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!

Sunday 31 May 2009

Givaway closed now.....

OK it's officially closed now ;-)

I will get Compostgirl to draw a name in the next few days...and then post up the winner so they can send me their address...

and when they have got it, I will post up a picture of what it is....

and THANK YOU all so much for entering!

Saturday 30 May 2009

Givaway reminder

Just to remind you all, if you want to enter my givaway, the deadline is midnoght (BST) tonight, 30th May.......

Leave a comment if you want to be entered into the draw!

Saturday 23 May 2009

Chickenailia catch up - March and April

I didn't really feel I wanted to post a "chickenailia " post for March, after what happened to Genghis and Cathy :-(

and the end of April sort of has passed me by as I have been sooo busy in the garden, polytunnel and wood......and I have realised I haven't given you an update on the hens for over 2 months!

So...to make up for my tardiness...the egg and general behaviour report for all things chicken related here at Compost Mansions ;-)

We are now into long days, an early start and a late bedtime for the chickens. The sun rises at about 5 am, although, bogglingly the silly males (Capt'n Flint and Long John Silver) often crow at 2 am ( why? it is dark then? so why crow?)

The days are lengthening noticeably and thus egg laying really starts to improve as it is controlled by day length ( which is why caged hens are kept under artificial light for most of their lives, to maximise egg laying :-( ).

The girls all look happy with this extra natural day length and seem pleased to be able to eat bugs and worms for longer and are mostly all laying an egg a day. Good job I now have a regular clientele for eggs at school .....otherwise we would be overwhelmed with eggs!

Henny laid 27 eggs in March and in April she laid 25!...she lays the biggest eggs! 90 - 100 g dark brown speckled whoppers!

Ginger has laid well both months (26 and 28), she is the Number 1 hen and by far the most intelligent of them all...I seriously worry about how bright she can be, sometimes it is quite scary! Henny and Ginger are now 2 1/2 years old and have been with us for just over 2 years, so they are doing very well for us and it is lovely to see them as the leaders of the flock..much brighter than the 2 males I might add!

Attila laid 18 eggs both months, many of which were soft shelled or shell-less... she really is not much good at this egg laying lark...ho hum..I forgive her anyway ...

Sweetiepie has now gone mad bad bok bok broody again but laid 22 eggs during March and in April ...she is now though puffed up like a powder puff, bok bok hogging a nest box and really quite behaving quite potty! I like letting a broody hen hatch out eggs BUT it means a long wait to get an egg laying hen AND, of course, the chick may not be a hen, but a cock instead...

Yet again though , the absolute stars of egg laying and general loveliness are Babs and Goldie! Yep they laid the most eggs and the most splendishous...! Babs and Goldie laid a magnificent 60 eggs out of a possible 61 for March and April.

I am seriously considering buying more Rhode Rocks from Oxenhall soon, as these two have been SUCH good hens, brilliant layers and such friendly hens as well.

The big girls laid at total of 157 eggs in March and 147 in April, which is really pretty good, from 6 egg laying hens they have averaged 5 per day, which isn't bad going I think! AND the egg laying was 5 or 6 a day from the 6 laying hens from mid Feb.

The Silver Dorkings continue to delight, Cap't Flint the naughty cockerel is on a re homing list..I hope to give him away in the next week ... Cap't Flint chases Compostgirl every time he sees her and *I* have had to push him off with my foot and show him who is boss!

Long John Silver still lives in Cluckingham Palace with all the big hens and they are HIS harem. He leads them off into the Wood at every opportunity! Long John Silver is reasonably friendly and I hope that continues.

Ruby, Violet, Buffy and Willow are very sweet and cluck and croon at me and follow me around! And, of course, they are all now laying!

Dorking eggs are small (55g)at the moment but with the MOST amazing yellow yolks! Even more so than all the other hens! See what egg mayo sandwiches look like made from ther eggs....

The Fab Four Dorking girls coming into lay means even more eggs for me to sell and I recoup all of the feed bill as well, now. I have now 4 regular customers who LOVE the eggs and think they are fabulous!

Egg mayonnaise sandwiches, home made bread, salad, eggs, mayo...mmm delicious!

THANK you all, my lovely, lovely girls, you make my life very happy (and now you are finally paying for all the layers pellets and corn, I am made even happier!)

Friday 22 May 2009

Buddys Friday

Margaret, over at Margarets Ramblings, came to visit us this week, along with lovely daughter Fiona from
A pot, a thought and a smidgen of dirt

It was lovely to meet them both "in person" and they stayed to lunch with Compostman and I.

We walked around the garden, they met the cats and hens, we went in to a (very wet soggy ) wood and generally had a good old natter about this and that ( as you do!)

