Gold Medal Worms and long hot summers: Wormery tips for the sun!

There are 28 species of earthworm native to the UK and of these 3 are particularly suitable for composting. After decades of research and experience, I am utterly convinced that the Tiger Worm (Eisenia Fetida) is the best for the job. They process more waste for their weight and survive in a wider variety of conditions. Dendrobaena or blue nose worms and ‘red worms’ are also good at the job and more widely available (and significantly cheaper) as they are widely used by anglers as bait. But in this British Olympic year as in all others, when it comes to worms we are proud to go for Gold and are content to leave Silver and Bronze to others!

Whichever of the top three composting worms you happen use, they will operate year round, but they will thrive and work best within the temperature range we humans tend to feel comfortable in. So in totally non-scientific terms that’s not too hot and not too cold.

Worms will die if they get too hot or too cold so they need a little help to work to their best. A few simple common sense tips will help keep your wormery working well through our long hot summers (if only!).

1) Firstly, the more established your wormery the more it is naturally protected from the extremes of temperature, as the organic waste and compost acts as an insulator.

2) Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sun and move your wormery into shade.

3) If the compost becomes dry, sprinkle or spray some water over the compost; don’t drench it. Whilst this is an unusual problem, it is a tad more likely in multi tray wormeries than the classic dual chamber models.

4) If you go away on holiday, you don’t have to get family or friends in to look after it. Simply give it an extra feed of kitchen waste and as an additional protection cover the top layer of waste with a piece of sacking, old carpet or moisture mat. Leave the tap open (with a suitable container underneath) and the worms should be fine for several weeks.

5) Remember that the warmer months are the most productive for your wormery so feed less in winter and more in summer and you are on your way to success.

6) If possible, moving your Wormery inside to a shed or garage, outhouse or conservatory, offers several advantages as the temperatures are more stable and so the worms will be more efficient (but please not greenhouses in the summer!).

With a little thought and care, your wormery should work very well through the Great British Summer and cope with our winter months as well.

After all the rain of late I hope we can all now put this to the test and prove the truth of this advice over the next few months. I can’t wait for the tabloid headline – “Phew, what a Scorcher”!!!

All in a day’s work: Our first ever summertime Water Butt Sale!

After over 20 years successful and enjoyable years in HR management, I finally gave in to my ever growing entrepreneurial drive and creative urges and left the security of a large multinational company environment and set up Original Organics. In true Del boy style, I was confident that next year I’d be a millionaire ….and 20 some years on, I still am! Indeed next year’s business plan is always confident about increasing sales and holding or reducing our costs; those very sales and savings we didn’t quite manage last year or this year.

Now, running your own business offers several benefits along with a multitude of problems (sorry opportunities?) difficulties (sorry challenges) and surprises (the good and the less so!).

Come with me now and forget the last two months of rain and blustery winds and more rain. Cast your mind back to late February and March when it was dry and sun was threatened and there was much publicity and concern about pending water shortages and up and coming hose pipe bans in several regions across the country.

At this time we experienced a growing demand for water butts, with the Great British public galvanised into action to win through the forecast difficulties of parched lawns, dirty cars and unwashed windows. In all the gloom and doom there were warnings of a near waterless future for other than essential needs. Oh what a difference a month makes!

So the threatened worsening water shortage rapidly led to a very speedy and major increase in demand for water butts. As one of the largest water butt suppliers on the internet and with an offering we believe to be the widest range available at one site in the country we were well set to receive, process and benefit from a veritable boom in demand. Over a mere ten days, demand increased from normal to three times normal to nearly twenty times normal and it stayed there. This was quite unprecedented and took us well into uncharted territory. Nevertheless, our stocks were good, our supply lines strong and our relations with several key suppliers little short of excellent. In the rather small pool of domestic water butts we are a fairly large fish.

Things were looking so good that even our accountant Mike had a smile on his face and you can take it from me that this is less than a normal occurrence.

Two weeks into this little sales bonanza and all was going well. All the team were working long hours and we had recruited additional help to man the phones and help us produce, wrap, pack and despatch. Week three broadly followed the pattern, but we heard from a key supplier that one of their Water Butt moulds had to be taken out of production for essential maintenance and this was at the height of an all-time peak on demand for their particular product.

Well as you can probably appreciate, this sort of setback is all in a day’s work for a small flexible business with the determination to win through and look after all its’ customers. Demand was strong and we had several other decent supply lines. Our immediate reaction was to contact another major long established supplier (part of the Fiskars group – six letters starts with S and ends in y) and see if we could increase our orders to them to meet this exceptional demand.  “No problem” was their delighted reaction and we placed and paid for £50k worth of product at bulk discount prices, over several orders and several weeks. Now, £50k may be but petty cash to a Google or an Apple, but it’s a rather large investment, financed by overdraft for us.

