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!

Monday 27 April 2009

More great stuff via Freecycle! including some family history for me.....

Last week I got some tomato plants in exchange for some eggs and surplus organic onion sets. I arranged this swap via the comments pages on this blog, with Sue-from-Hereford. She was a lovely lady, and the tomato plants ( yes I know, I know, I already have far too many!) are of a variety I haven't grown before! She had tried and failed to get some onion sets from Hereford Freecycle and I was happy to provide some from my surplus stock.

And today, I have acquired a projector screen from Freecycle, which will be useful for when I am giving talks.

Funnily enough, the lady I got it from is a Family History lecturer (when I got her email I realised had heard of her name), and when we got chatting (as you do) on the 'phone I mentioned that I had very little detail about my Mum's family, because when I was 10 she lost the ability to speak to me. This meant I never got to find out any details about my ancestors and as we could never find Mum's birth certificate, I have found it very hard to trace my family tree.

Well blow me down if she didn't come up with my Mum's first marriage details, the dates of birth of my half siblings ( who I never had any contact with so don't know where they now live to ask stuff...)

from her sources online, while we were chatting on the 'phone!

What a result! She did this from my Mum's maiden name and her first married name. She is hopeful she can find out a bit more for me as well. So, I may yet solve the mystery of exactly when during the First World War my Mum was born....and maybe even more!

Oooh I have tried and failed before, to trace any family history! My Mum divorced her first husband but met my Dad while it was all still going on. I was born before the divorce became final. In the 1960's, despite what they say about them being "swinging" ....well..having an illegitimate child and "living in sin" wasn't, apparently, the done thing!

I never really felt any fall out from all this, as my Mum changed her surname to match my Dad's before they finally got married and I had my Dad's surname from birth BUT it must have been hard for them....and I do know my Mum's parents disowned her and forbade any family contact with her, for the "shame" she had supposedly brought on the family name. (strict Irish Catholics, they were, very unkind.....!)

And so this bit of family history was (understandably, I suppose) kept a bit quiet....and must have been very painful for my parents. I knew about it, of course, but I also knew it wasn't a subject for very much discussion. And then when Mum had her first stroke and could no longer talk, any chance I had of finding out more, vanished.

So, I have not been able to trace my family tree. And I have always wondered, just how old my Mum really was...and where she was born...things like that.? These are, after all, the fabric of our lives. We all make small talk about where we were born, our surnames, our relatives, what our grandparents did, who died when...stuff like that. And I don't know any of it.

So maybe, just maybe, I am going to find out a bit more! Oooh exciting :-) Isn't it funny how things drop into place sometimes? A chance conversation and things just ........happen.

I won't hold my breath, but it IS nice to know my Mum DOES have a documented history out there, somewhere ;-)

And its another chapter for my book ;-)

SGF Co-op post on Greening the next generation - Eco Club.

I have just posted over on the Simple Green Frugal Co op about Greening the next generation - running an Eco Club .

It is a revised and updated version of a post I put up on here a few months ago.

I hope it is helpful and useful to anyone thinking about doing something similar.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Gardening at School

This post really needs to be read in tandem with my posts about the Eco Club I run at school! I also teach organic gardening at the same school in the summer and autumn terms :-)

My lovely daughter Compostgirl started primary school in Sept 2005, just as her School joined both the Eco-School movement

AND the HDRA Organic Gardens for Schools Scheme. The school is small and rural with around 160 children attending. It has a sports playing field, a small wooded area and an area of grassy playground. Some of this was used to make a vegetable garden in the late autumn of 2005, giving all six classes a raised bed each of roughly 2.5 m x 1.3 m.

In Spring 2006 there was a plea for parents to help the children with their new raised beds and compost bins. I am an experienced organic gardener and so I offered to help. I started going into school and help with Compostgirl's class. At the same time I had just trained to become a Master Composter, so I got the school some more compost bins and arranged for every classroom and the staff room to have a caddy to collect compostable materials such as fruit peelings and scrap paper. All the paper towels and waste from the garden was obviously composted also!

I got more involved and all this rapidly developed into my helping three classes with their raised beds and advising the 3 other classes, along with bug hunts in the compost bins! During the Summer and Autumn term 2006 I visited the school once or twice a week, running sessions with the children, visiting the compost bins, planting up the raised beds and growing herbs and vegetables. The children ate some salad in school and all took home a bag of their produce at the end of the summer term.

We even managed to produce some boxes of autumn vegetables from the garden that the children had grown ( even though we hadn't planned this!) and these were auctioned at the Harvest Festival to raise money for Food Aid 2006.

Back to school in September 2006, and I also got involved in the co-running of a new twice monthly after school Eco Club. I have written about Eco Club in a previous post and about a third of the school are Eco Club members and it is very successful!

