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!

Wednesday 26 August 2009

RIP Violet Dorking

I WAS hoping to post nice stuff about my 4 new POL pullets today, but I have sadder news.

I went out last night to lock in the girls and I couldn't find Violet Dorking. I looked all over the hen paddock...and found her dead under the conifer where the girls have their dust baths.

On checking her over this morning, she seems to have died of a broken neck.

She was being bullied by EVERYONE Tuesday morning and I spent a fair bit of time trying to sort it all out and put her back inside Cluckingham Palace for safely, but she was too frightened and wouldn't let me. She went and hid in the branches of the conifer instead, which was a safe place for her to be so I left her to hide there.

A jet flew over late afternoon, I looked out of the window to check all the girls were out and OK and saw her then, but I was busy in the kitchen so didn't go out to see them. I am assuming that she was panicked at some point later on and ran for cover, hitting her neck in the process.

We hatched her out under Sweetiepie our Maran hen, just a year ago:-( and we have watched her grow up. She was a lovely, friendly hen, a rare breed Silver Dorking and with very funny little ways - like most Dorkings she would go broody at the drop of an egg, but she would also follow me around crooning at me and would jump up on my lap given half a chance.

Still, at least I know she died very quickly.

Violet, I shall miss you a lot... :-(

Violet just hatched out

With her sisters and Sweetiepie

Taking a ride on mum.

laying her first egg...

Monday 24 August 2009

Chickenailia catch up

And welcome back to my mad world of the Chickens!

I didn't really feel I wanted to post a "chickenailia " post in July after the sad loss of Ginger, and then I got ill and it was all far too busy here so...basically the hens laid lots of eggs in July, ....and two of the Dorking girls and Sweetiepie spent most of July being broody....

So...here is a catch up post for July and this month! ...the egg and general behaviour report for all things chicken related here at Compost Mansions ;-)

The biggest news is that both the Cockerels and two of the Dorking girls have gone.

I drove to Monmouth on a very wet Sunday afternoon to meet the lovely Witch Hazel and her husband to hand over Cap't Flint, Willow and Buffy. They have become the foundation of a breeding programme at Witchhazel's place and seem to have settled in very well!

That reduced my Compost Mansions flock to Henny, Babs and Goldie the Black/Rhode Rocks, Sweetiepie the Maran, Attilla the Barred Plymouth Rock x Maran and Ruby and Violet the remaining Silver Dorking girls.

And Long John Silver Dorking the remaining cockerel.

I was hoping that the removal of the other cockerel from the Orchard would make LJS a happier bird and that he would also accept the two remaining Dorking girls into his harem of "the big girls", but sadly he continued to be very aggressive to them, actually injuring Ruby quite severely. He also persisted in the "crowing all night" antics, despite there no longer being another cockerel to crow at.

I spent another 5 days trying to find a new home for him, whilst attempting to ignore his chasing after me, Compostman and Compostgirl... a couple of times he actually made contact with me......

Then one morning last week he attacked me as I turned away from letting the hens out of their run and gouged my back quite deeply, in a place about head height on Compostgirl.... so that was that.

I shut him in the empty Eglu overnight, with water but no food, and the following morning I killed him, plucked him and dressed him. He is now in the freezer.
I felt bad about doing this as I never like to kill an animal BUT I could not have an aggressive bird around the place, no matter how pretty or rare breed.

Since then calm has reigned in the Orchard, Violet has now chosen to go in Peckingham Palace with "the big girls" and Ruby has gone very broody and took up residence in Cluckingham Palace, sitting very firmly in one of the nest boxes!

A very broody Ruby!

Everybody else has returned to being happy and friendly with me and each other.
Babs and Goldie continue to lay an egg a day each and now have poor little Violet to pick on so they are no longer bottom of the pecking order. Sweetie and Henny lay 6 days out of of 7, lovely dark speckled eggs.

The girls laid lots in June and July, which is really pretty good, from 5 egg laying hens they have averaged more than 6 each per week.

The Silver Dorkings continue to delight, Violet Dorking is very sweet and clucks and croons at me and follows me around, she lays lovely small very pale tinted eggs. Only Ruby laid every day in June and July, as Violet was Broody for 6 weeks. Ruby has been broody for a week now and it is Violet who now lays an egg a day!

Violet Dorking

You have already met the two new POL ISA Browns, who look like my beloved Ginger, one is sooooo like her she has been named Ginger2, the other is also a character and has been named Bunty ( spot the film reference there?)

THANK you all, my lovely, lovely girls, you make my life very happy :-)

And there are more new developments to report, but that will come another day.....

Saturday 22 August 2009

Harvest time!

It was so wet here for most of July and early August! I kept on looking out of the(very shaded by scaffold) windows and despairing at the non stop rain.

