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!

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? ;-)


  1. Wow! and I thought we were planning a large garden.. nothing near as much as you're going to be planing :)
    BTW what's a polytunnel?

  2. Hi Pat! You just caught me :-)

    A polytunnel is a polythene covered greenhouse, usually quite large , larger than a normal domestic greenhouse. Unheated so not frost proof but VERY good for growing in the summer and autumn and good for stuff in the winter to get the growing season started earlier.

    I use mine for tomatoes, aubergines, early courgettes, peppers cucumbers and melons, and to get other outside plants growing earlier (beans, leeks, salads etc...)

    I love my polytunnel...

    If you look back to the end Dec 2008, 1st jan 2009 you will see my post about cleaning it all up!

  3. Perfect timing, Compostwoman! I ordered my seeds and potatoes a couple of weeks back, so am waiting in anticipation!! OH has nearly finished putting up our little greenhouse, so all I need to do now is set up a plan for planting! This will be our first go at growing veggies for many years, so it will be a bit of 'trial & error' this year!

    Willow x

  4. That's quite a list of seeds. I'm still awaiting my seed order - a new supplier of heritage seeds off the net so fingers crossed they arrive.

    As last year it's too wet to get onto the ground but I'm hopeful I can get the stuff in this year, it was such a washout last year.

  5. Phew! Im worn out just from just reading! I cannot wait to get going, not got as much to sow as you but plenty to be getting on with. Hope your spuds in bags do well :)

  6. Its sunny here, its sunny here!

    I am sorting out the porch where I set up the heated propagators to start off the tomato, pepper, aubergine etc seeds....will be planting tomorrow I think, I usually like to plant at Imbolc but it was too dull this year...

    but NOW I feel spring like and seed -y :-)

    I do have a lot of seeds BUT I vary the varieties I grow from year to year, so some won't get sown this year..

    ( am I fooling anyone?)

    Spring! Spring!

  7. Just a quick note to let you know there is an award waiting for you at Margaret's Ramblings, you deserve it, Margaret

  8. Wow! Just from that list of greens I'm guessing you have one very spoiled guinea pig. I know mine would think they were in heaven there.

    One question: do you find that seeds that are over a year old don't sprout as well as fresh seeds or is that a myth?

  9. tpals, most of my seeds are several years old as I rarely use the whole packet of seeds in one go .

    I DO buy fresh parsnip seed every year as the viablility does drop with time, but an easy way to check is to sprinkle some seed on damp paper and see if it sprouts...if it does, snip the paper up and plant each little bit ( with seed...)

    I have Aubergine seeds from 2001 which have been opened for 8 years and are stil ok..

    I keep my seeds in bags with silica gel sachets, inside sealed tins, so most of the air is excluded, and I keep them cool and dry.

    Some people keep seeds in the fridge, but you have to be sure they are dry as well as cold.

  10. Some girls have a shoe habit - I, like you, have a seed habit .... and it's much more fruitful that yet another pair of uncomfortable footwear!!

    Time for a grumble though (with tongue in cheek ;-) - now I know why I didn't get any PFA seed potatoes. Org.Gardening Catalogue were sold out and you may well have got the last pack.!!!!! Oh well, that gives me the perfect excuse to visit the garden centre to see if they hve Ratte (a similar french variety) and you never know, I may pick up a couple more packets of seeds whilst I'm there!

    Rosie x

  11. Not me, Rosie!

    I am planting a few of our saved PFA seed spuds, they didn't get blighted and I am going to risk it in a distant part of the garden, in a pot....

    I couldn't get any Charlotte this year from the OGC, all gone... :-(

  12. Your garden sounds bountiful - those are a lot of seeds! Thank you for sharing about using seeds from previous years. How can you tell if they have "gone" from just looking at them?

  13. Hello Lialz :-)

    If the seed looks or smells musty or bad, its probably no good BUT it is always worth sprouting one or two just to see if they are still ok...

    Sealed up packets last a very long time, opened packets it depends how and where they were stored...a box in a damp shed is less than ideal ;-)

    I was given a pack of seeds which were opened, 15 years old, and when I sprouted some out of 20 seeds only 2 were viable, BUT I grew 2 tomato plants and saved the seed from them and now have more seed...

    If you only have a few, sprout them when you are ready to plant them , then if they DO grow you can put them in the soil straight away..( IYSWIM..)

    I do have rather more seeds than I strictly need but I will get round to growing them eventually and , as Rosie says above, its better than a shoe "habit".....

    Would a post about seed viabliity and saving be of help to people?

  14. Some-one recently did a blog with list of how long seeds should remain viable - I'll see if I can track it down later if you want.

    Lots of Charlotte seed potatoes here in France (non organic though) and I managed to get the Ratte seed spuds this morning and some chinese artichokes which I have never grown before .... and two packets of seeds. Quite restrained for me really!!

    Rosie x


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.