They left to go back to their holiday cottage a bit earlier than planned(Garak their lovely dog was getting a bit stressed because he had to stay in the car I think, which was a shame but our cats, especially old Kitty Cat, just don't get on with dogs :-( )

So they didn't get to meet Compostgirl as had been originally planned but it was really great to meet up with them and have them stay for lunch!

Margaret and Fiona, you are as nice in person as you both come across in your blogs.

Margaret runs a regular blog event called "Buddys Friday" where you are invited to join in and share help, support and advice on a number of subjects. its a really good idea and in these troubled, recession hit times anything which helps folk to be more frugal and self reliant is A JOLLY GOOD THING in my book :-)

So...why not pop over to her blog and have a read?

Thursday 21 May 2009

Day in my life - May

Time for my May post in this series.

This is actually a fairly typical day for this time of year, well actually my days tend to be much the same, unless I am out teaching or doing a Forest School/Environmental education/composting session somewhere...

So...A day in my life in May

Got up, had a shower and dressed in manky gardening clothes (as is the norm for me, unless I am planning on going anywhere. Long gone (and not regretted!) are the days when I dressed in suits, heels and put on makeup as routine!

Compostman made tea and toast, I did morning stuff with Compostgirl ( hair, book bag, check homework etc..) then he took Compostgirl to school, while I checked on Fudge the guinea pig

and the few remaining plants in the porch. The hot boxes are now turned off and most of the plants have been moved out to the Polytunnel now, but I am using the space as an "overflow" growing area for herb plantings and suchlike.

having fed and watered the plants and Fudge, 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, looked right to see if the Great Tits had fledged yet from the nest box by the polytunnel, then went to let the chickens out and looked them over as they ate the corn and other tit bits and I filled up their drinkers. I always check like this and spend time with them first thing and this is when I also collect whatever eggs there are.

I spent half an hour with them, taking a mug of tea with me, but then went back to eat a very late breakfast!

Went back to the house via the polytunnel...I have to open up the cold frames inside the PT and the outside one so as to harden off the plants waiting to be planted outside.

Then to the house via the garden, pausing to admire the flowers, check on the emerging plums and apples and listen to a robin singing...one of the things I LOVE about my life, is that I have time to listen to birdsong or to watch a worm wiggling....

Quickly ate toast and had a second cuppa, then breakfast stuff cleared away I went to sort out some washing, 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. I then spent half an hour tidying up, I washed the cat bowls and left them to drain, and went to tidy up downstairs, folding washing, picking up stuff from the floor, tidying up around a den Compostgirl has made in the sitting room, which I don't want to dismantle because it is a really good den BUT is a bit messy looking, so I tinkered around the edges to tidy it a bit.

Compostman had gone out into the workshop to continue making my Christmas present hen house (!ooh its so lovely!) and, having tidied up downstairs I hung up the freshly washed clothes to dry on the dolly...(as it was now pouring with rain outside)

I LOVE my drying dolly!

I then went upstairs to the study to get my email and 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. We have a meeting tomorrow here on site to discuss our Forest School plans, so I checked the site risk assessment and printed off some documents for the meeting.

I went into the bathroom and cleaned the bath, mirror and sink while I was up there.

I looked into Compostgirl's bedroom but decided SHE could tidy it up...(part of pocket money chores ...)

Then it was nearly lunchtime. So I made some hummous from a packet mix I have had lurking In the cupboard for a while and hadn't yet tried...

Lunch today...Home made soup, bread and hummous. Egg mayonnaise sandwiches. Soup and hummous and salad made/grown by me, bread made by Compostman..eggs from Violet, Ruby and Buffy

After lunch was cleared away I put on another load of washing whilst Compostman hung out the first lot in the now brilliant sunshine. I did some more work on my Forest School brochure and publicity, paid some bills online and then welcomed Compostgirl home from school...

Compostgirl needed to plant some mystery seeds as part of a science project, so we discussed what makes an experiment, and she settled on a variable time watering schedule, and decided to use her grow tube kit to grow the mystery seeds in.


After a pause to have a cuppa and give Compostgirl a drink and a snack (hummous and salad sandwich) I quickly went down to our local farm shop for some organic meat, apple juice (we have finished ours, sadly ) and some of their asparagus (mmmm) I went to our little Post Office to send off a parcel, got some petrol and went to our local organic shop in Ledbury for some veg and some assorted pulses and stuff. While I was out Compostman put our evening meal in the oven (a fish pie tonight)

I came back, now in the pouring rain (wow what a funny day weather wise!). I WAS going to dig out some more compost but we all decided it was too wet to do anything else outside so we sat down to watch a dvd...Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix...we really enjoyed it although Compostgirl was a bit scared by the fight scenes...but she is currently reading HP 6 so really wanted to watch this film!

