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 27 March 2009

Upcoming Composting and Recycling event!

I shall be at Bishops Wood Environment Centre, nr Stourport, Worcestershire this Sunday 29th March, at a Recycling and Composting Open Day, doing my Master Composter work to help people compost as much of their household waste as possible. There will be lots of us there and it is a busy programme of events! I have been busy helping to organise this event and really hope it goes well.

The timetable is as follows:-

Sunday 29th March 2009 11.0 a.m. – 3.0 p.m.
Timetable of Talks

Compost and Recycling Corner 11.30 a.m. Making Compost (Trevor Bell of WRAP)

12.0 p.m. Permaculture garden _ reusing materials (Wade Muggleton of Worcestershire Countryside Service)

12.30 p.m.Using compost in the garden (Master composter)

1.30 p.m. Bokashi compost systems (Woody Nelson of Bubble House Worms)

2.0 p.m. Recycling question time Panel (Deborah Parker MHDC, Rachel Kennett BDC, Trevor Bell WRAP , Viktoria Salisbury WCC)

2.30 p.m. Worm composting (Richard Fishbourne of Wiggley Wigglers)

Out and About all day.
Friends of Bishops Wood membership and Tombola in the foyer.
Worcester Resource Exchange and Duckworth Trust making mini-beasts from recycled materials in the Rainbow Cabin
Recycling Bus, recycling games and compost clinic on the field
Newstart recycled furniture and Bishops Wood Nursery plant stall on the path

Choose to recycle, re-use or compost at Green Street. Take photos of your family becoming worms, beetles and apple cores in the Giant Compost Bin

at the picnic area under the pylon.

Displays and Young Enterprise Sales stalls in the Woodland Room and Poolside Rooms
Compost Sales in the car-park
Compost(ideal soil improver)£2 per bag (3 for £5)Kindly provided by Severn Waste Services Proceeds in aid of Friends of Bishops Wood

Local Food / Global Recipes Café in the Chestnut Cabin.
Boreley Pig Roast – at the entrance to the field Just follow the delicious smells!)

regarding Bishops Wood Centre
"The centre is located within a 39-hectare site which includes 17 hectares of ancient woodland and a field of 11 hectares which was planted to re-create mixed broadleaf woodland, meadows and other habitats.

Bishops Wood is recognised nationally and internationally for its work in environmental and sustainability education with schools and for its training courses.

Due to the nature of our educational work, regrettably, the Centre is not open to the general public except on our Open Days."

I think Bishops Wood is a WONDERFUL place, very interesting and educational and great fun to visit! I really hope to see some of my blog friends there, so if you DO come to it, please come and say hello to me!

Thursday 26 March 2009

A hormonal Violet Dorking hen

Violet Dorking has gone VERY broody in the last week :-(

She sits all day in the Eglu nest box and is very vocal and aggressive if you try to feel for eggs under her or move her off the nest....and if you DO move her she squats down and "nests" wherever she is....

I have dunked her bum in a bucket of icy water , to try to "snap" her out of being broody..I did this 3 times in the space of one day...but she is STILL broody.

I don't want her to hatch out chicks at the moment as I don't want any more young ones just now, also I have not yet organised the houses for any more chickens or where I will pen them in to be safe and have lots of space and NOT trash my garden!

I plan on putting the chickens out in a big pen in the wood, but not just NOW!

And I don't like the possible option of putting her on fake eggs and letting her sit on them. I don't really want to put her through that for no return of chicks to rear AND she will not lay eggs for a long time.

hm mm will have to put her in a wire bottomed broody pen next, I think!

This cools her "nether regions" down due to the air circulating around...and she has no access to nesting material so it helps to stop the brooding instinct..

She will still have food and water and shelter...just not be able to make a nest and brood in it.

Poor hormonal Violet hen! She only started laying 6 weeks ago so is a classic hormonal teenager....I DO feel sorry for her but I cannot afford to just leave her be as she is disrupting all the other Dorking girls, who also want to lay and sleep in the Eglu...

Sometimes I feel a bit too emotionally involved with my hens...(!) but I am their surrogate mum and *I* have to decide what is best for them all..