Summer Term 2007 saw me regularly gardening and composting with the whole school, infant classes weekly and junior classes every other week. Despite the dreadful weather we had a good harvest. Every class bed had both July harvested crops for the children to take home AND October harvested crops to go in to the Harvest Festival. In October 2007 EVERY class provided at least one veg box to be auctioned and the children were SO proud of their efforts!

In 2008 I went into school from noon on Wednesdays - we called it “Welly Wednesday!”-to teach Organic gardening to all the school. I again helped the children to plant and grow and weed and compost and harvest.

In July ALL the school took home some veg they had grown. Every class again entered a veg box of produce grown by then into the 2008 Harvest Festival auction. The children were *so* proud of what they had grown :-)

I have just today started the 2009 growing season. I recently went on a Food for Life CPD training day at Garden Organic so I can spread the word about growing, cooking and eating organic veg to other schools in my area. This is a really good scheme, if you can, get your school signed up!

I have also just started up a Gardening club at lunchtime for the Juniors and today had around 25 children attending the first sessions :-) split either side of their lunch, we planted Broad Beans and Parsnips and discussed crop rotations and how to grow potatoes, salads, carrots and leeks. Before Easter we planted some potatoes in bags as part of the Potato Council scheme, we received 2 of each variety of Emerald and Rocket and the children decided to plant one of each in our home made compost and the other in bought in peat free growing medium...the children think the ones in our own compost will do best!

As a Master Composter and Organic gardener , I want every child to understand what can and can’t be composted, how to do it, why we do it and what to do with the finished compost. I want them to go home and spread the composting message as well!

The children also learn a practical skill from me - how to grow organic veg! Many eat produce IF they have grown it, which they would not necessarily try at home if it were purchased! (How many 5-year-old children will eat Rocket, Shallots, Mizuma or Rainbow Chard?) Above all the children enjoy what we do! We have fun in the garden learning how to do stuff.

I freely admit I don't just do this out of altruism. I am selfish, really, as I get the most enormous amount of enjoyment from doing all this! I LOVE seeing the delight on the children’s faces when we harvest a crop THEY have grown! They run up to me in the street in Ledbury to tell me about their veg plots at home. Also I have worked out, if I carry on doing what I do, by the time my daughter leaves primary school I will have shown over 300 children ways of organic growing and composting. I feel that would make a pretty good epitaph on my gravestone ;-)

I have also subsequently developed a whole new career as an Environmental Educator and now Forest School Leader, purely from starting to help at my local school and becoming a Master Composter. It has all been hard work and it takes a lot of planning BUT is very oh so rewarding. I have also been lucky that the school is so receptive to what I have volunteered to do.

What we are all doing at school though, is part of a bigger message, spreading throughout the school, of living in a more sustainable way. This has benefited the children and the school in many ways and has meant the school is now working for the highest level an Eco School can achieve, the Green Flag award.

But MOST importantly, the children LOVE all what we do! And so do I...and so does Compostman, who helps out as much as he can. And so does Compostgirl, who gets her classmates to join in..!

Monday 20 April 2009

Our Study

Several of you have commented on how nice our study/office is recently and I thank you for that.

It USED TO BE a horrible room, it is North facing and West facing, so gets the worst of the rain laden winds here and the walls ( solid, not cavity!) were letting in the damp for many years before we moved in. Although Compostman stopped all that by re-pointing the outside when we first got the house it left the inside still prone to getting mould growth in cold spots on the walls...not nice!

It had a horrible old carpet in, it was dingy, and damp... and despite being a big room it was so poorly laid out we could never find stuff and had no space to store things.

so...Compostman started on "The Great Renovation".

This involved replacing the single glazed windows with modern double glazed, FSC soft wood frames, which he painted. Then he lined the interior walls with plaster board, with damp proof membrane and air gaps and thermal film ( as per best practice) to minimise heat loss through the walls.

He then took up the old floorboards, sadly they were in too poor a state to re use, so we have been burning them and very good tinder they are, too! He laid a lovely new floor and then a new FSC wooden floor on top of that, with insulation under the new floor to ( again) minimise heat loss. We chose a nice, calming blue for the walls and roller blinds for ease of use and for shade (as we ae working in there a fair bit and the room gets the sun all afternoon and evening.

I bought a new computer desk and a matching long table for me (I tried to get stuff from Freecycle, but failed...), this maximises the usable space, but the table has folding legs so can be moved out if we ever need the floor space for guests! we have a sofe bed which could be used if needed.

Compostman has a lovely long desk and we re instated the large bookshelves on the wall. These hold a huge number of reference books, manuals, box files of reference stuff etc etc ...

I also bought a huge cupboard which takes all my Environmental Education/Forest School stuff, rucksacks, kit etc etc AND lots of craft supplies, paper, and other stuff...its like the TARDIS in there!

