Tag Archive: master composter

wp_20161126_12_45_09_proI attended a celebration for the Norfolk Master Composters on Saturday. It’s ten years since the project was established, jointly run by Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council.

Several hundred volunteers have been trained up as ambassadors of compost making and waste reduction and they’ve delivered thousands of hours of advice to schools, communities and households, making Norfolk one of the most ‘compost friendly’ places in Britain.

Held at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Norwich, the celebration heard kind words from County Councillor Martin Wilby and Chief Executive of Garden Organic, James Campbell.

wp_20161126_12_46_14_proCertificates of hours served were also handed out, including one to longest serving volunteer George Muttby, who joined at the beginning of the project in 2006 and has committed over 300 hours of his time to the cause. He spoke passionately about his work with his local Primary School and how government needs to change legislation to make it easier for schools and other institutions to compost and recycle their waste.

wp_20161126_13_10_15_proIt was also an opportunity to have a tour of the interesting garden next to the Cathedral (I’ll be doing a separate post about this) and the cathedral itself, including clambering up narrow stairways to walk inside the nave roof, around the high gallery at the crossing point and up to the top of the tower, from where we had a wonderful view across Norwich to the coast and surrounding countryside.

We had a chance to make some christmas decorations too and had a tasty lunch to follow with a piece of the celebration cake to finish.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

Old School Gardener


Gold for Norfolk Master Composters

Adding home made compost or other organic matter to your soil will improve its structure and nutrient levels

‘Getting their hands dirty – and encouraging others to do the same – has paid off handsomely for Norfolk’s Master Composters who have won a national golden Green Apple Award for helping to stop thousands of tonnes of waste from being landfilled in Norfolk….’

Where's Wally? 250 Master Gardeners and Composters (including me) line up for the annual group photo

Where’s Wally? 250 Master Gardeners and Composters (including me) line up for the annual group photo

It was an early start- 5.45.a.m to be precise. Having travelled into Norwich and boarded a coach, we set off for Ryton Gardens, near Coventry. Garden Organic’s HQ, formerly known as the ‘Henry Doubleday Research Association’ in honour of the pioneer organic grower, presents a rich mix of gardens aimed at informing, educating and inspiring gardeners in the ‘organic way’.

I attended the annual ‘Masters Conference’ last year and got to see the gardens for the first time too. This year’s visit was equally interesting and energising, not least due to the concentration of 250 plus growing and composting enthusiasts in one place for the full day conference.

No, not a set from 'Dr. Who', just a display of 'dalek' and other types of compost bin!

No, not a set from ‘Dr. Who’, just a display of ‘dalek’ and other types of compost bin!

Garden Organic do things right – a highly professional outfit, with some world class credentials when it comes to research and education in organic growing, they value their volunteers, and this shows. Little, but important touches like personalised ‘goody bags’, name badges and schedules as well as the cheery welcome from the large number of staff and volunteers around helped to make the day a big success. And of course there are the annual awards, lots of cake and coffee and the group photo that all bind this volunteer community together in their ‘crusade’ for food growing and composting.

One of two Cakes specially made to celebrate the conference-a masterly effort from a Norfiolk Cake maker!

One of two Cakes specially made to celebrate the conference-a masterly effort from a Norfolk Cake maker!

It was interesting finding more out about community composting, some of the ‘goodies’ in the garden (as far as bugs are concerned) and of how projects are using food growing to reach communities that find it difficult to fully engage with society for various reasons.There were also some wonderful tales of Master Gardeners and Composters from around the country who are helping people not only to grow food, but to ‘grow’ themselves! And several of these were from Norfolk.

Apart from the chance to look round the gardens once more, the highlight was veteran naturalist Chris Baines, who gave an inspiring talk about how important it is to create parks, gardens and other green spaces in an increasingly urbanised world to help keep cities cool, air clean, provide habitats for wildlife and psychological respite from living and working places that will in all probability become ever more hectic, hassled and hot! He shared some encouraging signs that developers are starting to integrate such features as ‘rain gardens’ and other nature havens in their plans.

