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 20 February 2009

No email and I really needed it for work, today!

If anyone was needing to email me ( either on my compostbin email OR any personal emails you have for me)...you can't, as my ISP is down and has been all day....both client and web mail!

so I have had no emails at all, and I can't send any out either, which has been a bit of a business blow as I had all sorts of stuff scheduled to do today...and I have only just realised I have comments awaiting moderation, too! ( oops sorry folks)

I am off to meet a batch of new in-training Master Composters tomorrow at their training course, to chat to them about being an MC and working with children etc...

So I have been sorting through my expenses claim today as I have been a bit remiss in putting them in and I suddenly realised I am owed a fair bit of money...which I could do with :-) and can drop off the claim tomorrow :-)so that will be a nice payment soon.

Some eggciting news, I am going to be offering chicken keeping courses via Omlet soon:-)))

I have been working out slots in my diary, sorting out course dates and writing up my profile and course details etc. I have also talked to the chickens concerned and explained they all need to be really really nice to the two legs who will be coming to see them...and not do anything too wacky...

So, all in all a good day here, and the weather has been lovely and sunny, the crocus are all out and the snowdrops are amazing now, I must take some photos for you all to see the ones in the wood.

I may well lose my broadband connection, next...so if I disappear for a bit, don't fret!

Thursday 19 February 2009

And Buffy makes four!

And Buffy made it four eggs, today :-)

This is Buffy!

She laid an egg today ! a 45g whopper! the biggest one of all of her siblings!

Buffy, Willow, Ruby and Violet are all from the same cockerel but could have 4 different mums..they came from a batch of 7 eggs laid by 4 hens over 4 days..so at least some of them are full sisters and ALL of them are half sisters....the two cockerels Capt Flint and Long John Silver Dorking are also at least half brothers to all and full brothers to some....( which I will have to consider in future breeding plans I suspect...)

Now the Fab Four Dorking girls have ALL started laying they have become more tame and follow me around a lot...They are such little sweeties! They are so gentle and tame and VERY friendly!

and yes, I CAN tell them apart without the leg bands...its hard, but it IS possible!

Just in case anyone doesn't know.....these are their VERY first eggs! not just the first of this year...which is why I am so eggcited about it..

These are chicks Sweetiepie hatched out for us when she went broody last August, I got some Dorking eggs for her to hatch and she did a WONDERFUL job with the chicks..... and we have been watching them grow throughout the winter ( stupid time to try to raise chicks, but there you go.....)

and in the last week they have all started laying, at 24 weeks old which is about right for chicks hatched out at the normal time, but NOT in the depths of winter!

These times are for "normal" clutches, hatched in summer....NOT clutches hatched in September!

The results have been comical; mad clucking, squarking and general mayhem as the new girls get to grips with laying eggs..sitting on a nest for several hours but not, actually, laying an egg...and then dropping an egg as you leave the nest box...ooops how rude.....( I swear a hen CAN look embarresed...!)

.....Fab Four Dorking Girls..you have amused us enormously this week and you are WONDERFUL!!

(anyone else think they sound like a WW2 dance band?)

Wednesday 18 February 2009

First Willow, now Ruby and Violet!

Willow was the first of the Silver Dorking Fab four to lay an egg but her siblings were not far behind... first Ruby yesterday and then Violet, today... They both laid lovely little eggs of 35 g and were VERY proud of themselves! Willow has laid several more eggs since the first one but got a fright yesterday...she was sitting in the nest box of the Broody Ark and the door blew shut and she was trapped in the run. When she realised, she made SUCH a fuss and both the cockerels joined in....you can hear them all creating on this bit of video I took...

I eventually realised what had happened and let her out whereupon she legged it for the safety of Capt Flint.... but she eventually ventured back to lay her egg in peace.

Saturday 14 February 2009

Happy Valentines Day

I am very happy!

Lovely Compostman gave me a very wonderful (and somewhat unexpected) Valentines Day gift today...

"The Victorian Farm" book of the BBC TV series!

and the DVD of the archaeologists previous "living in a past era for a year" called "Tales from the Green Valley" which I completely missed when it was on TV, as I was quite ill all that summer with M.E and other stuff, and remember struggling just to get through the day and go to bed early, not stay up and watch TV....

So I will be able to finally watch it!


I AM a lucky lady! (and its a good job I had got him a lovely gift, as well)
We have been married for 24 years at the end of March, and have been together for more than 25 years, and he can STILL surprise me :-)

I hope everybody else is having a good day as well :-)

Friday 13 February 2009

Simple Green Frugal post on Composting

I have just put up my third post on the Simple Green Frugal blog. I would be very pleased if you went and had a look at my post (it is about how to make compost) and also looked at the whole blog as it is wonderful! :-))

Thank you!
love, Compostwoman

Willow lays an egg!