Gosh it is like being a parent to 12 teenages at the moment I suspect! ( probably not really but you get the gist of what I mean! ;-)

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Hen in the house

Yesterday a friend came round to collect some Master Composter supplies, as she is giving a talk later this week on composting. We had a good old chat, a wander around the garden, a look at my compost bins. A also stayed for lunch, which was a lovely treat for Compostman and I,to have company for lunch!

A was present when THE MOLE incident happened (which I will post about anon)

After she had left, and Compostman had gone to collect Compostgirl from school, I sat down for five mins with a cuppa in the sitting room.

Suddenly I spotted Cathy hen in the doorway and she came into the room and hopped up on my lap! I had left the back door open and she had come in through a hall, the kitchen (past Kitty Cat!) the inner hall and into where I was sitting!

I took her back out to the kitchen, wanting to get her back outside, but she promptly turned the other way into the futility room and started eating the cat food.....

Gosh, she made a mess....see the bits all over the floor?

She did peck them all up, though.... ;-))

She came in several more times yesterday evening and today wandered around the lower bit of kitchen, begging for crumbs...and tried to get through the cat flap into the futility room to get at the cat food I guess?

She follows us around in the garden as well, and comments on all that we do. And she purrs :-)

I think she must be happy!

Monday 23 March 2009

A very busy Mothering Sunday

a lovely Mothering sunday card for me...

and a picture

and one for Compostman!...

The hens invade the made compost storage bin...looking for worms!

Compostman prunes apple trees in the orchard

and Sidney snoozes the day away under a cloche....

Saturday 21 March 2009

Cat update....

This post is for all the cat lovers out there in the blogosphere, who have wanted to know how the Compost Mansion cats are doing.....here they are in the regular place they sleep in during the day..in Compostgirl's bedroom....

Sidney the lovely puss

Tom Kitten ( nearly Tom Cat, now..) and his sister Tabitha Twitchett

I think the answer has to be...very well indeed!

Kitty Cat was asleep by the Aga, downstairs...he is too senior to join in with huddles on the sofa in Compostgirl's bedroom....he stays in *his* special bed by the warm Aga.....

Friday 20 March 2009


Another beautiful, busy, planting and wood cutting day here today! It is the Spring Equinox, when the length of day and night is balanced and the wheel of the year swings around again towards summer and fruitfulness....I shall be honouring the spring over this weekend, planting and tidying and making all ready for a fruitful summer...and going into the woodland to meditate on the changing seasons and the wonders of nature....

Compostman has been cleaning out all the nest boxes around the sheds and house. Here is Compostgirl examining the contents of one...

which had a Hornets nest built inside...

It WAS perfect and we wanted to carefully remove it so Compostgirl could take it in to school...

but then Cathy hen came along to investigate what we were doing...and trod on it....

Still, it IS good to see her back to her normal, nosy, chatty, annoying self.....


Thursday 19 March 2009

busy bee today

Guess who has been a busy bee today ?

I have been applying for an Environmental Education post which is supply work, as and when required, which is great as it fits in with all the other stuff I do...... and I have been getting insurance quotes for public liability so people who come on my land for chicken keeping or gardening courses, Forest School or play sessions will be covered.

I can't wait to start to run courses and hold play sessions in the wood :-)

more than anything else, THAT is what I am so happy about!

and I must just say how very touched I was by all your lovely responses to my news that I had passed my Forest Schools course!

I WILL do a post on exactly what Forest Schools is all about and just why it is so wonderful for children ( and grown ups!)

but for now, I just want to say THANK YOU ALL for the good wishes.....

I have also been up to the Garden Organic wonderful gardens at Ryton twice in the last 4 days...attending courses on various stuff....

I LOVE Ryton and if you can, I urge you to go and visit....

I have done a lot of gardening today at home AND have had a gardening Eco Club session as well at school..so am off to bed now but I will also write about Garden Organic and Ryton Gardens very soon..as it is a wonderful place ( and I got to actually do some of the gardening there, yesterday.....! wow I felt SO honoured....)

I will also update you all on Cathy the ex batty hen, and share some interesting news about one of the Dorking girls.....lets just say she is proving rather precocious, shull we?

Monday 16 March 2009

Woo hoo!

I have just got this from my Forest School tutor, the lovely A........

re: your Forest School Practitioner OCN Level 3 portfolio. All your work has now been marked and has been marked as a PASS (subject to External Verification which is yet to be carried out). As soon as the EV has been carried out (at the end of this month) and supposing that all files sampled are satisfactory I will be able to apply ...........for certification.

woo hoo!