Further information:

Ryton Gardens

Garden Organic

Master Gardener

Master Composter/ Home Composting

Old School Gardener

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The Kitchen Garden at Old School Garden

The Kitchen Garden at Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

As I write to you on midsummer day it’s cloudy and rain threatens. We have had some warm spells and even some sunshine, but you get the feeling that ‘proper summer’ has yet to find its way to Norfolk. I know that you’ve had pretty similar weather in your neck of the woods and no doubt you’re as curious as me as to the way the ‘late’ (read almost non-existent) spring has had an impact on the plants. A few pointers from Old School Garden as I write:

  • the Magnolia is still in flower as are the Siberian Wallflowers, Pansies and Violas
  • Sweet Williams are just about coming into flower but the pink Peonies, though with huge fat flower buds, have yet to fully unfurl (having said that the earlier, red varieties have been and gone)
  • Irises are looking good (though last year’s Iris Rust problem has retuned to some)
  • Carrots and Broad beans probably need a further week or two to be fully ready for harvesting
  • Second early (but not first early) potatoes are flowering
  • Lettuces are ready to crop

So it’s a story of some things flowering late and running into other things which is making for some interesting combinations and a few weeks of intense colour; certainly the best show at this time of year I can remember for some time!

Rather than spend a lot of words telling you about my gardening activities in the last month I thought that I’d let ‘the pictures do the talking’ so I’ve included three photo galleries and will give you a few guiding comments for each. The first one is a few pictures of the Gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, where the Education Garden I redesigned and with volunteer support, replanted last year is looking superb. A mass of pink and orange oriental poppies along with Salvia ‘Mainacht’  with the billowing leaves of Macleaya in the background, are putting on a wonderful show, remarked on by many visitors, it appears.

There’s a call for me to provide some information on the plants included in the borders, so I’ll have to dig out my original design and plant lists and put together some sort of illustrated guide. Likewise, after a clean out and weed, the Wildlife Garden, and especially the pond and bog areas, are filling out nicely, though there doesn’t appear to be much wildlife evident to date. Monday is going to be something special here as BBC Radio 4’s ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ is being recorded at the Museum and I’ll be on hand to help guide the audience and provide some information on the gardens. I’m not sure when this is broadcast but I’ll let you know when I’m sure, though I know that you’re a regular listener like me.

My voluntary work at the local Primary school continues with a regular weekly slot working with groups of children of different ages in the School Garden. You may have seen my recent post on the vertical planters we’ve made out of old wooden pallets – these are looking very colourful alongside the playground and I’m pleased to say that the children are being diligent in their watering duties. I’m going over there later today so will have a quick look to see that they’re holding up – I’m not sure the compost will hold in place especially if it gets at all dry. At yesterday’s session we weeded around the various veg beds and cracked open the first pods of Broad Beans which the children eagerly popped into their mouths – once I’d assured them that they would be deliciously sweet and tender – there came  a predictable ‘hmmm, yummy’ in response!

The other crops are all coming along well, and the attention to regular weeding and watering has really paid off this year, so we should be cropping potatoes, onions, cabbages, calabrese, peas, runner and broad beans, turnips and carrots soon! The other big  job was to empty out the wooden compost bins which have been clogged up with grass, sticks and soil over the years and are in real need of starting over once more. Hopefully, we’ll get this finished off today and we can then get more of a systematic approach to adding food peelings etc. from the kitchen as well as ‘green waste’ from the school lunches. The wormery seems to be going well, and the School Cook is pleased that the refuse collectors are now collecting food waste for composting at a local centre, too.

My other Master Gardener activity is picking up a bit. I’m doing stints at the Norfolk Show next week and also an event in a nearby village where some Lottery cash looks like it’s going to make some new adult education classes possible, including something from me on growing your own food or maybe design, depending on the level of interest. I’m going along to an open day on this to gauge interest and promote both Master Gardener and the idea of the courses, so we’ll see if anything comes of that.

As far as Old School Garden goes, I’ve mentioned the great show we’ve had recently so will let the photographs give you the details! Its been a month of systematic weeding around the different borders, finishing off staking the herbaceous perennials, dead heading and recently planting out the many annuals I’ve een raising from seed to plug gaps etc. I must say I’m pleased with the result, and after visiting a few gardens recently we’ve decided to open ours for charity in mid July. I’ll let you have details in due course, but we hope to make this a lively afternoon with advice from  my friends in the Master Gardener and Master Composter projects and of course plant sales and some delicious tea and cakes!