This is Willow. She is a very sweet, rather shy, very small Silver Dorking pullet. This was Willow yesterday, she kept on fussing around, repeatedly going in and out of the Eglu, not settling down to eat or dust bathe...she seemed agitated, so I watched her carefully for a bit to see if she was OK. Willow is very scared of "the big hens" and never goes near Cluckingham Palace, where they all live, so imagine my surprise when I opened up the nest box and saw...this! I had noticed her comb was looking more red in the last few days and she had started to squat when I went near her, so I had a good idea what might be going on.... and later on I found ....this! A tiny egg! it weighed about 40 g, as compared to the Henny one next to it which was 85 g. Willow came strutting out of Cluckingham Palace, SO pleased with herself! She proclaimed to the WHOLE WORLD very loudly that she HAD LAID AN EGG!!!! Long John Silver was very agitated all the time she was sitting inside the nest box, he kept on running back and forth... and finally settled on standing next to it...he was VERY pleased when she finally emerged!

Thursday 12 February 2009

Request spot

A question for you.

Would any of you lovely people who visit my blog like a post about sowing seeds ?

I ask because of some of the comments and emails I have had about my last post. I will happily do a seedy post, if it will help people?

OR, is there anything else anyone really wants me to post about?

I am currently writing "how to" posts about Starting up and running an Eco club at school, Gardening at school with children and a Simple-Green-Frugal post about making Compost.

but is there anything else anyone would really like to know about?

Requests in the comments box, or email me!

Tuesday 10 February 2009


It must be spring! Despite the snow and floods I am sorting seeds and planting stuff!

I have been spending the last few days sorting out my veg and flower seeds into planting order and thinking about a planting plan for both our garden and the raised beds at Compostgirl's school. I need to think about the school garden as well because I teach organic gardening to the children there.

I received my seed order last week, from the always excellent The Organic Gardening Catalogue and as an added bonus I am an HDRA member so I get 10% off my orders.

I not only buy the seeds we need for the coming year but also order in the seeds needed for the children at school to grow seeds this year. That way they save on the postage and, as I draw up the outline planting plan for the school garden, it makes sense for me to order in the seeds.

This year I seemed to have a good few less items in my order than in previous years! I realised as I browsed through the catalogue that I have already bought most of the non seed items I need in the past( oops blush), so am just buying seeds and sets and potatoes....but I still seemed to have less seeds than normal; here is about a quarter of my order of seed packets.

However, I then remembered just WHY I didn't need to order many seeds this year....as before Christmas, when I was checking through my existing stash of seeds, so as to only order what I needed as replacements or new seeds, I found I already still had all THESE....

oops! I think I have a seed habit....

So....I am now the proud possessor of 185 packets of veg seeds, with only a few duplicates.... but in my defence I do actually grow virtually all of them, honest!

I grow lots of different sorts of tomatoes for instance, I grow about 50 plants in the polytunnel every year and have at least 8 different varieties. Shirley, Big Boy, Aunty Madge, Yellow Perfection, Golden Sunrise, Black Russian, Black, Gardeners Delight, Spanish Big Globe, Beefsteak, Red Cherry, Moneymaker etc. Some are for eating in salads, some are good for stuffing, some have nice thin skins so are easy to dry, some have thicker skins so are good to sell; ALL are delicious......

The same applies to Aubergines, Peppers, Courgettes and Squashes; I grow at least 3 or 4 different varieties of each, as they all have different keeping and eating characteristics.

I have two new Squash to try this year; Chicago Warted Hubbard from the Heritage Seed Library and Potimarron both of which look very interesting! I always grow Turks Turban, Tom Fox and Lady Godiva.

Leeks, mmm yum! We grow lots of different varieties (Colossal, Pandora, Alora, Atlanta,Carentan, Bandit, Monstruoso de Carentan, Siegfried) so we can eat leeks from November to April if we wish. We like leeks here and usually plant about 200 plus of them.

Carrots, well they do well in the summer and early autumn but we tend to find storing them in the ground is less successful so we grow carrots and lift them to store in September. We have Carrot Fly around here so I grow Resistafly and Flyaway which do very well, as well as Nantes and Rainbow Mix as summer carrots. Rainbow Mix freeze very well and they make a nice change from ordinary orange carrots.

Potatoes...hmmm this year we have virtually given up on Maincrop potatoes and are growing lots of first and second earlies, but of varieties which we know will be good keepers and eat well, and will replace the varieties we usually grow as maincrop potatoes.