We paused HP 5 while we ate our evening meal, we all ate together, then we finished watching HP5, I gave Compostgirl her evening milk and snack, and then sent her up to bed, she got ready for bed, Harry Potter 6 went with her and she read until we came up to say goodnight,.....actually she finished HP6 and is now clamouring for HP7...hmmm....it is a bit dark for her I think? ( and I am currently re reading it, so she will just have to be patient!)

Compostman went to do some work in the workshop, I sorted out Compostgirl's stuff for school, I then went outside, watered and covered over the plants in the polytunnel, shut the doors and windows, called the chickens into the orchard and shut them in their pen, got Fudge in from his run and fed him in his cage.

Compostman had been doing more to my lovely new hen house in the workshop. but he stopped for the night, and we said goodnight etc to Compostgirl.

Now I was inside, I watered all the plants and covered over the seedlings in the porch growing area.

I folded up the days washing ( why is there ALWAYS washing to fold?), updated the gardening book with what I had been up to today, Compostman came inside, having locked up outside. He sorted out the dishes and fed the cats, I tidied up (again) We settled down on the sofa to watch a pre recorded programme about Fleetwood Mac and Peter Green ( one of my all time favourite artistes) and have a glass of wine...

And then to bed, It was a less busy day than some but I went up a bit early than usual as I was feeling really tired....

I hope you have enjoyed my day, I certainly have! ...

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Things to be doing now in the veg plot...

Hello all!

I have not been posting much as I have been up to my (compost-y, educator-y ) ears in work outside and in...

I have been very busy having meetings, writing publicity, session plans, risk assessments and brochures, incvestigating web pages etc for my (rapidly expanding) Forest School/Environmental play sessions, chicken keeping and composting courses and running after school Eco Clubs. Which is really great BUT...means I have very little free time to blog about it all...

But .....I DID think a post on what I am doing in the garden now would be a good idea...and I have had several emails asking me if it is time to do this, or that..so I thought an open forum answer would probably be a good idea!

So....I am continuing to earth up the potatos....this is where you scrape soil around the emerging green shoots and leaves (don't cover the leaves completely though!) ..to encourage roots ( which will grow baby potatoes) to emerge from the stem.

You do the same thing with other members of the Solanum family (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines) by burying them up to the seed leaves in their final resting place...sometimes you can see the stem roots, especially on tomato plants.

I have also just planted out my Dwarf French bean plants ( under a plastic mini polytunnel, but more as anti chicken protection!) and the mange tout and pea plants (they are protected by pea sticks so hopefully won't get pecked....)

I have also planted out the first courgette plants in the compost filled 2 x 2 m raised bed under 5 l bottle cloches...

I am harvesting lots of scrummy salads from the PT and have planted more salad seeds, peas, mange tout to extend my harvest season and replace the ones I am now eating...

The first new potatoes from the PT are ready..mmmmmm

In the veg plot I am successionally sowing Carrots now and have transplanted the Celeriac plants, and have sown Kohl Rabi, more Spring Onions and more brassicas in seed pots..the Leek and earlier brassica seedlings are doing well and will be planted out in the next few weeks.

I am potting on smaller Pepper, Aubergine and Tomato plants to sell at the gate, I have been planting out these plants in the PT in their final "big pots" (builders buckets with holes in the bottom!)in my home made growing medium.

I am also potting on peppers, aubergines, tomatos, salads, beans and peas for another Eco Club plant stall tomorrow...

AND digging out the compost from the bins, to fill the bean raised beds...and to mulch the potato patch as the haulms grow...

Sorry about the lack of photos..I forgot to take out my camera today...!

oh...and weeding..of course!

Saturday 16 May 2009

500th post givaway!

So .........I have managed to post 500 times (!)

500 posts which detail my random thoughts, rants, musings and updates on chickens, the garden, the cats, the wood, our house, Compostman and Compostgirl, doings in the polytunnel, at Eco Club, in the school garden and, of course what I have been doing with my COMPOST BINS!

and in honour of all this I am going to do a Givaway, which I haven't done before, so be gentle with me ;-)

If you want to join in, add a comment, saying you want to enter, and in 14 days time I will get Compostgirl to draw one of the names from a hat and, who ever wins, if you then email me your details, I shall send you a small gift!

It was my birthday recently and so I am feeling generous :-)

So...post a comment and see what happens!