Having secured this compensatory supply line and based upon clear promises received we kept three key products on our website marked up as available within a week – ay and there’s the rub as the great Bard might have said. As days passed, stock levels rapidly dwindled and we were pushing hard for delivery dates. Well to cut to the quick we had all orders with this supplier (some as old as 5 weeks) cancelled without notice or reason. It subsequently appears that a large multinational DIY chain (no names, but ‘you can do it when…’!) had bulldozed us and presumably others out of the way and exclusively bought up the last and next few months of production.

Furious, appalled, bemused and upset are words which don’t get close to describing my feelings at this news. I am reminded of the words of an old music hall song by Billy Bennett entitled She was poor but she was honest (or something similar). The chorus of which goes something like:-

It’s the same the whole world over,
It’s the poor what gets the blame,
It’s the rich what gets the pleasure,
Ain’t it all a bloomin shame?

There we were suddenly and unexpectedly ousted from a long established trading relationship in our most critical hour of both opportunity and need by a, ‘Jonny come lately’ (to water butts at least!) DIY chain (maybe we should start selling plasterboard and nails in retaliation). So we were left floundering like a fish out of water, promises we had made in good faith now became unfulfilled and I fear that our honest explanations sounded rather like hollow excuses to some of our patient customers.

We emailed all waiting customers we could with an apology and explanation and offered immediate refunds to anyone who didn’t want to wait for their Water Butt to be back in stock. More pleasingly I received scores of replies expressing understanding of the situation and thanks for being kept informed.

However and quite understandably you can’t cover all the doors or please all the people all of the time and the result was a perhaps understandable (if in reality rather tough) – hard hitting and hurting campaigns against us on twitter and Facebook. Despite our best endeavours and best intents we had effectively and quite unintentionally broken the golden rule of customer service i.e. service delivered must match or better better the service advertised.

With the loss of this key supplier deal we rapidly sourced water butts from several new suppliers in the UK and overseas. In our determination to meet customer demand we placed orders at over 12 times our normal requirements and within a few (rather long) weeks we had restored the balance and caught up with 98% of the backlog.

Waterbutt StocksThen, almost as soon as it had started, the ‘drought’ ended and heavily cometh the rains and winds and even more rains from Lands’ end to Lerwick and from Castlederg to Great Yarmouth the nation had a good wetting north, south, east and west and the threat of drought receded rather swiftly.

By now virtually (but not quite) all customers had received their order or a full refund as they preferred and we had sold a huge number of butts but had a huge number left in stock.

Waterbutt StocksThis all brings me to the reason behind our first ever summertime Water Butt sale. We quite simply have too much stock in the yard and too little cash in the bank, so are discounting many Water Butt lines and offering it out at reduced prices to help our customers and ourselves.  You can have a look at our sale now on our dedicated Water Butt website, WaterButtsDirect

HR management in a large conglomerate seems quite attractive at times!

– Clive

Why I support Gary!

A personal post this one, yes, but about a subject very close to my heart.  I am sure readers won’t mind me publicising my support!

Gary McKinnon and his mum Janis SharpComputer ‘hacker’ Gary McKinnon, who has Aspergers syndrome, is at serious risk of suicide, after the home secretary rejected a last-ditch attempt to prevent his extradition to the US.  Last week, Alan Johnson ordered McKinnon’s removal to the US on charges of breaching US military and NASA computers, despite claims by his lawyers that extradition would make the 43-year-old’s death “virtually certain”.

The secretary of state is of the firm view that McKinnon’s extradition would not be incompatible with his human  rights so his extradition to the USA must proceed forthwith.  Well I am of the utter conviction that the Secretary of state is wrong and morally bankrupt.

The decision, described by lawyers as “callous”, has prompted fresh fears about McKinnon’s well-being. Alan Johnsons  letter rejected new expert medical evidence that McKinnon’s health had deteriorated dramatically since losing his case in the high court in July, and meant that extradition would violate his right to life.

“Gary is at risk of suicide, I’m extremely worried about him,” said McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp.  “This government is terrified of speaking up to America, and now they are allowing vulnerable people to be pursued for non-violent crime when they should be going after terrorists.”

Mckinnon’s lawyer, Karen Todner, said she planned to start a judicial review of the home secretary’s decision.  “We cannot give up because in some ways it’s like dealing with a death row case, and we genuinely believe Gary’s life is at stake here,” she said.

So why do I Support Garry McKinnon? Why am I arguing with the appalling decision of the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson not to stop the extradition and why am I blogging about this rather than promoting Wormeries and recycling?

Is it because :-

– I, like many others believe that if he is to be tried, then he should stand trial here and face British justice.

– That releasing him to the mercy of a country that still executes juveniles and recently condoned and practised water boarding is abhorrent.

– He immediately confessed and didn’t realise he had done wrong.