It is getting harder to grow potatoes here now, as the weather is getting more and more favourable for blight ( both early and late) to take hold. We are also in an area where more and more potatoes are being grown commercially, so we are surrounded by a sea of potatoes, and if they get blight, we are done for, even if ours didn't have blight to start with.....

We are going to grow Orla, Charlotte, Nicola, Remarka, Arran Victory and Coleen this year, plus a few Pink Fir Apple. Lots of blight resisters!

I tend to go for several different sorts of Onion and Shallot sets too, so if something bad happens to one variety I will (hopefully) still get a crop. I tend to grow Longor and Red Sun shallots and Sturon, Red Baron and Jet Set onions. We usually plant about 200 Onion sets.

I am going to try Turnips and Celeriac again this year, in 2007 they were really good but in 2008 they were a waste of space.

Kale is also on this year's list, I like Kale and Compostman is OK about it so I shall grow a few plants and see what happens. I have some seeds of Asparagus Kale from the Heritage Seed Library , as well as some Pentland Brig seeds from the Organic Gardening Catalogue, so we shall see what happens!

On the whole we find brassicas difficult to grow here, not because of club root though, oh no...because of the wildlife! Invariably it all gets eaten by pigeons or squirrels no matter how many plants I grow and how much we protect them! BUT I am going to try again with some Sprouts (Igor), and see if I can't get at least a few for Christmas dinner!

The beans we grow from self saved seed, originally from the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library Climbing French Bean Purple Giant and Canadian. We don't grow Runner beans anymore since getting these!

We grow a few rows of broad beans which I start in pots in the polytunnel and then plant out, but we are not over fond of them so only a few rows.

We have no joy with peas at all here due to mice year in year out, but I do have some Purple Podded mangetout from the Heritage Seed Library to try this year! Also this year I am going to try a few new sorts (Bridgewater, Blue Coco) of Climbing French beans from the Heritage Seed Library list.

Gosh, what else do we grow? We grow lots of Sweetcorn, Parsnips, (more about those in a later post) Garlic (lots and LOTS of Garlic), Perpetual Beet (green and rainbow)

And lots and lots and lots of different salad leaves, mainly "cut and come again" varieties such as "Red and Green salad bowl" "Asparagus Lettuce" from the Heritage Seed Library, Spring onions, Radish, Rocket, Mizuma, Mustard leaves and lots of leafy herbs (Coriander, lots of different Basils, Parsley, Chives and Garlic Chives) which we like in salads as well as use as herbs. The herb beds already have the usual perennial herbs (Rosemary, Sage, Lovage, Anjelica, Fennel, Oregano, Marjoram, tarragon, Thyme etc)

I also tend to raise a lot of extra tomato, pepper, aubergine,courgette, bean, leek etc plants which are either used to "fill in" any gaps in the school beds or our beds at home OR are sold at the School gate to raise funds for the School garden.

And in the polytunnel as well as everything else I grow Melons and Cucumbers, we never buy a cucumber from about the middle of May until October.

This year I am going to try a few new things, like growing some spuds as an experiment in a "potato bag" to see how well it works. I have grown in buckets and tubs before but have been asked to try this out.

I also have some new seeds to grow, which I have not tried here before, so will see how things go.

Although looking at the ground at the moment I can't help feeling I need to build VERY HIGH raised beds to do any gardening AT ALL

or maybe even an Ark? ;-)

Friday 6 February 2009

Not wanting to come out....

Hmm...looks a bit cold out here!

What do you think? Can we eat it?

Well, I'M not going out there!

No, no way, not going out.

Ginger "Do you think she will come out at ALL today?"
Cathy "I don't know?"

Nope, still not coming out!

What do you do on a snowy day if you are a cat?

You watch the TV VERY intently....

You walk across the table with your muddy paws....

and you snooze the day away.....

Thursday 5 February 2009

Making the chickens nice and cosy.

When the warning of snow came last weekend I decided I couldn't put it off any longer, we had to move the hen run.

The Eglu is on a dry patch of ground, as is the Broody Ark but Cluckingham Palace was getting very soggy and I didn't want the girls to be treading around in a swamp, especially if they had to be confined inside during the possible future bad weather.

So...on Sunday we moved Cluckingham Palace. It is not a difficult or heavy job but it IS time consuming

You can see where it was, the ladder-y thing is the "hen board" I put down for the hens to stand on. You can also see what a mess the area is!

As always, as soon as ANY work starts, chickens appear to see what is going on!

While we were out there working on Cluckingham Palace, Compostman put up another of his brilliant inventions. This allows a non Eglu run to use the Eglu drinker or feeder (called Glug or Grub, respectively!) and this is an absolute brainwave of his!