Remember, the deadline is Midnight (BST) on the 30th May

I would also like to thank all of you for reading my words over the last few years and taking time to comment. I really value the feedback I get and the nice things you all say :-)

Oh and just to amuse you all, here is a picture of me modelling one of the presents Compostman got me for my birthday.

A new helmet with ear defenders, to keep me safe in the wood...(and yes, I DID want one, honest...)

Compostman said it made me look like a Valkyrie......I think that was a compliment - right?

Its a Cat thing.......

I seem to have become able to grow cats in pots in the polytunnel now...

fortunately (for Tabitha Twitchett and Tom Kitten!) the pots only contained growing medium...I hadn't actually planted them up yet!

Compostgirl has been making a very palatial den in the sitting room and has made it very comfy, with lots of cushions on the floor...so guess who decided it would be a good place to snooze away a rainy day?....yep, you got it, Tom, Tabitha and Sid!

And finally...we were down in the Wood a few evenings ago, making adjustments to our log circle in the pouring rain ( as you do..) It was getting late and Sid came down to say "hello" to us....and spent about 20 mins sitting on Compostgirl .....purring and talking to her...

And then walked all around the log circle, on top of the logs, jumping over the gaps, as if to inspect what we had been doing. Then he walked back up to the house with us, chatting away all the time, announcing our return to the other animals.

He was SOAKING when we got back to the house (as were we) but he really doesn't to mind being wet at all.

Friday 15 May 2009

"The Age of Stupid". showing in Ledbury

7pm Friday 22 May

Free screening of "The Age of Stupid".

Venue: Main Theatre, John Masefield High School, Ledbury

PLEASE, if you are local , come and see this film!

Wednesday 13 May 2009

School grounds weekend

So, despite me having a VERY bad back, I and Compostman spent the weekend at school helping to extend the veg garden...Compostgirl just had fun playing with all the other children of parents who had come to help :-) We spent time extending the garden and clearing out the sheds etc....we had a skip delivered and spent a lot of time as well sorting out stuff to go into the recycling skips..and I must admit I "acquired" a lot of "useful" stuff to bring home to use ...(oops)

This is what the garden looked like before the fence was moved....

The fence has been moved out to extend the veg plot by about a further third ...

New fence posts going in....

Rabbit proof netting going in...

Lo! See the new fence! , the new raised bed! , the extra compost bins! I am soooo happy at the extra space and the new stuff it will allow me to do with the children!

Oh...the children are going to have SO much fun growing stuff in the extra space...

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Friday 8 May 2009

What to do with all the lovely compost you have made.....

As a Master Composter promoting composting in Herefordshire, on behalf of the Council and Garden Organic, I get asked a lot of questions about how to make compost and what to do with it.

So, in honour of it being Compost Awareness Week, I am going to post ( again) about composting :-)

So, after my last compost post you should all have an idea how make good compost (assuming you didn't, already :-)) )and all the things you could be putting in to make it work really well....

I removed the wooden slats from one of the bins the other day, to see how my friends the worms and insects and microbes were getting on with composting...and see what I found! Decomposing stuff up the top and then a beautiful layer of freshly made compost all the way down to the bottom of the box. Ah, the magic of compost. Throw in stuff which is waste and get out for free a valuable resource, which you would otherwise have to pay for!

This is a compostbin filled up in Oct 2008.

But how do you tell when it is ready? And what do you do with it when it is ready in the bin, like this? Well, your compost is ready when it looks dark brown and soil like and smells nice and earthy. It should also be slightly moist and have a crumbly texture.

It probably won't look like the compost (growing medium) you buy in the shops and yours will still maybe have twigs and eggshell in it but don't worry... it's still perfectly good to use and you can simply sieve out any larger bits and return them to your compost bin.
So, dig it out and if you can, leave it to mature for a month or two, as fresh compost can "scorch" soft plants if used immediately.

Your lovely compost is food for your garden and will help improve the soil structure, maintain moisture levels and keep your soils pH balance in check while helping to suppress plant disease. Compost has everything your plants need, including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, it improves your soil's condition and your plants and flowers will love it ( and you for giving them it!)

The compost at the bottom is ready. It looks like soil, smells sweet and has few "bits" left undecomposed in it. There may be egg shells and bits of twig left ( and corks!) but apart from that it has all turned into wonderful, rich compost.

Using your compost in the veg garden

Use about 1 wheelbarrow load per 5 sq m, applied in the spring and summer. Dig it in to the top 15 cms or leave it as a surface mulch. I apply my home made compost at a depth of about 3 cm on the soil but I have lots to spare. I often also put some on the autumn after lifting crops, I then cover with cardboard or geotextile and let the earthworms drag it down into the soil for me.