Compostman also took advantage of having the floor up to finally do the clever 3 zone central heating zoning he has wanted to do for ages, so we also now have a much more energy efficient way of heating only the bits of the house we need to heat, rather than doing the whole lot and relying on the radiator thermostatic valves to turn off individual rooms. We still have the thermostatic valves as well, but the house is divided up and there are separate controllers switching on/off the heating depending on the temperature and the time of day. We have noticed a big drop in our oil consumption! and we can make it work when we have the woodburner on, so we are using our wood rather than oil...


The Study has been transformed by hard work on the part of Compostman from a nasty, cold, damp, mouldy room (which I hated working in) to one which is warm, needs little heating, is cool in summer, is comfortable, well designed to work in and has lots of space to do stuff. I can lay out sewing and use my sewing machine, I can prepare for a Forest school session and have lots of space to spread stuff out, he can practice his guitar, we both can work at our desks, Compostgirl can write her stories in there with us, or use the computer and we can get lots of stuff done as a family.

I am a lucky woman to be married to such a helpful, useful man! And we have been married now for 24 years and we have been "together" for 25 ish years....

He is a wonderful man and I am a very lucky woman to have him in my life.

Friday 17 April 2009

Coincidences, Freecycle and the power of love.

I answered a post on Freecycle Hereford which popped into my inbox a few days ago offering a roll of weed suppressing fabric and I was in luck!

Both I and the person offering the fabric have been having email issues, so on Tuesday I got an email from another person, who turned out to be the wife of the offerer.

At the end of the message telling me how to collect the fabric she asked "how are the hens" and signed the message "Kim".

I wondered for a bit, then thought maybe the lady was "Kim from Hereford" who sometimes leaves comments on here....so would know about my hens...as I couldn't think of ANYONE else called Kim who I know...

I called her number and it WAS! She had recognised my email address and thought it might be me!

So I went into Hereford with Compostman and Compostgirl on Wednesday, to have a family medical appointment and then we walked across town to a lovely little craft knitting and fabric shop called Badder, where I met the lovely Kim and got my weed suppressing fabric and handed over some eggs from "the girls" as a thank you. Compostgirl was enchanted to meet a 9 month old Labradoodle called Bruno ( who was SO cute, just like a big sheep and so friendly!)

We had a good old chat with Kim and then we left, to go back via High Town. Compostman went off to collect some AV kit ( more on this anon) and Compostgirl and I walked through the very lovely Hereford High Town to look at a Council run Safety fair, Safe, Sound and Sorted, with advice on car seats and bullying and fire safety and all sorts of things...Compostgirl got given a very nice rucksack and some traffic leaflets and stuff, I got an anti bullying t shirt, we both had a go at plate spinning, then we met up with Compostman and all three of us had our photo taken by Wyvern FM look at number 323 in the gallery for a bigger image!

and we admired a stilt walker....

So despite it being a very sad sort of day for me, we all DID have a good day...and being with my family made me feel much better about everything ...

Love....as I said in my last post, that is what it is all about. I love my husband and daughter very much. I treasure the time we spend together and the small, everyday things we do. I love to see Compostgirl laughing at a ridiculously tall stilt man, and see her delight at a circus trick. I love the smile I see on Compostman's face when he spots us in a crowd, when he has gone off to do something and then come back to meet up with us somewhere.

Love....the best thing in the whole wide world and something to be said to our loved ones and to be shouted about.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

A thank you.

Thank you all for your kind thoughts about my earlier post.

I loved my Mum very much and I miss her very much. This day is always a hard day for me and it actually gets worse as I get older, in a way, because I am a Mum now and all the things I do here, the preserving, growing, chickens, making wine etc, well my Mum was SO good at all that and I remember her doing all of it so vividly.

I would love to have her here, to see what we do here at Compost Mansions (oh how she would love it here!), to meet her grandchild and for me to ask her questions...I have SO many questions I would ask her and so many things I want to say to her.

I only ever had my Mum as a child, I lost her, to talk to, when I was 10 and I really miss not having had a mum to talk to, as an adult.

Ho hum...it has actually been a good-ish day, I have resolutely avoided all the Hillsborough stuff, not because I don't care, (I do, oh how I do...) but because for the last 20 years that is all this day has meant to every body else and I have always felt somehow *my* single loss paled in comparison with the deaths of all those poor people.....I know that sounds a bit silly, but having thought about it, I look back now and realise that is how I have felt.

My post about my Mum earlier today was partly to claim this day back for her and for me (but without wanting to be disrespectful to other people and their grief).

Also I realised I tended not to talk about my Mum, partly because, well, we just don't talk about death, do we?

Also I suffered a lot for being "different" as a teenager, having a mum who was not there at events, who lived in hospital and was "not the same" as other peoples mums...there was a stigma attached, somehow?...I got, not bullied exactly...but certainly I suffered from some very unkind, thoughtless words at school.