He took a piece of aluminium channel, screwed it to the inside of the door and so I can now hook the Omlet "Glug" onto it! He did a similar thing up the other end of the run for the "Grub" and it is much better than the suspended feeder I had in the run, before. The girls waste much less food as the Grub stops them throwing it everywhere now.

Cluckingham Palace moved and alterations completed, I then added a thick layer of Easybed (wood shavings) to the ground in all three runs and also a lot of hay near the pop holes, this is to soak up the water and so the chickens have drier feet when they go inside to lay eggs.

And I put down paths of hay for us to walk on, over the mud.

After the snow we have had this week, we went out and added a different clear polythene cover to the run today, as it was getting quite snowy in the run, despite the cover which WAS on. This one goes over the whole run, not just the top! It is very easy for me to undo and roll up as well, so I can get into the side door and top up the water or the dish feeder which is up that end of the run.

The girls are nice and dry and cosy now AND they can see out! Here is Genghis Hen not wanting to leave the comfort of the run early today. Hopefully the chickens will all be warm and cosy even if we DO have more bad weather.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Plastic bags can be very bad for your health!

Poor Tom Kitten!

He somehow managed to get a plastic sports bag string wrapped around his leg today .

he was playing in the dining room and then Compostman saw him shoot by as if his tail was on fire, run back again and then run past, and out through the cat flap trailing a bag.

He had somehow got tangled up with this...a sports bag given out free on a stand at a county show last summer, which is used to put wet swimming stuff in...

Compostman and I were very worried, as Tom had disappeared outside trailing this string and bag behind him....

So we wrapped up and went outside to try to find poor Tommy.

I eventually found the bag, it had come off as Tom ran under the door of a shed. (I had my camera with me as it has a picture of Tom on it, to show anyone who might pass on our road)

But Tom was not inside...

We look around some more, searched the Woodland as best we could and then finally came inside for a (belated) breakfast.

Worrying about Tom.

He eventually came in, a couple of hours later, cold, scared and very spooked.

He has hidden under the table for most of the rest of the day. Can you see his fluffed up tail?

Poor Tom! being chased by a big white flappy rustly thing that follows you everywhere NO MATTER how fast you run away...not nice at all.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

How I amused myself today....

What do you do when its cold and snow covered outside and you don't want to play in it any more?

You worm the hens! well I did!

they were all given a course of Flubenvet over the Christmas holidays but I give them a precautionary dose of Verm X on wholemeal bread for 3 days at the start of every month, just to be on the safe side.

Chickens have worms, due to all the stuff they pick up off the ground, but the trick is to make sure they only have a small worm burden, so it doesn't cause them discomfort or harm their health.

The chickens all really LOVE this stuff! I have to work quite hard to make sure they only get their recommended dose as they all try to eat each others food.

icicles on Cluckingham Palace

Today was a Red Letter Day as well! For the first time since the beginning of December all 6 of the laying hens, well, laid!

Yes, today the lovely lovely girlies laid 6 big beautiful eggs.

And because I had the odd five minutes to spare ( for that read "because I am so proud and besotted with my hens" ) I thought I would put up these pictures of the different shaped and coloured eggs the girls lay, as so many people seem baffled that I can tell them apart!

Babs, Attilla and Goldie eggs with their typical weights.

Henny, Sweetiepie and Ginger eggs with their typical weights. The Henny egg in this picture was actually 90 g as she hadn't laid yesterday and after a missed day an egg is usually laid very early in the day and is bigger.

Can you see the different colours and shapes? Surely you can?

For a comparison with shop bought eggs, I went to the Defra web site to see what the weights were and it made very interesting reading!

I am not governed by most of these rules as I only sell direct to people, I don't grade my eggs and I have less than 50 hens, but it makes for interesting reading.

XL - VERY LARGE eggs weighing 73g or more
L - LARGE 63g up to (but not including) 73g

So ALL my girlies lay Large eggs, and most routinely lay Very Large eggs!

I also discovered a few things I wasn't aware of.

The term “extra” or “extra fresh” may only be shown on packs until the ninth day after lay. This nine-day time limit and the laying date shall be shown clearly on packs.

so a shop bought "fresh" egg can be up to 9 days old, hmmm? that's not MY idea of a "fresh" egg!

“Display Until” or “Sell by” dates are not required on packs of eggs, however, there is an obligation to ensure eggs are sold to the consumer within 21 days of lay, so retailers may prefer to have such additional stock control dates on their packs

So, a shop bought egg could be up to 21 days old when you buy it.....

The eggs *I* sell are usually 1 to 3 days old at most.

Food for thought, indeed!