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Home composting – the breakdown!

Here at the farm, we are BIG fans of compost!

We save all our food scraps and tip them into our garden compost heap.

There are lots of ways to bring compost into your life, even if you’re not feeding an army of vegetable fiends twice a day…

Good compost is made from a mix of ingredients – the wider the diversity, the better the compost. You can’t just put veg scraps in a place and expect compost. This makes the ‘not good’ bacteria and not the ‘good’ bacteria.

For a compost pile to work its magic, it needs a balance of carbon-rich ingredients and nitrogen-rich ingredients. Carbon-rich material is normally old and woody whereas nitrogen-rich material comes from fresh, new growth and softer plant matter. 

As plants develop, the nitrogen from the new growth travels down the plant into the roots. That’s why it’s good to leave the roots in the ground! This way, the nitrogen returns to the soil and the soil food web is undisturbed.

We add carbon into our mix by using… Hemp! 

Hemp straw bales are perfect and we also use it as mulch on top of the beds as this adds organic matter to the soil.

Last year, Tom and Alfie had the wonderful idea of building an outdoor shower using a hot compost technique to heat the water. Hardwick Estate is a working woodland, so there’s a lot of wood chip going to waste from the tree surgeons around the farm.

We created an account with Arbtalk and now we get deliveries of fresh wood chip once a month or so! We pile this on top of the piping and it heats the water to a whopping 50 degrees.

With the smell of pine in the morning and a fresh breeze to dry off, the shower is a real composty treat!

There are two main methods of composting. Here’s how to compost in your garden:

1. Short term

Also known as the “Berkeley method” or the “18-day compost”

Normally the compost pile will need more than 18 days as this is accurate if all the material is perfectly chopped up and prepared. That’s not really our composting vibe! The pile needs to reach 55/60 degrees in order to kill off any pathogens (such as powdery mildew), and to properly decompose any weed seeds or roots (like nettles or rhizomes) to avoid spreading them around your garden. 

We don’t always get around to turning our piles quite as often as is necessary for this method, so our compost can take a little longer to finish brewing! Some people are very accurate in getting the right balance of fresh green nitrogen rich materials to old dry woody carbon materials. We’re learning as we go along to get the balance right.

2. Long term

With this method, there’s a lot less to worry about. Moisture isn’t as big a deal because the pile is out in the open. The balance is more forgiving but you still need to make sure there’s lots of carbon in the mix. 

This 6-12 month cold composting technique will not destroy the pathogens, weed seeds or roots. The heat comes from the activity of thermophilic bacteria which will happily do its composting thing as long as they have the right environment. 

How to make your own hot compost:

Make a pile of about 1 cubic meter. We use 1 tonne bags but you can use a wooden bay or pig wire. The balance of carbon to nitrogen needs to be just right. In total, it should be 25-30:1 of carbon:nitrogen. 

Old, woody materials have a higher carbon concentration.

For example, wood chips and cardboard are around 350-400:1 and will take a long time to decompose on their own.

That’s why wood chips are perfect for the compost shower!

Grass cuttings are around 20:1, cow manure is 16:1 and urine is 1:1 which is why it’s good to wee on your compost! 

For the pile to work, it needs to have plenty of air flow to stay aerobic. To do this, you need to turn the pile regularly. For the 18 day compost method, you should leave it for 4 days then turn every other day until it’s ready.

How do you know when it’s ready?

When you have worms!

These little fellas are a great indicator that the pile has cooled down enough as they don’t like the high temperatures. The mixture should also be dark brown in colour and smell like a woodland floor. 

Be careful if you’re using ingredients that are lumpy or sloppy (like cow manure) as this will inhibit the airflow in your pile.

You want to have all the ingredients chopped up small – but not too small! If you’re getting closer to sawdust size, it can also become sloppy and make your pile anaerobic. 

Once the material is nicely broken down and soft, the compost goes back onto our veggie patches in the polytunnel to help the new vegetables grow. What a satisfying cycle!

Composting is an amazing way to use food and garden waste, as well as feeding the soil food web and the microbial life. In healthy soils, more water is retained and the microbiome is more diverse. This reduces desertification and keeps the soil where it should be – on the ground!

Do you have any hot composting tips? Let us know!

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Hemp for the future

Imagine hemp for a moment... What comes to mind?

Hemp leaf

Five years ago, it wouldn’t be so far fetched if mention of this much talked about plant drummed up images of coarse-fibred wallets patched with badges from far corners of the earth, or black and white film reel of thick-set naval ropes tightly wound around iron mooring pulls. Lately, you’d be excused if your thoughts jumped straight to a pom hibiscus CBD-infused sparkling water. The recent re-emergence of hemp into the mainstream markets of the western world may be resetting your understanding of the versatility of this much misunderstood plant. Its uses and potential stretch far beyond the pages of hipster magazines. At Hempen, what excites us is the role hemp is already playing in addressing a whole host of ecological, climatic and social challenges. 

