Hello and welcome to The Compost Bin. I'm Compostwoman and I live with my family in rural Herefordshire. We have nearly four acres of garden and woodland, all managed organically and to Permaculture principles, which we share with Chickens, Cats and assorted wildlife. We also grow a lot of our own food, run courses in all sorts of things and make a lot of compost!

I am a Master Composter and have spent more than a decade as a volunteer Community Compost adviser with Garden Organic and my local Council.
I'm a self employed Environmental Educator so I run workshops and events where I talk about compost, veg growing, chicken keeping, cooking, preserving and sustainable living. I also run crafts workshops and Forest School/outdoor play sessions in our wood.

We try to live a more self sufficient lifestyle here, as best we can, while still having a comfortable life and lots of fun.

To learn more about us click on the About Compostwoman tab and remember to click on the photos to make them full size!

Friday 5 December 2008

What are we?

This post was sparked off by someone asking me on the phone recently what I did for a living and how we sourced our income and food.

It was quite hard to answer that question..and it has set me musing.

We live at Compost Mansions ( not a mansion at all, btw, just a detached, 102 year old rather ropey house in need of lots of work!) on a smallish pension income plus what small amounts I occasionally earn as a self employed Environmental Educator
(working mainly in the school system so basically bugger all money! and a lot of what I do is as a volunteer) and apparently we are well below the national average income for our size of family………

BUT because we grow so much of our own food and do repairs to things ourselves if needed, do all our own gardening, DIY, decorating etc, don't take holidays, or live a consumerist driven lifestyle, we have apparently more than the average amount of money available to spend, on such "luxuries " as buying local organic meat and veg and dairy products. (As an aside, since when did proper food become a "luxury" item?)

And it made me wonder about where we fit in, when they asked about job descriptions...

are we full time smallholders…………I guess? …or maybe we are not? …….. we do not have any full time outside jobs, and we mainly spend all our time maintaining the place we live in to provide us with food and shelter? so *I* guess we class as full time smallholders even if others/DEFRA don’t.

So….that's what I said we were.....smallholders....

BUT the thing which has triggered off this particular post, which I have found recently, is the number of people who seem to think we should be doing MUCH MUCH MORE with our land and are saying so to my face, or by email....and sometimes quite rudely!

- for example we should apparently have more hens,( I already have 14!) keep pigs, goats, cows etc, grow corn for flour and harvest it and grind it ourselves, keep sheep and spin their wool to make our clothes by hand from the wool, and basically I have had it said to me that we should be much less reliant on buying stuff from shops and make ALL our own clothes!

A few have said I even should be utilising the clay I have said we have in the garden, to make our own pots.....rather than buying plates etc. (This wasn't said in a " why don't you take up pottery", kind of way, either...)

Setting aside the rudeness of telling me how *we* should live our lives...
when I certainly don't tell THEM how to live their lives.....

I tend to try to consider comments like this even if I think the person is barking mad..... ( rolls eyes)

So. Hmm. Yes, we could have many more animals, to kill and eat...but just because we could, doesn't mean we want to or should.

I have killed and eaten chicken I have reared myself in the past and intend to do it again in the not too distant future ( watch out no 2 cockerel!) and I would like to rear a couple of pigs for meat...

and I do like making clothes and want to have a go at spinning my own wool and knitting it into something...


I have other things I wish to do with my time rather than be a full time stock keeper, spinster, knitter, produce maker etc etc ...and so does Compostman! IF TSHTF I could (and would have to) do all this stuff.....and so would Compostman! but at the moment we have the luxury of not having to do all of it...in the Western world and in my personal life.

We are not quite into "Survivor" territory YET! ;-)

At the moment at Compost Mansions, we are largely self sufficient in home grown veg, fruit, eggs and wood for the wood burner..as well as making our own wine, cider, jam, pickles, and drying/ freezing surplus stuff to eat later on.

We make some of our own butter, cheese, yogurt etc…IF we had a house cow or goat I could make all of it..but we don’t have such an animal ( yet!) ….so I don’t.

We have our own water and sewerage supply/treatment plant…and so we do not rely on utilities for those…..but we DO rely ( at the moment) on external electricity..we are not yet “off grid” but that is the next BIG project! AND we have the know how to plan and install it all.....

we buy our meat from within 10 miles at a farmers market…and we get other stuff from it at the same time… but we could raise and kill our own meat if needed....