Compostgirl needed constant nursing during most of July, then I became not at all well, having caught her very nasty stomach bug (hmmm...thinks....wonder if the shading aspect of the scaffolding made my SAD kick in? That would have made the illness/CFS stuff even worse!)

Compostman was very busy with the roof and getting on with house repairs while we still had the scaffold up, so he couldn't do much in the way of harvesting produce, he had more than enough to do outside!

So things outside were left unpicked or it was too wet to do so. Which really worried me and upset me. After all just think of all that effort and time and money going to waste!

But then the rain stopped and the sun shone and I started to feel better...so the harvest has commenced!

Sunflowers and nasturtiums for decoration, lavender for healing and pot pourri, beetroot, turnips, the very last of the broad beans, potatoes, a huge marrow and some peas...

Tomatoes, courgettes, peppers, various basil's. The tomatoes were washed, sliced, put in the dehydrator and 14 hours later were in jars in a dark cupboard..... some courgettes have been blanched and frozen as well as some dehydrated.

The Rivers Early plums were very rapidly turned into jam and a lot of wine is on the go now....we tend to preserve the earlier plums and freeze the later Victorias for pies or eating as desserts.

This lot was one trip to the polytunnel!

it was dried or frozen by 12 hours later...

and the bench cleaned down and cleared for the next wave of fresh veg. This kitchen worktop is normally a homework table, a dumping ground and a general surface to put stuff on..but at this time of year it becomes "food processing central" and I am ruthless about keeping it clear and clean LOL.

The "Beth" pear tree has been amazingly prolific this year,

Compostman picking some of them...

We picked 70 Lbs and there were still pears left on the tree!

I have graded them, some are fully ripe and are in the 'fridge waiting to be eaten or preserved, some need ripening further and are in the blue stacking fruit trays. I am going to make lots of Pear chutney and some Pear wine and I have sliced and dried a lot of pears. We have also eaten a lot of them as they are juicy and delicious.

We have also lifted the Shallots, Onions and Garlic and despite the very wet weather in July it is a good harvest :-) so when they have dried off fully they can go into storage for use during the next 8 months.

Compostman has finished lifting the potatoes and despite the blight and the terrible weather we have a good crop (probably due to getting them in the ground early AND growing Early/Early Maincrop varieties to beat the blight!)

We have over 210 lb of spuds in store now which will see us through to early spring and a load more damaged ones to eat up over the next few weeks.

Onions, Shallots, Potatoes, preserved fruits, Tomatoes, Carrots and Leeks in the ground, Kale and Sprouts and Cabbage growing well, Courgettes and Pumpkins ongoing, Plums, Apples etc coming on....we have the makings of a good harvest to see us through the winter...

I do feel very tired after a hard week or so of work, but it is a "good" tired, the sort that you get when you KNOW you have done a good job of work.

I think we have nearly caught up, now.. ;-)

Friday 21 August 2009

Meet the new girls!

I am putting together a post which will catch up with the doings of all the chickens at Compost Mansions, but the latest biggest news is I have 2 new pullets!

We went to Poultry Park a few days ago and I bought 2 POL Warrens, and 3 fertile cream legbar eggs to put under Ruby Dorking (who is broody). Ruby has accepted these eggs so we shall see what happens.

The new girls (still, as yet, unnamed...but I think one will be called Ginger Too) are very pretty and are ensconced in the Eglu and its run for a few days under quarantine. We have made a separate enclosure for them around the Eglu and I have this evening just let them outside the Eglu run, for the first time.

They came from a grass enclosure with no shrubs or soil or leaf litter, so seemed a bit baffled at first

but then started to have a good old furtle around and peck at worms in the sunshine,

making little "quarks" and croons in a contented chicken-y way.

They are both happy to let me pick them up as well, which is nice :-)

I love my hens :-)

I plan to get another 4 or 5 hens and am still musing on breeds....but I am happy to have another couple of ginger hens as to me they are what makes a smallholding! Probably because that's what we had when I was a child.....and it is nice to look at them and remember Ginger doing the same stuff :-)

Compostman is resigned to more chickens, now I think (grin)

Amazing Bumblebee nest

We have an amazing bumble bee nest in the woodshed and while I was poorly I spent a lot of time sitting in the sunshine by the woodshed entrance, just watching these industrious insects zooming back and forth past me...a wonderful sight!

They love the flower bed next to the wood store as well.

Bumblebees, like Honey bees are under increasing threat in our modern, polluted world. They struggle to find suitable plants to feed from, they need suitable undisturbed places to nest or for the queen to overwinter and they are not finding what they need in our modern world.

So, a plea for the bee...( with apologies for my naff poetry...!)

