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 16 January 2012


Wassailing this year at Hellens, to see in the New Year and bless the fruit trees for the coming season. Compostgirl and I went - Compostman sadly did not come as he felt unwell and it was VERY cold indeed. We met up with a friend, Angie and then saw lots of other friends there :-) it is a big social occasion around us :-)

 We gathered in the courtyard and ate and drank,


then processed to the orchard, some carrying flaming torches. I had one :-)

We made a circle around the  centre tree and small bonfires and the Morris Men danced and sang, the fires were then lit from our torches and there was more singing and dancing, libations and food were offered to the tree  and noises were made to scare away evil influences which might blight the harvest.

Friday 13 January 2012

Cleaning nest boxes

Clearing out some nest boxes today, ready for their use this year and in two adjacant  boxes we found these old blue tit nests :-)

This one is made almost entirely from cat hair - and it looks like it is all from Tom Cat.

This one however has mainly thistledown as the lining  with a few white chicken feathers.

      -Isn't it wonderful how birds use anything which comes to hand beak?

Thank you for the good wishes for my rapid recovery from dental work, I am feeling much improved now :-)

Thursday 12 January 2012

Random shots around the garden

A good day to line dry some washing - I have a washing dolly in the kitchen to dry clothes on but I prefer to line dry if I can - you can't beat the smell of fresh washing!

Guinea pigs in their run in the Polytunnel.

Yarrow hen getting more feathers and her limp is getting better as well.

But oh! What a mess having her, Comfrey, Marjoram and Marigold  in the polytunnel! I will have to re arrange things, now some of the girls are getting feathers and are strong enough to go outside.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Getting crafty, out and about!

Here are just a few ideas I use when working with children, or just playing in the woods with Compostgirl. Some are ideal for doing on a walk, some are an activity to do in your garden, all of them are fun. Some can be done without adult help.

Nature provides us with so many things. Some of these can be used to decorate our homes, or provide homes for creatures that help to pollinate plants and prey on garden pests. After you have made some natural craft item, using what nature provides to decorate your home, why not give something back, in the form of a bird feeder or minibeast home?

A few safety tips
Before you start, always get permission from the landowner if in any doubt!
Make sure children are well supervised and don’t collect anything poisonous.
Only collect loose, dead or fallen material from the ground.
Don’t pull bits from living plants or trees.
Only take items if there are plenty, and always leave some for the habitat or food source that they may provide.
Don’t touch bracken between July and September – the spores are hazardous.
Supervise children using sharp tools such as scissors, knives,needles, skewers etc.

Make a MobileCollect cones, leaves, seeds, nuts, feathers, sticks etc.
Find a stick you like.
Tie or thread the collected treasures on to long pieces of string (if you want to thread them get an adult to help make the holes).
Tie the top end of the string to the stick.
Continue making more strings of treasures (using different length strings can look good), and tie them along the stick until you are happy with the effect.
Then make a loop from string and tie this at the centre of the stick to hang it up with and you have made a natural mobile!

Make a Wild Crown or Bracelet
Take a piece of thinnish card (cereal box card is good) and cut it into strips about 5cm wide by 50cm long (for a crown) or shorter for a bracelet. You can adjust the size to fit and then fix the ends of the card together with glue or tape.
Put a long strip of double-sided sticky tape all the way around the outside of the card strip. Make sure it’s completely covered so that your treasures will stick well.
Now, go for a walk, gathering any nice natural materials that you find and sticking them on the tape as you go. Remember to press them firmly onto the sticky tape on the bracelet or crown so that they don’t fall off easily.
If you prefer, you can go collecting first and then this activity can be done back at home later with all the treasures you have gathered.

Colours from the Wild

Cut some stiff cardboard into squares or rectangles (approx. 10x10cm or 8x10cm) and cover one surface with double-sided sticky tape. Collect small pieces of natural materials to make a textured mosaic on the surface each one. The finished effect can look really beautiful, so why not make them into a collage, or frame them? Or use them to make birthday cards?

Corn (or Grass or Lavender) Dollies
Gather a bunch of grass, corn or lavender with good long stalks.
Tie the stems firmly together just under the heads and trim the bottom ends of the stalks with scissors so that they are all level.
About mid way down from the heads tie the bundle again. This is to make the body. Then below this divide the bundle in two – these will be the legs of the dolly. Secure them just a little back from the very ends with string, leaving a short piece that you can bend up for the feet. Now take a smaller bundle of stems and cut off any flower heads and fasten each end. This will be for the dolly’s arms. Using a pencil or a small stick, carefully ease the stalks apart just underneath the ‘head’ of the dolly so that you can push the arms through (you might want to get an adult to help you). Now tie across and around the body and arms of the dolly, to secure them. Your dolly is now finished! Decorate with flowers, leaves or whatever else you fancy. Similar dollies can also be made using thick string or raffia.

Corn (or Grass or Lavender) Plaits
Tie 3 stems of corn (or grass or lavender) just below the heads. Plait the stems until you are happy with the length of your plait. Tie the ends of the stems with string or ribbon and trim.
To make a hoop, bend the head end of the plait round so it is overlapping the stems and the top of the head is just below the ends of the stems. Then tie them together with string or ribbon and make a loop for hanging.

Bark Rubbing
Place a sheet of paper on an interesting tree and rub over the paper with a wax crayon. Find as many different textures as you can and use lots of different colours. Use them to make a picture or collage, then stand back and admire the result!