So...my post, whilst not being the first time I have ever discussed my Mum, was certainly the most public discussion I have ever had!

And while I didn't intend to upset anyone, I hope you all realise how precious love is, and how we should nurture it, welcome it, treasure it and live each day to the full, joyously and with an open heart....and that we should tell those we love, that we love them. And show it, each and every day.

because we only get to live today once.

I have learned that the hard way.

So, thank you all for your kind thoughts, they did help, and I thank you for them.

love, Sarah x

15th April 1989

20 years ago today, my Mother died.

She had been in various Hospitals, Nursing Homes etc for the previous 17 years, having suffered the first of many many strokes in November 1972, during my first year at Grammar School. I was 10. I found her, I was alone in the house, gave her CPR and called an ambulance.

She was paralysed down her right side, had brain damage and lost her ability to speak, but by June 1973, after a long session in the excellent River mead hospital in Oxford, had recovered enough to live at home ( on the ground floor) to walk with a stick, could write with her left hand and had begun to learn to speak again. Her mental faculties were apparently unimpaired, for which we were all very grateful. Her doctors spoke of anticipating "a near full recovery".

Then she had suffered another stroke, on the eve of my last day at school in July 1973, and never recovered from it. She was standing at the gate watching me ride my pony and in the space of time it took me to put Periwinkle in the stable and walk up to where she was standing, she had another, major, stroke and by the time I got to her she was on the ground, unconscious.

I gave her (yet again) CPR and called an ambulance, but the damage was done. She suffered more than 20 further strokes in the next decade, each one eating away a bit more of her brain.

She spent the next 16 years in hospital (usually on geriatric wards) amongst very old, usually senile people ( she was only 48 when this happened but stroke victims are usually older....) and I visited her several times a week, more if she was closer to where I lived but sometimes less often if she had been moved to a hospital 20 miles away ( as happened between one visit and the next once, I turned up to see her and found she had gone that afternoon from Worcester to a new ward in Evesham...)

I won't go into the whole other story of my disintegrating relationship with my father during this time, his alcoholism and his throwing me out of my family home when I was 16, thus aborting my senior education and plans for a glitering Oxbridge degree for no good reason other than his alcoholism......but despite all this I kept on visiting MY MUM, because that's who she was, despite the paralysis, the inability to talk to me, the terrible surroundings, the soul destroying (for her and for me) nature of the geriatric wards she inhabited ( remember this was in the 70's and "Human Rights" and "Patient Dignity" were not buzzwords to "the management" The nursing staff were all wonderful but.....)

Mum attended my wedding and looked very happy to do so, she obviously approved of Compostman ( who wouldn't!) she showed lots of love and smiles whenever I went to see her (and oh however often I went, it NEVER felt like enough...)

but finally, her poor organs gave up the unequal struggle to cope with a semi paralysed body...and she died in the early hours of 15th April l989.

I was in the throes of my last week of revision for my University Finals for my Materials Science degree when this happened, I had been going to see Mum every day as she got ever weaker and I knew the end was near but still, it was a shock when the call came. I remember us going to see Mum in the early hours and after she died at 5 am coming home, in a numb state, to finally get to sleep late morning, and wake up at 3 pm, turn on the TV to see the Hillsborough disaster unfold in front of us on the TV screen.

The images I saw haunt me still. Coupled with my sad frame of mind and lack of sleep they took on an even more nightmarish quality which I can still clearly recall today.

I understand, to those who so tragically lost 96 loved ones at an innocent, pleasurable occasion like a Football match because of "officialdom", why this date is so sad and why the injustice still burns....

because I lost my Mum as well, today, 20 years ago, and whilst the circumstances are oh so totally and horribly and tragically different....we all lost loved ones on the 15th April 1989.

I can never forget this date. Nor should I. Nor should any of us.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

A day in my life....

I have seen a lot of other people post about one of their days, so I thought I would as well....

This is actually a fairly typical day for this time of year, Compostgirl is on holiday but as she is poorly at the moment with an ear infection we are not going out anywhere, so this is a typical day when she is at school as well.

So...A day in my life

Got up, dressed in manky gardening clothes as I am not planning on going anywhere this morning!

Compostman made tea and boiled eggs and toast while I checked on Fudge the guinea pig and the plants in the heated propagator in the porch. Having fed and watered the plants and Fudge, and removed the lids from the hot boxes (or the plants get too hot!)

I went to let out the hens.

I went via the feed store to get some corn and water for them, greeting various cats on the way, then let the chickens out and looked them over as they ate the corn and I filled up their drinkers. I always check like this and spend time with them first thing as that is where any injury or illness can be first spotted. If a hen is a bit droopy or limping, or looking hunched up I will see. Once they are off in the wood or garden I have very little chance of spotting any problem that day. I also collect whatever eggs there are.