I also use a generous layer of my home made compost in the bottom of potato and bean trenches.

If you don't have enough compost to do all the veg patch, concentrate on the potato, bean, curcubit and green leafy veg areas. As part of a crop rotation your whole patch will eventually get some compost.

Another experiment in progress! As you know I make a LOT of compost...so I use these raised beds to put it in , grow in it and then at the end of the season put the spent compost on the veg garden and start again with filling the empty raised beds next spring.

SO...this bed has lots of lovely home made compost in it and I am using it to grow early spuds and artichokes in it.

One advantage of doing this is that IF your compost still has weed seeds left, you can see them as they germinate and simply hoe or pull them out....

I also grow the indoor tomatos and peppers and aubergines in large pots standing in trays inside the Polytunnel. The reason being that the polytunnel (erected by the previous owners, not us!) was sited on a load of subsoil and rubble dug out from when the garage was built...so the ground is NOT suitable to grow directly into! Even *I* can't work any kind of miracle with it....

I use builders buckets with holes drilled in the base as large pots and plant into them, it works very well, and then the compost also goes on the veg garden at the end of the growing season.

I now grow exclusively in my own compost, in 2008 I experimented to see if my home made growing medium was as good as commercial peat free potting mix, and I found MY mix gave me earlier and better yields from the same sowings of the same varieties with identical treatment...so this year I am only buying in growing medium to sow seeds into. Once they are plants I will transplant them into my home made growing medium , of compost:loam: sand.

May 2 2008

18th May 2008

In addition to making all this compost in bins I use lots of cardboard/paper to cover my plot when the soil is bare, to stop loss of precious nutrients and to provide some organic material as it rots down...I mulch directly with grass cuttings on fallow soil, and plant green manures WHEREVER I can to promote fertility and add humus to the soil.....

Other ideas for using your home made compost.

If you have plants in pots outdoors you could top dress the soil with a layer of home made compost. Take off the top few centimetres of existing soil and add your home compost. Leave a gap around soft stemmed plants. This will give your plants food and is a great way to make them more healthy.

Dressing your lawn with compost helps young grass take root and can make your garden healthier and greener. First, sieve the compost and remove any large twigs or other bits that have not quite broken down. Then mix it with the same amount of sharp sand : compost (to spread it more easily). You will need a layer of about 2.5cm. I use a stiff broom to brush it into the grass. Mature lawns can really benefit from this dose of nutrients but be careful as newly seeded or turfed lawns can be scorched by it.

Compost is great for your fruit trees and they will be very happy if you spread a thick layer of home made compost around the roots of the tree, as will any soft fruit trees. A 5-10cm layer around the roots will provide important nutrients and can protect against drought and disease. Avoid the base of the tree and do not spread too close to the trunk. This will also suppress weeds growing around them. Doing this once or twice a year will help your trees grow taller and bushier.

Using your compost as mulch is a great idea. Use your 'rough' compost (where not everything has completely broken down) over flowerbeds and around shrubs to help prevent soil erosion and replenish nutrients. Use a layer of 5cm, leave a gap around any soft stemmed plants and if you do this after rain or watering, you will help keep the moisture in the soil.

Digging a 10cm layer of compost into the soil prior to planting will help your new plants and flowers bloom. If you have already planted, simply spread a thin layer of compost-enriched soil around the base of the plants. Nutrients will work their way down to the roots. Remember to leave gaps around any soft stemmed plants.

Spread up to a 5cm layer of compost over your boarders to give them a feed! Earthworms will quickly like get to work mixing it in for you, or you can dig your finished compost into the soil prior to planting. Remember to leave gaps around any soft stemmed plants.

So, I hope this has given you some ideas for things to do with your home made compost and you will all be spreading your compost soon. After all just THINK of all the money saved by making your own soil improver and potting mix!

Also, just think of all the waste diverted from going into Landfill if you compost...think of all the Methane which our waste is NOT producing in the Landfill! Methane is 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide, remember!

And hopefully you will all have even better crops as a result of using your lovely home made compost.

For more ideas on composting, go here, or here,

Happy Composting :-)

I am now a no show at the Compost Awareness event in Hereford

I agravated a long standing back injury lifting tables and trays of plants last weekend..and now I can't drive, or do much at all...so lovely Compostman drove me to school today and helped at Eco Club this afternoon...

because today I was scheduled to be teaching in the organic garden at School, I had Reception class scheduled to be out in the veg garden, planting potatos, carrots, beetroot and shallots.

Yesterday I had Gardening Club (juniors) out in the garden over lunch break planting potatos, beans, carrots, peas and beetroot. Then during the afternoon I was showing year 1 children how to plant up their raised veg bed with onions, carrots, turnips, potatos and beetroot, all with the theme of "purple"

I also, today had Eco Club and we did some pond dipping , which was great fun!