During the second world war, the US government’s Department of Agriculture, made a film called Hemp for Victory, encouraging farmers to grow hemp. US officials recognised the instrumental role hemp could play in rope, rigging and canvas, bolstering naval power. Their sentiment echoes the drive under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to produce hemp for British national security in the 16th and 18th century. 

Today, industrial hemp has a place at the table, but for a very different type of victory and a very different type of security. When you start to look into it, hemp appears a bit of a miracle plant. Can hemp help us overcome the many extractive and exploitative practices that threaten life on earth and offer sustainable and regenerative alternatives for both land and life?

The carbon sink

Hemp takes large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, making it a perfect carbon sink. more than most plants per acre, and more than forests or other commercial crops. Though it’s not an exact science, some estimates say one hectare of industrial hemp can sequester approximately 15 tonnes of CO2. Hemp absorbs more carbon per hectare than forests or other commercial crops. Where the carbon is incorporated into the plant itself, it can then be processed and stored into building materials such as Hempcrete, and fibres, such as hemp cloth. When you consider that cotton requires more water, nutrients, land and is slower to grow, hemp is a durable and more ecologically gentle option.

From a construction perspective, Hempcrete is a natural building material that relies on plant not mineral-based inputs. It is 7 times stronger and half as heavy as concrete, with insulating properties that also reduce the energy demands of the building. Carbon passive homes and clothes are a thing – and an amazing one at that!

Organic hemp growing

The Soil Improver

Industrial hemp grows with a deep tap root, enabling access to water and nutrient supplies deep in the soil. The root also helps to improve soil structure and nutrient availability for future crops, leaving the ground in a better condition to when it is planted. Hemp grows quickly and easily, and can germinate at temperatures just above freezing meaning it can grow in many parts of the world and using organic methods – so no need for chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The power house

When tasked with imagining a future world with cleaner air, soils, and oceans, it is not long before conversations stray into the arena of energy storage. Yes we can harness the power of wind, sun and waves, but how can we lock it in for when we need it? Enter, hemp. Again. Research finds that the waste fibres from hemp crops can be “cooked” to produce carbon nanosheets that meet graphene at its game to produce energy storage devices. Hemp alternatives to graphene are a fraction of the price, made with bark fibre leftovers.

The ocean protector

Unlike conventional plastics, derived from petrochemicals, and choking ocean life with debris that take several centuries to degrade, hemp plastic is biodegradable. It takes 3-6 months to biodegrade and, rather than rely on fossil-fuel heavy processes which cause damage to air, soil and water, its raw ingredients and manufacturing process have far less impact on the environment. 

What’s more, hemp seed oil offers a locally-grown, sustainably produced plant-based source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids at a ratio that is perfect for human health, in higher concentrations and better ratio than fish oil. One tablespoon of hemp seed oil provides your daily dose of essential fatty acids as well as being a source of zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and Vitamins E and D. 

Organic Hemp Seed Oil

Hemp for health

Organic CBD Coconut Oil 550mgHemp seed oil is just one of a host of treats this plant can offer. At Hempen we aim to harness hemp for health in the range of products we make. 

Besides its culinary uses, hemp seed oil’s nourishing vitamins and moisturising qualities make it the perfect ingredient for both our relaxing and energising moisturisers. Our moisturisers are non-comedogenic, meaning that the oil doesn’t clog your pores but rather, can help regulate skin’s oil production and hydrate your skin. The vitamin E found in hemp seed oil also helps to moisturise the skin as well as being associated with wound healing and reducing inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acid also has anti-inflammatory properties and encourages skin growth and new cell generation. Our bodies can’t produce linoleic acid and oleic acids which are found in hemp oil. Topically applying these to our skin can play a role in skin cell health and reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

CBD is an of-the-moment acronym. This oil has sprung onto the scene with a lot to say for itself, helping moderate a plethora of complaints from pain to anxiety, hyperactivity to inflammation. The mention of this oil is almost as abundant as the compound itself, but you wouldn’t be alone in not having any idea what it actually is. 

CBD is short for cannabidiol and is the most abundant of the cannabinoids,  a spectrum of chemicals found in the flowers, leaves and stalks of the cannabis plant. When trying to get your head around what is actually going on at a molecular level, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with talk of receptors and transmitters. CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The science suggests that CBD acts indirectly to enhance the effects of anandamide,  a fatty-acid neurotransmitter which interacts directly with the endocannabinoid system. This is important because this system is involved in regulating a range of cognitive and physiological processes including memory, mood, pain-sensation, appetite, and fertility. Described by one of our customers as “meditation in a jar” and another as “like taking a warm bath”, its effects are felt differently by different people, but always, CBD offers a non-toxic and natural route to balancing and levelling core mind and body processes and states.

Hemp for Victory?

Victory has connotations of power and domination, war and control. It might sound quite grandiose, but the astounding versatility of industrial hemp for the health of land, sea, air and body offers a change in course for humanity,  away from exploitation and destruction, towards a peaceful victory over some of today’s biggest challenges.