I hope that you enjoy the picture gallery which shows a few shots of different parts of the garden taken yesterday. As I was walking around I spotted a female blackbird raiding my cold frame and carrying off some poppy seedlings (and compost) in her beak! Having seen her later in the courtyard garden I suspect she’s gathering material for a new nest! We do seem to have had a lot of Blackbirds this year and they seem intent on disturbing the wood chip mulch I put on the long borders in search of food, with the result that sweeping the paths is rapidly becoming a daily chore!

Well,  matey, I hope this little update finds you and your good lady in the best of health. It’s great that you’re now well on the road to recovery and no doubt pleased that you can get outside and dig your patch once more. Did you manage to find any paid garden help? I know that the grass cutting is your biggest nightmare and this is one thing you could do with some help on. Or maybe you might think about turning some of that grass into flowering meadow? I’ve seen some lovely examples of mown paths through long grass recently that must be less maintenance heavy and more wildlife friendly too – worth a thought.

Well, bye for now and I’ll give you a further update next month, though in the mean time I’ll do a post next week about how the recording of ‘GQT’ goes and my experiences at the Norfolk Show.

all the best

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 20th May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 18th April May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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David Garrett from Garden Organic explaing how a 'Hot Bin' works

David Garrett from Garden Organic explaining how a ‘Hot Bin’ works

Since the beginning of the month local councils are having to pay around £100 per tonne of waste they dump in holes in the ground in Norfolk. Increases in the tax charged on ‘landfill’ (which makes up around 75% of the total charge) are becoming a significant cost to hard – pressed councils and by implication local Council Tax payers. So, in addition to the prime environmental reasons for diverting waste away for landfill, there is now an increasingly important economic driver. And this charge – which is planned to increase in years to come – could eventually help to make it economically viable to recycle a lot more of the stuff we stick in the ground – yoghurt pots and other hard plastics for example.

And the holes in the ground that readily lend themselves to landfill are also drying up, leading to controversial proposals for incineration plants which can generate useful heat at the same time. It is clear that reducing waste , re – using or recycling what we can, makes financial and environmental sense. This was the key message from a two day training course I attended last week, which now means that I can play my part in promoting sustainable approaches to waste – in my case and the 18 others who joined me on the training, as a ‘Master Composter’. In my case I don’t pretend to be an expert, as the title perhaps implies, more of an enthusiast expanding my knowledge and able to pass some of this on to others who can be convinced to recycle their green and food waste into ‘black gold’ – or compost for the garden if you like!

The local Master Composter scheme is run as a partnership between Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council and aims  to:

  • raise awareness of the benefits of composting to the public

  • encourage more people to compost at home

  • help those already composting to do so more effectively

  • encourage and support more community composting schemes

Those delivering the scheme are expected to give at least 30 hours of their time to preparing and delivering information and advice at events, to individuals, schools or to community composting schemes. There is a wealth of support and resources available to help in this including three sets of display materials, leaflets and rather natty digital microscopes so that you can see the mini creatures creating compost before your eyes – these are bound to be a hit with children and adults alike!

In the classroom- some of the trainee Master Composters

In the classroom- some of the trainee Master Composters

The two day training was inspiring , informative and lot of fun. After some introductory remarks about the scheme we were invited (‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ style), to take part in a quiz to focus on the sorts of mind boggling amounts of waste, money and other resources involved in the disposal and processing of household waste. We were then introduced to the different types of larger scale composting:

  • Centralised large scale purpose run, mainly open air facilities where large amounts of green and other organic waste are regularly turned and high temperatures achieved to produce a crumbly black material great as a soil improver
  • ‘In vessel’ or indoor facilities where material is once again handled on a large scale and the ‘cooking’ process begins inside before the material is transferred outside for ‘maturation’
  • On farm composting where farmers will create their own compost heaps from agricultural and animal waste
  • Community composting schemes where local groups offer to collect green waste from households, create compost at a central site and then give the resulting product back to eager gardeners

After a wholesome lunch we were whisked off to see two sites that rammed home the importance of composting, one landfill site the other an ‘in vessel’ composting unit.