– All he is guilty of is embarrassing the pentagon.

– That it is a vital and perhaps the first requirement of government that it protects its own citizens.

– That the USA should rather be harnessing his manifest talents, rather than prosecuting him.

– Aspergers syndrome is the  higher functioning end of the Autistic Spectrum Disorder and is a well known, serious, profound and lifelong condition.

– That as a compassionate country we should help our citizens rather than condemn them to a prison sentence on foreign soil

– That it is an embarrassment and disgrace that we inappropriately Kowtow to our American allies. Friends should be strong together, not in the others shadow.

– He is a very vulnerable man and with his family has already suffered quite unnecessarily and far too much.

– The computers that were hacked did not have adequate security in place. Anybody with a wireless connection has better protection.

– If the data was as important as US officials claim, then why was it not protected adequately?

– I am the father of a more severely Autistic son and have some insight into the nature of Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

– That Alan Johnson has an army of advisors and bureaucrats available to him but seems unable to understand the nature of Autism. A simple visit to www.nas.org.uk would resolve this!

– That it is far harder to extradite someone from the USA to Britain than visa versa – and this is simply wrong.

– I believe compassion, decency, understanding and the demands of natural justice outweigh any wish to win brownie points from  America.

Well yes it is each and every one of the above actually!  It appears to me that all Gary is guilty of is of being a high functioning autism ‘sufferer’ and something of a UFO ‘geek’.

If this rings any bells or touches any cords for you then please go here to sign the petition and to http://freegary.org.uk/ and follow Gary’s mum, Janis Sharp, on twitter.

Thank you for reading.

Clive Roberts (MD, Original Organics)

Bokashi Composting, but ‘don’t mention the war’

Double Bokashi BucketSo Liam pops his head round the door and suggests I should write a blog about Bokashi composting. A fairly reasonable and straightforward request you might think – but it took me on a winding journey back through a bit of family and world history to achieve the simple result asked of me.

My Uncle Dennis died 7 years ago and my father 4 years later. Although brothers they were very different people. They did however share a steadfast set of values and moral beliefs summed up in the words, honesty, decency, duty, fairness and integrity. Like many sincere, caring and intelligent people both were what used to be called ‘left of centre’ politically and both served their country and more during the Second World War.

My father was a pilot and navigator with the RAF serving in coastal and bomber commands during the war and moving on to organisational development  and officer training roles from 45 to 58. My uncle served with the British army and their allies in Burma and along with too many thousands of others was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.

Of every 100 air crew officers who signed up along with my father in 1938 of those in bomber command less than 38 saw VE day. A Bomber Command crew member had a worse chance of survival than an infantry officer in World War I. I believe this experience seriously affected my father’s life thereafter – he had few close friends for the rest of his life and you don’t need a PhD in Psychology to see why.  These remarkably brave men were, of course, engaged in major purposeful aggressive action against the Axis powers.
What then of the C. 30% of prisoners of war (by definition non combatants ) who did not come through the terrible treatment  and appalling conditions of brutality, barbarism, torture and starvation imposed by their captors in the far East not to mention the illness, shortened lives and trauma for the survivors. For Dennis his eyesight was badly damaged, Malaria recurred and the hidden damage was there for all not to see (if you follow) for the rest of his life.

So from very different wartime experiences both brothers, no doubt like thousands upon thousands of others ‘chose’ the quiet, stoical, and perhaps somewhat isolating approach of internalising their experiences and of rarely discussing them even with, or perhaps particularly with close family. It was indeed at rare, unusual yet revealing and enlightening moments when I could share a brief but deep discussion about the war with my father.

BokashiAll very interesting but ‘what about the Bokashi’ Do I hear my reader cry? OK – bear with me just a little longer if you will…

When Dennis and his comrades were finally liberated in 1945 it was 11 months until he returned home to his wife. Many of the liberated prisoners were so ill, emaciated and weak that it was judged bad for civilian morale for them to return to the UK and be seen in such a ‘pathetic’ state. They needed serious medical attention and some serious rest and recuperation. So it was Blighty by way of a long stay over with our Canadian allies for thousands too ill and no doubt disinclined to complain.

Now, perhaps understandably all this lead to many survivors and their families having less than totally forgiving and friendly thoughts towards  the defeated Japanese Empire. Although anti German feelings were clearly very strong in those soon after the war years – this has dwindled and changed over the decades that followed. Today any vestiges of enmity tend to be confined to the football field. Germany has changed, faced up to its past; its atrocities and the horrendous doings of Hitler and his band of sadistic, psychopathic fascist thugs. Apologise made and repeated; bridges built; talks talked and walks walked and to their utter credit to deny the holocaust in Germany today is a criminal and imprisonable offence.