I get flour from a localish supplier and we make all our own baked goods...and NO I do NOT have enough land to grow our current requirements for corn! we would need a MUCH bigger area of clear field to grow enough wheat to keep us in flour for a year.
And if I had that extra land I think I would be growing other crops....

so …we have a long way to go by many folk’s standards..but compared with virtually all people in the UK I think we are VERY self sufficient! Nearly all of our bought in food ( which is not much) comes from within 20 miles, and most of our meat is within 5 miles and the veg comes from 50 feet away, if from our garden!

Rather than Te$co...

Sorry...I am rambling on a bit now I think? but I find it strange that it is those who (I think) have NO idea, how difficult it is …to do any self sufficient stuff…....who are the ones who seem to be the most vociforous in telling me that we should be doing *MORE*!

I DO feel sometimes, that some people read my blog or talk to me just to be critical.... BUT they have NO idea of the realities of trying to be even moderately self sufficient in this day and age.

Do other bloggers out there get this? People with no clue, telling them what to do?
I find it amusing, annoying and a bit baffling by turn, I must admit...

Sorry...rant over now....



  1. I think you are doing a wonderful job and should be proud of all you do. If others don't like it- that's their problem. Keep up with what YOU want in your life.

  2. You just keep on living your life the way YOU want to live it. As I said to my son's hairdresser yesterday when he said we are all doomed because of the way most people live, "what are YOU doing with YOUR life". As a wise man once said, " You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Gandhi of course.

  3. Well, I think you're doing an absolutely fantastic job with all the resources you have. I really enjoy reading about how you live your life - plus, you are helping educate the next generation about environmental issues - powerful stuff!
    Willow x

  4. Thank you for your comments on my blog.

    You are living your life the way you want to, as self sufficient as YOU want to be and thats all that matters, so carry on in your own sweet way and shucks to those who think you should do thing differently.

    I do know whats its like to live as you do, I have freinds who back in the 1980's made the same journey and it was by no means an easy option, they brought up 4 children whilst living a self sufficient life........the husband used to labour on near by farms to keep the wolf from the door.

    I spent 3 days one Christmas plucking and dressing turkeys for them......my reward a delicous free range turkey the like of which I have not tasted since.....and a box of veggies.

    I wanted to live the life too but my then OH just did not want to do it and you both have to be totally commited to take the step so we never did.

    My present OH shares my ideals, but finance and now the third age and illness prevented us, but we do grow most of our fruit and veg on an allotment.

    I am adding your blog to my list to keep up with your daily life.

  5. Growing some herbs on your kitchen windowsill takes work. Running a self-sufficient (ot sufficientish) place is life consuming.

    Isn't weird how personal people can get?

    Whilst encouragement is nice, it doesn't even matter that i think you're doing great. It only matters what you and CompostMan think and how much joy and fulfillment you find in what you do.

  6. The thing is, you know if you wanted to, you could do all these extra things. But you don't want to or need to at the moment. It makes me laugh how people a) assume they can comment on other peoples' lives, and b) think that you must do EVERYTHING if you are doing something.

    However, since I have your address, when it all goes to hell in a handbag, we will be heading to your house! LOL :P

  7. Hello lovely people!

    I wasn't seeking reassurance when I did this post ... but it IS nice to get some positive comments...

    I posted my original post because it just amused and slightly puzzled me that people would be QUITE so critical about someone else's life? Haven't they got better things to do?

    We are not really terribly self sufficient here but we do what we can, and have a good life but it IS hard work and it DOES have downsides......

    MD...ha ha...your comment made me laugh!

    But seriously I think if TSHTF...we would welcome a few like minded people to grow a community here...and help with the hard work!

    Thank you all for your positive contributions...am off to clean out the hens..oh the joys of smallholding-ary..a morning spent with chicken poo...


    Cw xx

  8. I love reading your blog CW. Please dont let people bring you down. Many are guilty of not doing enough, myself included.

    You do everything you can. And by blogging everyday, you touch people all around the world.If you talk about something you are going through with you animals, life, veggies etc and it helps someone, then you are helping and their much needed funds can be spent elsewhere.

    I only wish I had more things to blog about. I just talk carp. Like I said on Veg Plottings blog the other day, we are reaching out into the ether to help others. Keep blogging I love it.

    p.s. I have had racist comments left on my blog. I think it is because of my banner. I just delete them. If people want to hate, and make assumptions about me let them. There comment wont stay there and they will have achieved nothing, but their own wasted time.

