023 found this month to be the wettest in England and Wales since 1981. March 2023 was the third wettest in England and the fifth wettest in Wales since 1836. So definitely on the wet side of wet. Figure 5 shows the relative rainfall for the UK with Herefordshire marked by the red circle - measured precipitation was double the 1991-2020 average.

Figure 5: Herefordshire Rainfall in March 2023 (© UK Met Office)

Relative sunshine duration for the UK is shown in Figure 6 with Herefordshire marked in red. Sunshine hours were 50-70 % of those normally found in Herefordshire for the month of March (1991 - 2020 mean). Based on the last 4 years data from my Davis weather station, the sunshine duration for March 2023 was about 80% of the norm (2020-2022). 

Figure 6: Herefordshire Sunshine Hours in March 2023 (© UK Met Office)

Mean temperatures for the UK (Herefordshire marked in red) are indicated below in Figure 7. Very average for Herefordshire in agreement with the values reported from my weather station (see Figure 3).

Figure 7: Herefordshire Mean Temperature for March 2023 (© UK Met Office)

"March 2023 will be remembered for being a dull and wet month" - Dr Mark McCarthy (UK Met Office)

Jobs in the Garden

A busy time preparing for the growing season which starts in earnest next month
  • Pot washing & sterilizing, greenhouse/polytunnel cleaning
Photo 4: Greenhouse Cleaning
  • Potting on early seedlings in the greenhouse
  • Set up heated propagator in a spare room
  • Plant out recent plant purchases (wallflowers and hellebores)
  • Planted out bare root raspberry canes behind the plum and apple trees
  • Preparation of this season's onion and potato/sweetcorn plot
  • The usual composting tasks
  • Plant onion sets and seed potatoes
Flora and Fauna
  • 6 x Blue Tits
Photo 5: Blue Tit leaving bird feeder
  • 3 x Blackbirds (two male and one female)
Photo 6: Male Blackbird on a favourite evening perch
  • 2 x Collared Doves
  • 1 x Crow
  • 2 x Great tits
Photo 7: Great Tit
  • 3 x House Sparrows (one male and two female)
Photo 8: House Sparrows
  • 6 x Lesser Black-backed Gulls
  • 1 x Magpie
  • 1x Robin
Photo 9: Robin, exit stage right
  • 1 x Starling
  • 5 x Wood Pigeons
  • 1 x Wren
  • 1 x Holly Blue
  • 1 x Dead Rat (remains thereof)
And, finally, a few photos from the garden in March.

Photo 10: Daffodils on St David's Day 2023

Photo 11: Snowdrops and Croci on St Davis's Day 2023

Photo 12: Croci, St David's Day 2023

Photo 13: Table display of Pansies, Primroses and Cherry Trees!

Photo 14: Croci in the snow
Photo 15: Pear Buds about to burst (17th March 2023)

Photo 16: Snake's Head Fritillary (30th March)

Photo 17: Tulips (30th March)

Photo 18: Grape Hyacinth

Photo 19: Hyacinth

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