As breakfast was nearly ready I didn't linger too long, sometimes I spend half an hour with them, taking a mug of tea with me, but today I was only 10 mins as I wanted my breakfast!

Went back to the house via the polytunnel...I have to open up the cold frames inside the pt and remove the lids from the seed trays as it gets too hot now in the day time and my baby food plants would fry :-(

Then back via the garden, pausng to admire some of the flowers and listen to a robin singing...

to eat breakfast with Compostman and Compostgirl. We had boiled eggs (thank you hens!) and homemade bread ( thank you Compostman!) toasted, with home made jam for them and Marmite for me ( I am a Marmite fan)

Breakfast cleared away and Compostgirl given medicine, a drink, a blanket, a cuddly soft toy (Bagpuss today) and settled on the sofa with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to read and a dvd (Wallace and Grommit Cracking Contraptions) to watch if she wanted. I went to sort out some dirty washing, spot treat some stains, decide what could be worn another day in the garden or what needed washing now. Having done this I put on a load of washing and left it to wash in the futility room.

Compostman went outside to cut up trees and, having checked on Compostgirl, I went to the study to finish my Simple Green Frugal post on Composting and see if I could get it to publish. We have been having big problems with our connection here and my internet access is erratic, to say the least! While there and waiting for the connection to get itself sorted out (roll eyes) I dealt with some work and personal paperwork and tidied up a bit. The study is a large, former bedroom which now is our joint office and library plus resource store for all my environmental education activities. So lots of scope for mess in here!

It used to be a very nasty cold, slightly damp, north facing room and used to be a horrible place to work but since Compostman has installed a new floor, new flooring, dry lined all the walls with insulation and re decorated it, and I have rearranged the office furniture and storage to maximum advantage, it is now a lovely room for us both to work in and for Compostgirl to use the computer with us.

I then went into our bedroom to strip our bed, open the windows, re make the bed and oh no! spot a patch of mould in the corner, behind a bookshelf...so everything came off the shelf, the chest was moved out from the wall and I washed the corner down with bleach and then with water and dried it off.

While the stuff was all out I gave the room a good vaccumn and dust. I also cleaned the bathroom toilet, mirror and sink while I was up there.

Compostgirl and I also stripped her bed to wash and sorted out dirty clothes from her room....

Then it was lunchtime. Home made soup, bread and quiche. Soup made by me, quiche (bacon, leek and cheese, leek ours, bacon and cheese from within 10 miles) and bread made by Compostman..he is a VERY good cook indeed :-)

Over lunch we listend to some music, "The lark ascending" and talked about Gods and Goddesses, the Romans in Britain, Pyrimids, non seasonal veg and why we don't eat it, food preservation, food miles and chocolate. Compostgirl has a very inquiring mind! It is good to have interesting conversations, as long as lunch gets eaten as well....

After lunch was cleared away I put on another load of washing whilst Compostman hung out the first lot in the sunshine. Compostgirl felt a little better from having a good meal and some more pain relief, so went out to play in the garden on her swing. I checked for more eggs, made sure the plants in the porch and polytunnel were ok and then planted some seeds in the veg garden.

When I had finished sowing a couple of rows of carrots and planting some more shallots and covered them over (very important, to keep the chickens and cats off my seeds!)

After a pause to have some water and give Compostgirl a drink, a snack and a cuddle, I went down to Ledbury to the Household Waste Site with some recycling and to go to a shop. I got some yoghurt, wine, beer, milk and a NZ lamb joint which was reduced, so I bought it.

I came back, meeting Compostman and Compostgirl in the Coppice up the road, where they had gone to have a look at the growing hedges and verges, so I got back home before them, made and we all drank some tea and then I went back out in the garden to dig out some more compost.

Compostgirl and Compostman cut up and barrowed some logs from the wood into the woodstore ( well, Compostman did...) and Compostgirl played in the wood and came to chat to us while we did various outside chores.

Compostgirl ate at 5.30 pm , a bit early for us, so she had some more of the lunchtime quiche, some chips and our green beans from the freezer and then some ice cream and watched the Simpsons. I did a bit more work in the study on my Forest School brochure (I am offering sessions/parties/summer camp days here ) and put back our bedroom to some semblance of order. I also answered a few comments on my blog and the Simple Green Frugal blog.

I then went outside, watered and covered over the plants in the polytunnel, shut the dors and windows, got Fudge in from his run and fed him in his cage, called the chickens into the orchard and shut them in their pen, Compostgirl and I getting attacked by Cap't Flint in the process (you have just finally sealed your fate to be eaten you bastard....)

I gave Compostgirl her evening milk and snack, and then sent her up to bed, she put her pillow cases on, and got ready for bed, Harry Potter 4 went with her and she read until we came up to say goodnight,.....I have persuaded her NOT to watch the DVD until she has finished the book.

