In a bid to be more eco-friendly we decided to start composting in 2011, or more correctly hot-composting (I will not explain what this is, if you don’t know you can probably stop reading now, or at least go and read one of the excellent online guides).

Over the last few years we have been as good as we can, recycling everything, choosing (where practical) the product with the least packaging and using less energy.

Last year, with the use of an energy monitor, we discovered that our ancient fridge and freezer (separate) were pulling 600W all the time and so our big eco-friendly thing last year was to replace the built-in fridge and freezer with an upright combined A-rated unit (the electricity savings we are making should have covered the cost of this by the end of 2011).

This year we want to reduce our gas bill plus the amount of rubbish we send to land fill. The gas bill is talked about on another post (as in we haven’t done anything about it yet), with regard to rubbish at the moment we send between 1/2 a bag and a bag a week to land fill. A big chunk of this is cat litter, food waste and nappies. The nappies will go away soon enough, but we know we could, with a hot-composter, convert almost all of the organic waste into soil.

The reason I say soil is because we will be composting cat litter. The jury is out on whether this is safe or not (and this is not the forum for debate), but as we don’t have anything in the garden that needs compost (we don’t grow anything but trees and weeds), we don’t know anyone who grows anything and we guess most local groups will not take cat-litter based compost we intend to place all the finished compost into the local recycling soil bin.

When it came to choosing a hot-composter there was no question we would go for the Green Johanna. That was because my parents live in Wiltshire where residents can get two composters for £25 each (normally £100 each), they got one and we got the other (sorry not to have a more technical reason, but all the others cost a fortune – for something that at the end of the day won’t save us any money). We also have a shady garden (the only bit not in the shade is our deck). As well as the composter we bought the winter jacket so the heap could operate all year.

I set the composter up at the end of the garden just after new year (it is very easy to assemble). I also put the winter jacket on, which is easy to get on and off. You are supposed to create a careful layering system at the bottom to get the whole process going, but I didn’t have all the necessary materials to hand (I know, failing to plan is planning to fail) so I used a very thick layer of leaves (stored in black bags since autumn) which I soaked through with water from the rain barrel.

Since then I have added the recommended materials from the kitchen bin (and garden as the weeds pop up), as well as the cat litter (we use bio-catolet which produces less mess than our old wood based litter, which produced sawdust the cats walked all over the house).

Each time I add material I don’t layer it but instead use the stirring stick to get it mixed well into the layer of leaves (I also add plenty of water from the rain barrel). I don’t see the point in layering or avoiding disturbing a layer since there is so far so little in there. This also, I figure, adds air to the mixture that would be missing since I failed to start the whole process off with a thick layer of broken twigs. Only time will tell I guess.we started just after new year and one month on some materials seem to be braking down very well. A Domino’s pizza box I tore into pieces is only visible here and there as small blobs of grey mush, some other things have become odd translucent bits of slime (I have no idea what they once were) and the cat litter has given everything a pulpy quality. The smell isn’t too bad; the cat litter does produce an ammonia-like smell once it’s ready to be changed (both our cats use the same litter tray so the litter has to be completely replaced every few days), which I think was causing the compost heap to smell of ammonia (rather than too much nitrogen rich waste).  The smell is significantly reduced if I soak the cat litter in plenty of rain water prior to putting it in the compost heap, which also helps stop the cat litter from absorbing all the moisture in the heap.

However all that said and the heap hasn’t really started to heat up, and is far from the rubbish eating machine I was hoping for (for example the leaves I put in to start with still seem to be unchanged). I hope this is due to the outside temperature (it’s been below zero most of the time since before Christmas) slowing the growth of bugs and the fact it’s only a few weeks old rather than because I failed, totally, to follow the instructions.