I have PASSED!

oh joy! I am in the throes of applying for various jobs/self employed opportunities....so being able to quote this is SO helpful!

note...there is no grading with OCN apparently..you either pass or fail....

More on growing tomatos etc

After all the very interesting and useful comments I recieved on my post about growing tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, I went away and measured the temperature at various places inside one of the propogators.

The inside base of the box is at 36 centigrade, the soil temperature at the bottom of a pot is 28 centigrade and the air temp above the soil is 24 centigrade...

so that should help anyone who wants to make something up for themselves.

Simple Green Frugal post on parsnip growing

I have published an amended version of my growing parsnip post on the Simple Green Frugal blog today. The amendments were as a result of your various thoughtful and interesting comments, which led me to "improve" on the original post...

so thank you for posting!

Sunday 15 March 2009

Growing tomatoes, peppers and aubergines.

The next in my series of "request" posts on how I plant seeds and things :-)

Raising plants to transplant outdoors (or under cloches or in a greenhouse/ tunnel) gives you a head start on the season. It is simple to provide extra warmth for a few pots and trays of seeds - in a warm room, or on a heated bench for example.

But remember - the seedlings that appear will also need some warmth and good light levels, until they can be moved to a frost free final position, so allow for where you are going to keep them. This is especially the case with pepper, tomato and aubergine plants as they will need a warm place to live!

I have had a lot of success with putting moderate sized tomato plants inside a cold frame inside an unheated polytunnel during April and this would work just as well inside a conservatory or a plastic small greenhouse I think.

I have recently been sowing tomatoes, sweet peppers and aubergine (egg plant for US friends) seeds in modules which have been germinating in my heated propagators in the porch. The porch is double glazed but unheated so can get cold at night! It is west facing though so gets the sun in the afternoon and makes a good place to set up "mission control" seed growing central!

I now have 3 electric heated propagators, each of which will hold 4 of the 6 celled seed modules. I have slowly gathered these over the last 20 years, they ARE expensive and I had two as gifts and the third was a sale bargain as it had a slightly damaged lid (!) BUT they are invaluable to me to help raise early plants, as I do not (YET) have a greenhouse to do this in. ( I have a greenhouse in BITS, and have had it for 6 years but it is not yet put together in a usable condition..maybe next year?0

I sow the sweet peppers and aubergine seeds first as they take longer to germinate than tomatoes (the peppers especially) I usually can move the seedlings out of the heated propagators and into unheated mini greenhouse trays after 10 days or so, and then I can sow more seeds in modules and put them in the empty space in the propagator...

I also sow herbs and salad seeds in unheated mini greenhouse windowsill trays and they give me an early start to the summer salads!

I do have salads over winter in the polytunnel BUT we don't tend to want to eat much salad in the winter in our household!

Sweet Pepper seeds

Sow on surface of growing medium them cover with about as much growing medium as the length of the seed.



and place in heated propagator,

seed germinated in 9 days...if in unheated propagator ( tray with some sort of cover) it will take longer...)

I have been sowing recently inside in my heated propagator in the same way as the pepper seeds, tomato, hot pepper and aubergine (egg plant)seeds.

Tomatoes/Peppers/Aubergines - for growing on in a cold greenhouse or tunnel
during the March waxing moon.

Saturday 14 March 2009

A thank you to all my lovely followers and readers.

I have just noticed I have gained a fair few followers and new readers recently, so hello and welcome to all the new folk, and hello and thank you to all the existing followers/readers of my blog.

I am very happy to see so many people are interested in what I get up to here at Compost Mansions, with Compostman and Compostgirl, the chickens, the cats and all the other wildlife here.

I feel enlivened? enthused ? more and more, as we creep out of the dark, dull days of Winter and into the more sunny, fresh air of Spring. I have the most wonderful spring flowers now blooming, the woodland daffodils are beautiful and there should be a good display of bluebells in a month or so.

I am not out working in the garden today as I am attending a Play conference in Hereford all day and tomorrow I have a trip to Garden organic Ryton, so a busy weekend (in a different way) for me :-) I hope to bring some pictures back from Ryton :-)

I (fingers crossed!) have hopefully managed to sort out the various computer issues I have been having recently and will be able to blog a bit more.