I then fed the cats, who were falling over themselves and me inside the futility room. Compostman came in from his lumberjack efforts and YES WE DID have a quick chorus of "He's a Lumberjack and he's OK..." !....Compostman finished making Compostgirl's bed with the bedclothes she had chosen....

We said goodnight etc to Compostgirl, gave her cuddles, pain relief and ear drops and then I got Fudge the GP in from his run and fed him, watered all the plants and covered over the seedlings in the porch growing area.

I folded up the days washing, updated the gardening book with what we had been up to today, we talked about what we should fell next and where to site the new garden shed ( building is more precise description!) and what and where we should do about killing Capt Flint....

and we ate our evening meal of roast lamb (which I bought earlier)and veg from the freezer and leftovers from the fridge, actually a very quick meal!

With a bottle of nice wine I bought from Wine Rack at 40% off....

while we watched an episode from series 1 of "Absolutely" on dvd...

I have just updated this post and am now off to bed.....

I hope you have enjoyed my day, I certainly have! ( although I am a bit tired now....)

Sunday 12 April 2009

SGF post on "What do I do with all this compost"

Just to let you all know my latest Simple Green Frugal blog post is now up. It's on using the compost you (hopefully) have got lurking at the bottom of your compost bins/piles


Happy Easter

Easter eggs! The view from my bedroom this morning.

A time of rebirth and renewal in the world here. I hope you all have a lovely day, wherever you are!

An unexpected gift

Ooh I have received an unexpected gift via the postman!

I was entered into a draw and I have won some lovely goodies from Garden Organic.

A jute bag, some seeds, a CD about composting, a couple of booklets (on worm composting and composting), the biography of Laurence D Hills ( which I was actually considering buying!) and a yummy G and B Easter egg...

Mmm guess what I will be doing on Easter Sunday? reading my new book and eating "Maya Gold" chocolate, that is what :-)

It has occurred to me, as I have some of these items already, and I have got a few other things I would like to share out from having a clear out, and it is my birthday soon

..... I think I shall do a giveaway...watch for a post in the next few days for details....

Saturday 11 April 2009

I REALLY should know better.....

I REALLY should know better.....

I posted a comment on a previous post earlier today....

The picture shows a shrew ( a common shrew I think, pigmy shrews are even smaller with even pointier noses!)

but the cats DO bring in bank voles, yellow necked mice, wood mice and ( whisper) the late Monty puss brought in a dormouse once, which I managed to rescue and release. The worst "present" was a live Moorhen, which was brought in through 3 cat flaps, 3 rooms and then killed ( very messily) all over the sitting room carpet...that was done by Kitty Cat many years ago, in his "catching Hares, Rabbits and full grown cock Pheasants on the wing" days...

I wish the young cats would bring back something edible, for a change, I don't really fancy shrew...(!

Guess what Sidney has just brought in?

A full grown, warm, dead rabbit....

I need to be careful what I wish for, I think!

Slaughter of the innocents

What IS it with my animals?

First it was moles, now it is shrews!

See how small it is?

They have very sensitive snouts and whiskers.

This one was unfortunately dead when we got to it, but we HAVE rescued many, alive and wriggling and vocal. Watch out if you ever have to handle one, as shrews bite hard and they, too , have venomous saliva!

and now the hens are getting in on the act! These are of Henny, she caught this live shrew and ran off with it, the other hens following her like a macabre Benny Hill chase scene, before she managed to find the time to swallow it whole. :-(

We find at least 3 dead ones a day, usually inside the dining room. I think the cats have the (misguided) idea that as WE eat in there, THEY should as well?

And we are constantly rescuing other wildlife at the moment...

Sometimes I think I live in a madhouse ;-)

Thursday 9 April 2009

Homegrown food - taking stock of what we still have and looking forward to new stuff

If you look on the right hand side of my blog you will see a list of the homegrown food we still have in stock and are eating now. I have been asked by a few people what we have left, so I thought I would make a list. Its getting less each day, but I was quite pleasantly surprised when I did a quick stock take! I am not sure we could live on it but it makes a welcome contribution to the diet.

The first of the new season salad, herbs and such like are coming through fast now, and when I see new bean and pea plants growing fast I know we are not far away from eating them, fresh, again! I have carrots growing in tubs inside the polytunnel and spuds in bags with haulms up the top of the bags! ( so new spuds will be on the menu in another month...) and the broad beans are doing well in the garden. I have turnips to succesionally sow, asn the usual salads, spring onions and radishes will go in as and when a bit of land becomes available throughout the summer, and in pots in the Polytunnel.

The plum trees are smothered with blossom and as long as we have no frosts in the next few days, should have a bumper crop of fruit this year. The soft fruit has lots of flower buds forming as well.