But, painful....and I wouldn't have managed it without Compostman's help.

Unfortunately due to my ( very painful) back injury I will also not, now, be at the Compost Awareness Week event in Hereford Fri.

Sorry! especially to Kim, who was going to come and say hello I know..

so...its rest, and recovery, and NO digging for me...

This is a really bad time for me to have an injury, as apart from all the stuff needing to be done here at Compost Mansions, there is a major re vamp of the school garden this weekend as well...moving the fence out to make the plot bigger, a new greenhouse, new raised beds..oooh all sorts of stuff ...and I am meant to be there digging and moving and dismantling compost bins and laying terram sheet and mulch and all sorts...

but I suspect I will be making the tea, instead :-( Grrr, bluddy back injury, I have had this for 40 years now, am Sooooo fed up its not true...mumble mumble mutter curse........)

Wednesday 6 May 2009

How I make compost

As a Master Composter promoting composting in Herefordshire, on behalf of the Council and Garden Organic, I get asked a lot of questions about how to make compost and what to do with it.

So, in honour of it being Compost Awareness Week, I am going to post ( again) about composting :-)

In this post I am going to talk about how *I* make compost. I will mainly talk about the "Hot" composting method, as that is how I usually make compost. The "Hot" method involves taking lots of material and filling up a compost bin or building up a compost heap in one go. Within a few days, the heap is likely to get very hot to the touch. When it begins to cool down, or a week or two later, you can "turn" the heap. Remove everything from the container or lift the container off and mix it all up, trying to get the outside to the inside. Add water if it is dry, or dry material if it is soggy. Replace in the bin. You could add a lot more material ( if available) at this point.

The heap may well heat up again; the new supply of air you have mixed in allows the fast acting aerobic microbes, ie those that need oxygen, to continue with their work. You can do this several more times if you have the energy, but the heating will be less and less. When it no longer heats up again, leave it undisturbed to finish composting.

The "Cool" method is where you add bits and bobs of compostable material over a longer period of time; it works just as well but takes longer and tends to work best in the summer. It doesn't reliably kill seeds in the same way as the Hot method because it doesn't heat up to a high enough temperature over the total volume of the material. When the container is full - which it may never be as the contents will sink as it composts down - or when you decide to, stop adding any more. Then either just leave it to finish composting (which could take up to a year) or turn it to get more air in and make the fast acting aerobic microbes start to work again.

Whichever method you use, make sure that the contents of your bin or heap is not too dry and add water if in doubt. A good sign that it is too dry is the presence of ants in the mixture.

As you can see from my photos, I use a variety of different bins and have made compost heaps in the past. Bins are good as they allow the material to be contained in one place, and I can also vary the contents to produce different sorts of compost. I have bins which are just grass and card, bins which are slower working and bins which are making very fast, fairly coarse compost for mulching. BUT I have lots of space and a professional interest in compost! (and am a touch obsessed about compost, I grant you.....)

BUT it doesn't really matter what you make compost in! As long as there is air, water and the right mix of compostable material it will produce compost ...eventually

So...this is how I make compost....

Site your bin or heap in a not too sunny or shady place if possible. If you can, put the bin on the ground. It will still work if you have to put it on concrete, though.
Choose a place where you can easily add ingredients to the bin and get the compost out.

Composting requires a roughly 50 :50 mix of of green sappy stuff ( which is high in nitrogen) and brown, papery stuff ( which is high in carbon). Before you start to fill your bin, try to build up a good collection of "green" and "brown" material if you can, the more you put in a bin at once, the hotter and faster it will work.

In this set of photos, we have just finished cutting down all the spent daffodils and pulling up nettles in the garden so I had LOADS of material waiting to be composted. I also had a collection of old cardboard waiting to be mixed in with the green stuff....It really REALLY helps to build up a collection of "green" stuff and "brown" stuff when filling your bins, as a full bin works more efficiently and composts quicker and hotter, thus killing off any seeds as well.

I started off with a layer of well composted bark shreddings from one of the storage bins then added a mix of paper bits and grass clippings. If you are starting a bin in a new area a shovel full of soil is a good idea as it introduces helpful bacteria and other organisms, but it's not essential as I find Mother Nature has an amazing power to sort this out for herself :-)

I then added a layer of grass clippings and a layer of very damp cardboard bits on the top. Other green material could be used instead of grass.

Then a layer of nettles (without the roots- they go in a "weedy " bin to make compost which is only used in the bottom of very deep holes...)and another layer of card on the top....