So think of these flower pictures as a "thank you" bouquet from me, to all of you, for following and reading my blog :-))

Friday 13 March 2009

Growing Parsnips


Although Parsnips can withstand cold weather, they are notoriously slow to germinate and in practice I have found it better to wait and sow in March when it is warmer.

Parsnips like rich, slightly heavy soil, well dug but NOT recently manured (as, like carrots, they will fork if the soil is TOO rich)

As soon as you can dig the bed over and produce a fine tilth, the conditions are fine for planting parsnip seed in the ground ( if the weather allows you to get a fine tilth, its warm and dry enough!)

Parsnips take a long time to grow BUT you can get a worthwhile crop even if they are sown in late spring. MAKE SURE you use fresh this year seed, because parsnip seeds do not keep well. If you HAVE to use last years seed, pre sprout it to check for viability ( put on damp kitchen paper and watch it sprout, then snip the paper up so a bit has a sprouted seed on it and then plant the paper)

Follow the instruction on the seed packet about how/where to sow, and you may as well be generous as the seed doesn't keep well....

I plant some outside but at least half of my parsnips are planted in loo roll tubes and transplanted AS SOON as the seed has germinated ...

If you leave it too long the tap root emerges from the bottom of the tube and, when transplanted, may be damaged. This won't hurt the plant BUT you will get a smaller, forked root!

So, make sure you have the parsnip bed ready for planting, if you decide to follow the "tube" idea!

 And this is what they look like in June



Thursday 12 March 2009

Update on Cathy

Cathy is still sneezing, but not as badly as at the weekend and she is looking MUCH brighter now, and more like her old self. She is obviously not liking being away from the other chickens, but as she is on antibiotics and has an infection I am keeping her separated.

She can still see her friends as she is only separated by electric fence netting, but she is isolated in the Broody Ark for the next week, just in case she lays an egg. The egg would be contaminated by the antibiotic, so I don't want to risk not knowing who has laid what!

She is getting lots of cuddles and treats and fingers crossed she will be OK. The egg peritonitis seems to have cleared up as well, for now :-)

and THANK YOU all for asking how she is, and for your kind words about Genghis Hen.

Growing Broad Beans (Fava Beans) or French or Runner Beans

Broad beans are very frost hardy and will germinate in a soil temperature as low as 2°C (35°F). You could have sown them in the autumn, but I don’t as the mice always eat them if I do! I sow mine in pots/tubes in Feb and plant out good sized plants in March or early April. You can also sow the seed direct around mid March, if the soil is warm enough.

A good indication that it is ok to sow hardy seeds is if the grass has started to grow, the soil temperature will be above 5-6 degrees centigrade and you can sow/plant hardier seeds direct in the ground, or plant out tubers such as potatoes.

BUT IF you have a heavy clay soil wait! Seeds sown in wet or cold soil tend to rot and die. Waiting for a few more weeks won’t hurt.

A black or clear plastic covering over soil will warm it up, so you can sow some seeds a little earlier than usual. Spread plastic sheeting over the areas where you plan to sow the seeds. Weigh down the sides so it can't blow away in winter winds. After 3 - 4 weeks, the soil should be warm enough for seed sowing.

I use big sheets of Geotextile ( weed sheet) which we have a huge roll of, so we have 4 sheets which cover the 4 plots in the veg garden all winter. We turn them back to let the weed seeds geminate, then cover the weeds up to kill them off!

I soak my beans for a few hours to soften the cases and make it easier for the seed to germinate.

I put the tubes in old, broken seed modules (to help support them) standing in a gravel tray (like a seed tray but with no holes) and fill them to within an inch of the top with peat free growing medium. I then put a bean in each tube

and fill the tube to the top with growing medium

I label the trays ( so I know which is which!)

water them well (be gentle, you don't want to over water!)

and cover them with a clear lid, mainly to keep off the mice, but also it adds a bit of warmth in the polytunnel....if you have a cool windowsil that would be fine.

These will have grown leaves within a couple of weeks and will be rerady to plant out by the end of March (if the weather is OK)

For those of you who are interested, I planted these on a waxing moon in the second quarter.

I use the same technique (seeds in pots /tubes) for Runner and French beans a bit later on in the year!