I have all my seed potatoes in the ground, now, and am actually ahead of myself thanks to the good weather! (shhh, don't tempt fate!) the parsnips are all in as well.

I just need to get the onion sets in the main garden, I have overwintered shallots and onions in some raised beds, but need to plant more, oh and carrots, in between the alliums. The garlic, planted in December, is going well.

I have peas and beans of all sorts shooting up, all the tomatoes, peppers, aubergines etc are now good sized plants and are out in the cold frames inside the polytunnel, where they keep nice and warm at night with a lid over them and get fresh warm air in the daytime without the lid.

I still need to put some melon and cucumber seeds in the heated propagator ( now I have some room!) then when they come up (in a day or two!) next will be the courgettes and then squashes of various sorts, which will go in during the next week or so.... I find these grow so fast that I tend to leave them until about this time in April, otherwise they grow into huge leggy plants when it is still too cold to pot them out in the Polytunnel.

This year I am going to try, yet again, to grow some Kale and Purple Sprouting, plus a few other brassicas...we will construct a METAL cage which, hopefully, will stop the squirrels from eating every last shred of them. So I have been planting various brassicas and they, too, are in the Polytunnel.

Looking at my "fresh food" list, I DO need some brassicas to fill that "hungry gap", about now....!

Phew! I hadn't realised quite how many plants I have growing, I am not surprised the house and porch and polytunnel all look like mini forests at the moment :-)

I do feel worryingly ahead of it all at the moment...but I probably shouldn't have said that ( she whispers) as we will now have non stop hail storms for the next month, or a plague of locusts......or something....I keep expecting to find a whole clutch of seeds I should have sown in January , but didn't ;-)

So...what do the rest of you have left over from last year? and will you be growing more, or less of anything in particular this year?

Catch up - 2 trips to Garden Organic, Ryton, in the space of 4 days

I have had more broadband problems recently so am woefully behind with the blog posts, but here is a catch up post of my inspiring and refreshing 2 trips to Garden Organic Ryton a few weeks ago.

I went on a Sunday to attend the Garden Organic Volunteers day, where we get various talks, workshops and an outline of the coming years strategy, a fabulous lunch and a guided tour around the gardens by members of the GO team. In particular I had a wonderful chat with Bob Sherman about Heritage Seed Library seeds, growing vegetables, the work I do at school with the Organic garden and Eco Club, and plants and stuff, over a fabulous lunch.

It was generally a very inspiring sort of day, it was good to meet other members of staff again, to fit faces to voices over the 'phone, to network with other volunteers and spend time with like minded people from all walks of life. Garden Organic views its volunteers as valued members of the team and provide lots of support, information and back up, and I got to choose a shirt to wear from a rather nice selection of organic, fair trade Garden Organic logo'd tops. I chose a polo shirt and I shall wear it when I am gardening at school with the children.

I was then back at Ryton the following Wednesday to attend a Food for Life Partnership training day. It was good fun, I met lots more like minded people who were passionate about wanting to get children growing stuff in school and all in all had another lovely and inspiring time.

So these photos are from the two days, just things which really captured my interest......I could post lots of pictures as EVERYTHING at Ryton is so wonderful, but I won't. It probably is a good thing I do not live any closer, though! I suspect I would be there all the time.....

I do urge you to go and visit Garden Organic's HQ at Ryton, the gardens are full of ideas and tips on gardening organically and really do showcase best practice. I promise you will come away with some new ideas!

The fabulous demonstration composting area! I seem to spend a lot of time in there whenever I visit Ryton ;-)

The huge compost heaps which make the wonderful compost used to grow all the fabulous plants and veggies the award winning cafe use to make the most scrumptious meals!

A wonderful pebble spiral inside the Biodynamic garden

Inside the Paradise Garden greenhouse, this garden is dedicated to the memory of the late Geoff Hamilton.

The practical bits of the FFLP course on Wednesday, sowing seed in the Allotment garden, we dug and composted,weeded and sowed...it was great fun! ( Am I odd for enjoying doing gardening in someone elses garden?)

The small town garden, this originally was put together as the garden for the C4 TV series "All muck and magic" - anyone remember that? I LOVED it!

Returning home both days I was treated to a most amazing sun, setting over Marcle Ridge as I drove home....

Friday 3 April 2009

Stopping a very broody hen!

As I previously mentioned , Violet Dorking had gome madly broody...dunking her bum in icy water didn't help, and she was severely disrupting the other Dorking girls in their life and egg laying...so she had a 2 day spell in the "anti hormonal hen" pen....aka a double insulated plastic rabbit hutch, with no bedding, but lots of water and food...

She REALLY did NOT like this and screetched like a mad hen non stop for a few hours, then settled down to a low key grumble for another few hours...and then stopped being broody.