Make space for bees,
leave corners natural,

careful when strimming,
make gardens floral,

leave plant stems standing,
don't be too tidy,

watch when you're mowing,
take time to study,

Bees are so beautiful,
gentle and busy

and if we don't help them......
our crops will be gone.

For more information on Bumblebees visit the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Thursday 20 August 2009

Skips, and why I really don't like them.

The roof is now finished on Compost Mansions, and very fine it looks too. Building work is always disruptive but all the craftsmen working here for us were very tidy and helpful and have done a very good job. But the work DID gebnerate a lot of mess and a lot of waste.

When I did a waste free day challenge a few weeks ago, we managed to generate only
20g of landfill waste in a day and 120g in a week INSIDE THE HOUSE, which is pretty good by anyone's standards.....

BUT at the same time. we had 2 SKIPS full of un-reusable, un recyclable stuff from out of our loft work over a period of 8 weeks since the roof work etc started :-(

Which I did not mention. :-(

Most of it was chewed up bits of polystyrene sheet and disgusting dirty, mouldy, wasp nest/ mouse nest/bird nest /dead things filled fibre glass loft insulation dating back from god knows when, it was truly vile and NOT re usable in any way shape or form as far as I could ascertain.

And check I did, dear reader, to see if there was ANY WAY any of it could be recycled

Plus some scraps of wood, too small to re use or recycle, with nails in and all splintered up.

Believe me, we tried to think up ways of using it... (and we are pretty inventive when it comes to re-use here, believe me!) but we failed.

Most of the wood from the loft is going to be re used in one way or another - as a lot of it is 100 year old, untreated timber we are going to burn it as kindling! OR it will be taken to the wood recycling skip at the HWS in Ledbury.

The roof tiles were reused if undamaged and I have rescued any reasonably sized damaged tiles as edging for my raised beds or for use as insect habitats and for doing bug hunts in the Wood. We were also very firm that any replacement roof tiles had to be sourced from second hand reclamation yards, although our wonderful roofing contractor Neil was totally in agreement about this and needed no persuasion!

BUT there were still bits of broken tile and cement which we could not think of a re use....

Compostman has spent a lot of (precious and VERY MUCH not spare..) time taking off nails, bits of iron and zinc roofing "things" from the wood, so we can take them to recycle rather than just binning them in the skip. Lead roofing bits have been kept as they are really very re-usable and useful for making things.

The skip is a "mixed waste" skip and NO ONE is going to sort through it at "the other end" so it is up to us to be mindful of what we throw "away" (But we all know, there is no such place....hmmmm?)

BUT despite all this extra effort on our part, we still filled two skips.

We HAVE only used two small skips, which is apparently very good going (!) for building work of this nature ....but I still felt wasteful every time I walked by it, and saw something I felt I "should" have found another use for, but I couldn't quite think what.

I guess if even Compostman and I can't think of a re use for it all, it probably really IS "waste" and I just have to accept that it IS waste , and move on....But it has been quite hard to live with what is essentially a HUGE dustbin...and KNOW it will all just be tipped into a hole in the ground.

Friday 14 August 2009

Back in the land of the living....

Well, I am back in the land of the blog, anyway....

Where do I start? I am still rather weak and poorly but am feeling a little more like my pre July self, and have been able to get on with a few of the million and one things which need doing around here.

So here are some lovely fruit and veg from the garden and polytunnel.

I took the opportunity of my enforced rest to get on with preparation for various workshops I an giving in the autumn and next spring, one is recycled paper making and paper crafts so I have been busy pressing and drying leaves and flowers to add to the paper we will be making.

I have also been collecting and drying Lavender and other flowers to use in dried flower arrangements.

The cats as always watch everything I do. This time they got up on the scaffolding and were peering in through the study window!

When they are not sleeping, that is!

Sunday 2 August 2009

Vestas factory workers campaign - new song from Seize the Day

For those of you who have never had the joy of seeing/hearing them, Seize The Day are a radical English acoustic band with global roots. They write songs to celebrate, inspire and support the liberation of life. Whatever needs to change or be defended in this world, they sing to make you laugh about it, cry about it, dance about it – maybe even inspire you to believe that you can DO something about it!

Seize the Day are currently camped out at the Vestas factory in the Isle of Wight in support of the workers. With the (free) help of locals and a recording studio they have written and recorded a new song about the 'Boys on the Balcony' which is now available FOR FREE on their website. Go here : http://www.seizetheday.org/index.cfm download it, play it and pass it on !

There is more info here about what the Vestas workers are after, but basically Vestas plan to close the UK's only wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight, transferring the work to the US and China . Workers are fighting back against the bosses, OCCUPYING THE FACTORY to pressure the government to nationalise the factories and continue production under new management.