I repeated the layers of green stuff (nettles/comfrey/weeds/grass) and brown stuff (card/paper) until the bins were full to the brim.

The green items contain bacteria which will generate the initial heat that is required by the process. A healthy compost bin is a living ecosystem. By keeping a good mix of green and brown material you will provide the perfect conditions for a variety of fungi, insects and bacteria and can let them get on with all the hard work for you.

This mix will heat up FAST over the next few days, getting up to about 60 degrees centigrade in the middle, and then the material will cool down a little, and slump down. At this point I top the bins up again with alternating levels of green/brown stuff....

If this process is done correctly you don't actually NEED to do any digging out and mixing up (referred to as "turning" in compost speak) to get good compost. The turning process is there to get more air in to your compost material to aid the aerobic (air loving) bacteria in doing their job; but IF you have built the bin correctly, there will be air pockets in it still! you can turn it if you like and it WILL speed things up, but it shouldn't be actually required.

Making compost is really easy...especially if you can get a good pile of stuff together first!

Using this method, in spring and summer I can make acceptable compost in 8 weeks or so. It still needs to be stacked and left for a few more weeks as it is still biologically active and it would be a bit rich for plants "as made", but certainly it has finished composting and can be got out of the bins to make way for more fresh material.

I use the comfrey and nettles I grow (well which grow all over the place by themselves!) and add them to my compost heaps AND make fertiliser teas from them to feed my plants..(BTW Nettles are good BUT always make sure they are of known provenance!...else you might be importing herbicides and we all know where THAT can lead!))

If there is anyone out there who likes peat, well it is perfectly possible to make a good peat free substitute using grass cuttings and cardboard. This is called "Grassboarding" and if it's only grass and cardboard, it makes a wonderful peat like compost....if you have a source of grass and plenty of cardboard this is a very good thing to make. The result can be excellent compost, which is weed-free and does not contain large particles or lumps of material.

I know I have a lot of space and a lot of compost bins BUT all this will work if you only have one or two compost bins! In the picture at the end, can you see the black "Dalek" type bins? They are 220 l or 330 l capacity, and they make wonderful compost! And the "cold/cool" compost method works really well, it just takes longer and you may get the odd weed seed growing in it, so make sure you keep out any nasty weed seed heads you con't want carrying on. I am not soing anything differently here, to what I would do if I only had one or two bins, honest :-)

Compostwoman's top tips to maximise compost making!

To get the ideal compost mix you will roughly need a 50:50 mix
of both "green" and "brown" material in your bin.

I keep a few "browns" bins in the house which I use for all the little bitty bits of card, paper, tissue etc which is too scrappy to recycle, as well as a caddy for peelings, tea bags, coffee filters etc ec in the kitchen.

I am always on the lookout for cardboard sheets, from shops or from Freecycle.

I stockpile various weeds and prunings and grass cuttings from the lawns, until I have a good quantity of raw materials to fill up the compost bins.

By composting everything and anything available it is possible to dramatically increase the amount of compost you produce.

● Fruit scraps (including citrus peel)
● Vegetable peelings
● Tea bags
● Old flowers
● Spent bedding plants
● Rhubarb leaves
● Comfrey leaves
● Nettles
● Young annual weeds (e.g. chickweed and speedwell)
● Pond algae and seaweed (in moderation)
● Coffee grounds and filter paper
● Grass cuttings
● Manure (horse, cow, pig, sheep, goat, chicken, rabbit – not too much as could become too wet)

Human urine is a very good activator!

● Tissues, paper towels and napkins (unless they have been in contact with
meat or disease)
● Tumble dryer lint (from natural fibre clothes)
● Old natural fibre clothes (e.g. woolly jumpers or cotton t-shirts
– make sure you cut them into small pieces)
● Vacuum bag contents(as long as you have natural fibre carpets)
● Garden prunings
● Toilet and kitchen roll tubes,
● Woody clippings
● Dry leaves, twigs and hedge clippings
● Human and pet hair (slow to break down)
● Cotton threads/String(made from natural fibres)
● Feathers
● Wool
● Newspaper(scrunched up)
● Shredded confidential documents
● Straw and hay
● Vegetarian pet bedding
● Ashes from wood,paper, or lumpwood charcoal
● Sawdust and wood chippings
● Corn cobs and stalks
● Cereal boxes
● Corrugated cardboard packaging (scrunched up in small amounts)
● Pine needles and cones (although slow to compost don’t put too much in)
● Egg shells (but crush them first to speed up composting)
● Egg boxes (good as they trap air)
Paper and card is usually printed with fairly harmless inks now (in the UK at least) and I certainly don't worry too much about that, as anything in there is well diluted and a lot of inks are ( I understand) vegetable based now, with the glossinesss being from clay particles. But if you are worried, perhaps steer clear of very glossy magazines? They can go in the recycling bin

When the various ingredients you have put in your container or heap have turned into a dark brown, earthy smelling material, the composting process is complete. It is best left for a month or two to 'mature' before it is used as it is a bit biologically active to apply to plants straight away. Don't worry if your compost is not fine and crumbly. Even if it is lumpy or sticky with bits of twig and eggshell in it, it is still quite usable. It can always be sieved before using if you want. Any large bits can be put back into your new compost heap.