I let her out after 24 hours and she is back to normal, laying and free ranging and being her usual delightful self.

So...as Sweetiepie is also mad broody hen, guess who is in the "anti hormonal hen pen" now?

Quiet reigns in the orchard, at last ;-)

Thursday 2 April 2009

Sad news about Cathy Hen

Unfortunately my trip to the vet with Cathy did NOT have a good outcome :-(
Cathy had been suffering from Sterile Egg Yolk Peritonitis (EYP) This is something she has had for some time, it is something which is sadly common in ex battery hens due to their egg laying equipment being damaged by the excess number of eggs they are stimulated to lay. It is also what eventually led to the demise of Genghis Hen:-(

Cathy had been on antibiotics for a week, and had been kept near by, but separate from, the other hens for another two weeks. She was allowed back in with the rest of the hens a few days ago and seemed very perky and happy, as I detailed in my post showing her indoors with us.
But on Sunday evening she looked puffy in the abdomen, and hunched up, which is NEVER a good sign in a chicken. She also didn't want to move around or eat much. I had to take Sid down to the Vets on Monday (he has a poorly eye) and I decided to take Cathy also as I was worried about her. On examination she had a swollen abdomen and a temperature again. The prognosis was not good for her, but after establishing she was not in any real pain the Vets and I decided that they would try to draw off the fluid, to ease the discomfort and to get her back on some antibiotics. We all knew this might not work and if it did might not be a very long term help, but we were all wanting to try to save her. I left her at the vets for the procedure and when I went to collect her, was told that 350 ml of nasty fluid had been drawn off! Poor Cathy, no wonder she felt poorly.

I took her home Monday afternoon and started her on the antibiotic again and yesterday she seemed to perk up and came to see us in the house and had a few worms from where Compostman was digging

and seemed much restored

BUT today I was worried, she didn't look bad, exactly,..... but chickens mask how poorly they are (as a protective move) and so I just trusted my instincts that she looked wrong, somehow... Her comb was turning purple whenever she moved and she felt very cold so I took her to the vets this afternoon. On examination it was apparent she wasn't going to recover from all this. So I very sadly held her and stroked her whilst Tamsin the Vet gave her a lethal injection and she went to sleep for good.

I came home with her body and she has been buried on the edge of our woodland, next to Genghis Hen, with some flowers placed on her grave by Compostgirl.

We shall all miss Cathy very much, she really WAS a pet to us, wanted to be with us all the time, was gentle and friendly and sweet natured to all. She followed me around and chatted to me as I dug the garden or hung out the washing or worked in the polytunnel. I shall miss her waiting by the door to get into the kitchen, jumping up on my lap for a cuddle and purring when I stroked her neck. Compostman is also very sad as Cathy was his favourite hen and he chose her name, and she liked to come and see what he was doing in the garden also. She was the only hen to be really friendly to Compostman and Compostgirl as well as to me.

RIP Cathy Hen, you will be missed by all of us, but especially me.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Vet visits

A quick post as I am off to the Vets to collect Kitty Cat after leaving him there this am to have his bloods checked for his kidney function (not good, but no worse) and to establish he now has bad arthritis and nothing worse...( and yes he has arthritis and he has had a steroid injection and has some glucosamine tablets to take which hopefully will help)

I had to take Sid puss( injured eye) and Cathy hen ( more Sterile Egg Yolk Peritonitis worries) down to the Vets on Monday..Sid has antibiotic eye drops prescribed and is already much better, but ..Cathy had to have 350 ml of fluid removed from her abdomen and her prognosis is not great :-(

and today she is much worse and I am taking her down to see Tamsin the Vet at 5.30 to discuss her condition :-((

an update on Cathy later will follow.


So, as I said here , my friend A came round to visit us last week and get some compost leaflets and things. In that post I mentioned the Mole incident and promised to elaborate in a later post, so here it is....

While we were all drinking coffee, Compostman gave a shout from the sitting room, and when we rushed in, we found that the cats had brought in a live mole!

The poor mole was trying to dig its way out down through the carpet, so Compostman "fenced" it off from the agitated cats by putting books and DVDs around it, and stood guard over it, while I ran to get some leather gloves (moles can bite quite hard!)

Having put on a pair of gloves, he picked it up and we went outside with it and put it down on the grass. But the ground seemed too hard for the mole to dig down through, or maybe it was a bit shocked? anyway I picked it up,

it seemed undamaged, but a little shocked by all the goings on,

so soft and so clean as well!

I put it down on the soil in a flower bed.

and it rapidly tunnelled down into the soil..

It seemed undamaged, and rapidly disappeared.

The cats were MOST annoyed at losing their mole! They found out where it had been placed and hung around the mole hole all afternoon....and were very cross with us for the rest of the day.

We lay on varied entertainment for visitors to Compost Mansions :-)