Possibly for deep historical and cultural reasons well beyond my ken, Japan took a different route. Emperor Hirohito was allowed to remain as titular head of state after the war courtesy of General Mac Arthur and our American friends and there was and some might say still is, an ambivalence about their past. Japanese school history books make less than complete and accurate references to the war and war criminals are still revered by some. Actions and mistakes have perhaps not been squarely faced up to as they have elsewhere.

The saying is that history is written by the victors. Whilst in the obvious sense this is true, it is at the same time grossly over simplistic to the risk of obscuring as much as it enlightens.

Now, I am far from an expert and the deep and historically rooted cultural traditions of the Japanese peoples are no doubt honourable; and the answer to the conundrum of their post war stance may well be hidden from me within the complexity of anthropology. However in over simplistic terms it was this apparent ambivalence and above all else the lack of an open and totally unequivocal apology for war crimes that meant that during my youth, households in our extended family (and I suspect many others) went decade after decade without a Japanese car, microwave, video or other Japanese made electrical or electronic gismo.

Time heals and as the older generations die out (no chrysanthemums in the wreaths) and the newer ones grow up- memories mellow and attitudes change. This is good and right and proper – for we all have to eventually forgive although not for me to forget – that may be for future generations but I hope not, for if we don’t learn from our history we cease to learn anything and if we cease to learn we may just as well cease to be.

So this verbose attempt at relevance, succinctness and attempting to follow Basil Fawlty’s advice of not mentioning the war has manifestly failed but it brings me at last to Bokashi bins and composting, a Japanese invention which I am pleased to embrace and to extol the many virtues and benefits thereof.

Bokashi is a Japanese word meaning fermented organic matter. It is a form of intensive composting using a starter culture of effective Microorganisms (EM). The culture is a bit like making Yogurt or a ginger beer plant in that it grows and can be used and reused over and over.  It is made by inoculating a suitable medium such as wheat or rice bran (but technically any organic matter from sawdust to beer will work) with EM, water and usually some molasses to speed up the process.

Once made this Bokashi mix can be used easily to speed up the fermentation and breakdown of kitchen food waste.   The speeded up fermentation should virtually eliminate any risk of unpleasant smell and the waste is ready for the next stage within a few weeks. The next stage is simply to dig it into the garden or add it to your Wormery or garden Composter. The waste doesn’t so much rot or decompose and the product is rather different in appearance than compost. It retains more of its original shape, appearance and structure and looks as though it has been pickled. Garden soil, your Wormery or composter will soon finish the job.

Bokashi bins are sealed and have a tap to capture the excellent juice which ids a concentrated plant food in itself. Interestingly if you don’t have mains drainage and rely on a septic tank or similar then Bokashi juice will help maintain a healthy environment and improve its performance.

The EM are just natural lactic acid and phototropic bacteria and yeast whish form a microbial community within the food waste to help its rapid processing. All you have to do is intersperse layers off food waste with a sprinkling of the activated bran and nature will do the rest simply and efficiently. Moreover it will deal with cooked waste as well even bits of meat and fish.

Various propriety Bokashi bins and the inoculated bran are widely available on the web and increasingly in the shops and as you might expect we do two versions ourselves. (from just £19.56!)

So it’s a big thank you to the Japanese for devising this remarkable simple, efficient, fascinating and clean form of organic waste recycling.

Thanks for reading.

Clive

And the leaves that are green… turn to brown

(with apologies to Paul and Art)

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

Well as the rather disappointing wet and wintery Summer edges into Autumn, the season may just be catching up with the weather!

Here in rural Devon the harvest is almost in and the maize is as high (as it is allegedly in Oklahoma) as an Elephants eye.  But the harvest I am looking forward to is plentiful organic, soil enriching and although not edible it is free.

In fact as is sadly often the case with what is plentiful and free it is so often ignored, neglected, wasted and unwanted by so many.  My free harvest that is simply leaves, leaves from the millions of deciduous trees which enhance our lovely island.  For with but a modican of knowledge, minimum effort and some patience nature will turn your lawn rakings, boarder clean up and path sweepings into a rather magical and special compost known as leafmould.

Turning one mans problematic waste into a truly excellent natural and organic soil enricher and conditioner arguably better, and certainly more environmentally friendly, than peat is but a small chore  and if like me you love getting down to earth in the garden then it is rather fun!

Turning your pile of leaves into leafmould is simple.  Firstly decide upon your container.  This will depend upon the quantity you have at your disposal.  A couple of large black dustbin bags with a few holes punched in them will suffice for the odd wheelbarrow load.  For larger quantities a few wooden sticks with chicken wire attached can cope with just about all you’ve got.  Proprietary leafmould makers are, of course, available on line from quality websites……..OK enough said.

I’ve written a guide to getting the best leafmould possible and was going to post it here – but Liam thought it was good enough to go on the main website so I’ll post a link to it instead :-

How to make great leafmould at home

Enjoy!

Clive Roberts