Edgefield Land fill site- coming to the end of its life

Edgefield Land fill site- coming to the end of its life

 Edgefield Landfill site in north Norfolk, has been operating a good few years and is focused on filling in holes in the ground left by quarrying. Now into its last few months of life, this site shows how landfill practices have developed over the years. Once these holes were unlined and the ‘leachate‘ (nasty liquid) running away from the rubbish was allowed to do so without any monitoring or control, so the area’s water courses were expected to somehow deal with the poison seeping into them. Now plastic sheeting is laid in the holes and careful measures taken to both monitor the release of leachate and methane gas as well as drawing both of these substances off, the leachate going for reprocessing at a sewage treatment works, the gas used on site to power  an electricity generator which is contributing power to the national grid. As we stood atop the windy mound of rubbish already topped off with soil we could see the open scar of the remaining tip which is due to be finished off in the next couple of months at which point the site will be closed, grassed over, trees planted and monitoring continued.

Our second visit was to the Marsham Composting Facility of Norfolk Environmental Waste Services (‘NEWS’ – a wholly owned company of the County Council). This impressive complex (not far from Old School Garden in fact) has been open about a year and takes in green and food waste collected by local District Councils  and others (who are charged for the amount they dump). I turns it into soil improver which is virtually all sold to a local farmer for use on his fields – and he is impressed with the results, it seems.

Waste material is dumped inside the main building where it is heaped against wooden barriers and the process of activation is started. Temperatures of 60C are achieved and once this process is well underway the material is moved outside into various bays where air is drawn through it by fan- assisted pipes and the cooking process continues until eventually temperatures die down to achieve the final product, which is collected in tractor – towed trailers and deposited on fields or in farmyard dumps awaiting the right time to apply it. The first facility of its kind locally, there seems to be scope for more as green and food waste collection increases. It would be great if the public could roll up and fill their own trailers with this ‘black gold’ – I’ve used something similar on my garden and it not only does great things to the soil, it also is dark enough to act as an attractive foil for the greens and other colours of the garden.


The second day of the training began with an overview of the composting process. A jigsaw of location, organic raw material, heat, water and air combine to produce a chemical reaction which decays and decomposes the green material and encourages a host of micro organisms plus other ‘critters’ who contribute most to this process. We also had a fun exercise exploring how to ‘sell’ the benefits of composting to a range of different ‘characters’ (I pretended to be a female student who was keen to do her bit to manage her own waste!). We distinguished between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ composting, the former where relatively large amounts of material are brought togetehr at once to generate high temperatures and the composting process is relatively fast, the latter more suited to smaller scale, occasional additions of organic waste and which takes longer. Ideally, you need to ‘turn’ your organic material in ‘hot’ composting and don’t in the ‘cold’ system.

After lunch two experienced Master Composters, Russell and Mary Baylin, described their experiences, which included representing the Master Composters at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Party last year! Becoming Master Composters in 2007, this couple are clearly dedicated to the whole composting cause, having been involved in many events around the county and working with schools and individuals to help them make the most of their green waste.

Russell and Mary Baylin, experienced Master Composters

Russell and Mary Baylin, experienced Master Composters

We went on to examine the range of opportunities for ‘getting the message across’ as Master Composters as well as rehearsing the sorts of answers we might give to frequently asked questions. So, for example, we know that compost is ready when its is dark in colour has little or no smell, is crumbly and relatively fine in texture, and we can use it to mulch important, hungry plants as well as a more general soil improver, maybe as a top-dressing to lawns  and in potting mixes.


The afternoon concluded with an examination of different types of composting boxes/ equipment – including a wormery (from which you get not only lovely fine worm – cast compost, but also a liquid fertiliser) a japanese style composter called a Bokashi (involving the intermingling of a special bran meal with green waste) and the latest ‘hot box’ being developed to fast process whole bin loads of material in a few weeks. We examined the pros and cons of each kind and who they might suit. I’m hopeful that my local school, can get a Wormery as way of using up the fruit, salad and other food waste from school lunches for example.


Following a quick tour of the gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum (our base for the two days) and a look at their larger scale composting facility, including leaf mould and loam making, we gathered up our folders, tee shirts and other resources and began to ponder how we can make the biggest impact on composting in Norfolk. I’m expecting to help my local primary school with its composting activities and we begin this on Thursday with a session with older children to look at composting and what the school already does, including engaging the School Cook to see if we can compost more kitchen waste to use in the School gardens! I’ll let you know how I get on!

Thanks to Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council Staff who made for such an enjoyable and useful event: Jane, the 2 Davids, Amanda and Alex

Old School Gardener

P.S. It’s International Composting Awareness Week on 6th – 12th May – decorate your own compost bin and win a prize! 

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