  9. Worry not. You're doing your bit, and it's a gradual process and there's only so much you can do.

    From reading a few blogs, I get the feeling that there's this self-sufficiency 'snobbery' going on; I feel like I get it because I'm not a hard-boiled farmer-type, because I don't agree with shooting and other field 'sports', and I'm anti fox-hunting (yes, even being an owner of hens).

    So really, don't let it get to you - you're doing much, MUCH more than most and you should be proud of everything you've achieved thus far. You're certainly an inspiration to me and my 'mini' smallholding ventures. I've not even attempted half of the things you've done yet!!!!

    So keep doing what you're doing, at your pace and remember that there's lots of us that keep coming back to read your blog for good reason :)

  10. In addition to everything you are doing, you are doing something much more important than anything that anybody could say you aren't, teaching the little people they will be the ones that achieve much more than we will, mainly because they will have longer to do it, that has to be the most important thing anyone can do...

  11. Hi Dean!

    Nice to see you on my blog :-))

    and yes, you are right, I consider all the environmental and sustainability things I do with children worth more than ALL the other self sufficient stuff we do put together....

    if we stopped doing EVERYTHING else here, sold up and moved to a small flat in a city,
    EVEN if I never grew another vegetable, ......

    I would count the helping children grow organic veg and woodcraft, the best thing I have EVER done!

  12. Lucy@SS...I don't approve of shooting or hunting for sport, either...for food, yes (!) ...and to kill a threat to my livestock, yes..( see posts about squirrels and rats...).and that includes foxes, much though I love to see them , otherwise..

    BUT..I used to hunt as a child, because I was in the Pony Club and it was part of "what we did" ...but as soon as I got old enough to understand what I was doing, I stopped following hounds. Even though it meant I didn't get to have fun with my horsey friends sometimes!

    So when *I* complain about hunting with hounds I actually DO know what I am talking about..... ;-)

    (For those who don't know, a common accusation said by pro hunt people to anti hunt people,is
    "you don't know what you are talking about!")

  13. CW - you only *have* to do one thing: be yourself!

    From reading your blog fro quite a while now I get the impression that that is exactly what you're doing - and doing it pretty damn well by the looks of things!

    As someone else has picked up above, you are doing one particularly fantastic thing in teaching the young about the outdoors. That in itself is so amazing in my eyes.

    Just stay yourself, do what you want to do in the scale and timescales that you can do it. You can do nothing more.

    (Just please keep writing about it!) ;-)

  14. CW you and MrCW are doing a WONDERFUL job... I have the greatest respect for you both and I know how hard you work already!!
    Why some people have the need to make comments about what people should and shouldn't do with their lives is beyond me.....
    Don't let these 'people' (I am been very polite here!**!!) get you down....
    I so love to read your blog (as do so many others!!) you are both so inspirational!!! I have learned such a lot from you and I look forward to learning a whole lot more!!
    Love Jane xxxx

  15. (blush)

    stop now, you are all making me feel embarrassed!

    (Cw blushes again and hides under the desk until her face stops being bright red......)


  16. I get lots of emails and comments from the self-appointed self-sufficiency securitat, telling me what I should and shouldn't be doing. They're a lot like bureaucrats in that they never, ever practice what they preach and want to impose endless strictures on what should and should not be done.

    I tend to send them rather pithy replies and if they persist, as the most foolish do, I tell them to make themselves useful by coming up and ploughing a half acre by hand. They tend to disappear at that point.

    As to occupation, I'm torn between crofter, swineherd or professional grump...

  17. I LIKE the idea of putting "professional grump" or maybe "grumpy henwrangler"

    I realised from reading your blog that YOU have had a lot of this kind of stuff Stoney...but I was a bit taken aback to get a small dose of it also...it seems so...umm...irrational?

    but I guess I am judging others by *my* standards here... ;-)

    Good idea about setting the commenters to work, I shall ask the next one to come and dig over the veg patch......or clear out some weed from the ( ice cold, muddy,) pool.....!

  18. Better still CW... get them to clean out the hens poo.... they should be good at that... especially as they are sooooo good at talking c**p!!!
    Sorry but it had to be said!!!
    Thinking of you...
    Love Jane xxxx


Hello! Thank you for reading my blog and for commenting. I try to reply as quickly as I can and I really appreciate your interest in my life and doings here in The Compost Bin.