I hope this has been helpful, I shall talk in the next post about removing and using your compost and also how to make leaf mould.

Happy Composting!

Woodland wonderland in pictures

Here are some pictures of our woodland. It is looking particularly beautiful at the moment :-)

Cowslips and Bluebells

More Bluebells

An Early Purple Orchid in the wood.

Yet more Bluebells! They have been spreading throughout the wood year on year as we thin the trees, coppice and generally manage the woodland for maximum wildlife and nature benefit. It also means we get wood in return, which is what a sustainable managed wood is all about, to my mind!

I LOVE this time of year, I am soooooo busy and it is a mad time, what with planting and sowing seeds and tending the veg plot and garden and mowing and compost digging...and also doing much the same at school with the childen....

but I LOVE it all:-)

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Why I make compost.

As a Master Composter promoting composting in Herefordshire, on behalf of the Council and Garden Organic, I get asked a lot of questions about how to make compost and what to do with it.

So, in honour of it being Compost Awareness Week, I am going to post (again) about composting :-)

Composting your biodegradable, organic waste is great for many reasons. It reduces the size of your waste bin, so means less transport is needed to remove household waste. It gives you fine, homemade compost so you don't need to buy in artificial fertiliser. And it also removes some of the most damaging, greenhouse-gas-causing, waste from landfill sites.

According to CAT

About a third of the waste sent to landfill in the UK is biodegradable organic matter, such as food , paper, cardboard, textiles, and garden waste. In a landfill site, these materials will be broken down by microbes to produce a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane. Methane is a very damaging greenhouse gas - it has over 20 times as much 'global warming potential' as carbon dioxide (by weight). At the moment, about 70% (over two-thirds) of landfill gas is flared off or captured, so a damaging impact will still come from the remaining 30%.

Methane is produced in 'anaerobic' conditions - which means that there is not much oxygen present. The emission to the atmosphere of large amounts of methane can be avoided by not sending lots of biodegradable waste to landfill. Instead, it can be composted at home or at a community level, or sent to a special anaerobic digestion facility, where the bio gas (methane and CO2) can be collected.

Amazingly, by composting all their food, garden and cardboard waste, an average individual would prevent about 5kg of methane per year from landfill, which is equivalent to just over 100kg of carbon dioxide per year.

An average household that composts this waste would prevent emissions of 13kg of methane per year, equivalent to 280kg of carbon dioxide per year (just over one quarter of a tonne of carbon dioxide). By comparison, a small petrol car doing 40mpg will need to travel about 1000 miles to release one quarter of a tonne (250kg) of carbon dioxide, and a small diesel car doing 60mpg will need to travel about 1200 miles to release the same amount.

So...you can see it all makes good environmental and economic sense to make compost!

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been a keen organic gardener and composter for many years and am a Master Composter - a volunteer community compost advisor with my local council and Garden Organic (the working name for HDRA). I go to various events such as county shows, give talks and demonstrations, take school assemblies, lecture, give talks to garden groups and enthuse about compost to all and sundry! I can talk about compost endlessly, I find the whole process fascinating and view compost making as the very heart and soul of gardening.

We garden completely organically here and making compost is at the very heart of all our growing and disposal methods. We take fertility from the earth by growing vegetables and fruit, then we return it to the earth by composting the left over waste and feeding it back to the soil.

Compostman and I make more than 4000 L of compost a year plus what ever is currently cooking in the various compost bins. We use it to grow a huge amount of veg in a quite small space. Our outside veg plot is relatively small at 10 x 14 m,

plus another four of 1 x 4m raised beds but it provides us with veg for most of the year, and has in the past supported us virtually all year round.

The plants in the 4 x 9 m polytunnel are grown in builders buckets of home made growing medium also, made up of home made compost, sand and a bit of soil. I only buy in growing medium (certified organic!) to sow seeds.

I am sure it is all so productive because of all the home made compost we put back into the soil and whenever we dig it all over there are loads of worms and insects.

In my next post I shall share how *I* make compost :-)