Feeding the Birds
Collect large open pine cones and/or washed and dried yoghurt cartons.
Tie a length of string around the cone so that you can hang it from a branch or bird table. Smear bird food mixture (see the ‘recipe’ below) into the cracks in the cones (warning – this gets messy!).
Make a hole in the bottom of the yoghurt carton. Tie a knot in a length of string and thread it through the hole with the knot inside, so the pot hangs upside down. Make sure the knot won’t pull through. Now fill up the yoghurt pot with the bird food mixture and leave to set (right way up) in a cool place.

Hang your feeders out in the garden and watch the birds enjoy their treat!

Bird Food Recipe Mix
Check no one is allergic to any ingredient before you start! Make sure you have put plenty of old
newspapers down, and wear old clothes or an apron (and don’t forget to roll up your sleeves!).
For your special birdseed recipe mix you will need:
Birdseed, raisins, grated cheese, and a selection of other suitable seeds if you like, such as pumpkin or sunflower which are both good.
Take 100g of softened vegetable fat or lard (put it somewhere warm for about an hour) and cut it into small pieces.
Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and squash together with your hands (messy!).
You can now shape it into balls around twigs, squish it into pine cones, or fill up yoghurt pots with it.
Leave everything in the fridge to set, and when they’re firm hang them outside for the birds to enjoy.
Don’t forget to wash your hands when you’ve finished!

Making Homes for MinibeastsHelp minibeasts survive in your garden by making them houses!

Ladybirds, beetles and minibeasts of all sorts: These little creatures like small places to roost. Tie bundles of twigs (hollow ones are even better!) tightly together with string. Wedge the bundle in a place on the ground, in the fork of a tree, beneath a hedge or anywhere out of the way in your garden where it won’t be disturbed. Minibeasts will hopefully find it an ideal home over the winter. Red mason bees will particularly like bamboo bundles done like this.

Bumblebees: Take a medium-sized plant pot with just one hole in the bottom and loosely pack it with dry shredded paper, straw or grass. Dig a hole big enough to bury it completely in the ground, ideally in a sunny place in some undisturbed corner with long grass. Bury the plant pot upside down in the earth so that the hole in the bottom is level with the surface of the ground. Carefully fill in around the edges with soil. You can re-cover the top with turf, just as long as the hole is still clear of dirt so that the bees can find it.

Slugs, snails and woodlice: Make a big pile of leaves in a shady and quiet corner of your garden, and watch all the little wigglers move in!

Beetles, centipedes and millipedes: Make a nice mixed pile of logs and twigs in a shady corner (you might want to ask an adult for help with carrying and positioning bigger pieces). You could put your pile of leaves next to it!

I hope this post has given you some ideas for things to do outside!


Oww oww oww my face hurts. AND I am lighter in the wallet by many hundred pounds...insult on top of injury!
I have just (yesterday) had a molar tooth root canal filled. It had an abcess in it and was loose and kept on flaring up and causing me pain - so I finally got the money together to have it treated ( no work like this done on the NHS - they would just extract it and I wanted to keep the tooth)
Actually the dentist was very good and it didn't hurt anymore than the absolute minimum - but it was STILL a root canal treatment on a molar and it was still 100 mins of life I do not wish to relive. 
I was in a lot of pain last night!
So - I had a very long sleep last night and was left to sleep until quite late this morning - I am up and about now, face still hurting but better - so am off to do some outdoor stuff in the wood and with the hens.


B. Eng. (Hons), MICHT, AIfL
Enhanced CRB FAW/Paediatric /Outdoor Working/Epi-pen First Aid Certificates

Sarah works as a self employed Environmental Educator and Forest School Practitioner. She has worked as a Play Ranger for her local Wildlife Trust and she occasionally teaches environmental education on a supply basis at a local Environment Centre. Sarah is a trained RSPB Wildlife Explorers group leader and has lead highly successful after school  eco/gardening clubs for several local schools. In addition Sarah offers workshops in making craft items from natural or recycled materials and provides training for adults in various Forest School type activities.

Sarah has extensive woodcraft skills and experience gained from owning and managing a small private woodland, which contains a Forest School site and is a source of sustainable wood products. She has a long-standing love of the natural world and possesses an excellent working knowledge of native flora and fauna. Sarah is a First Aider with extra outdoor working, epi-pen and paediatric first aid qualifications. She also has Food Hygiene and Fire Marshal training.

Sarah is a Master Composter, Master Gardener and Food Champion; a volunteer community advisor working on behalf of Herefordshire County Council and Garden Organic to promote organic gardening, home composting and food waste reduction to the general public. She also has experience of managing a small flock of free range, organically cared for chickens; is knowledgeable in various other smallholding skills and is a skilled jam, chutney, wine and cider maker. Sarah offers training in gardening, composting and chicken keeping skills.

Before taking a career break to have a child, Sarah worked as a self employed holistic therapist and organic produce grower but has also in the past run her own business as an environmental advisor, researcher and advocate. She had a previous lengthy career as a research scientist and project manager in a Government establishment and is a highly qualified, experienced and articulate graduate engineer.

Sarah was a finalist in the 2007 and 2009 CIWM Annual Awards in the “Individual Recycling Champion” category as well as a finalist in the Garden Organic “Master Composter of the Year” 2008 and 2009 awards. Sarah won the Garden Organic "Master Composter Innovation and Social Media" 2012  award

Education/Training Qualifications:

Education: (date/qualification)

June 2010  CTLLS Certificate. Uni of Warwick
April 2010  PTLLS Certificate. Uni of Warwick
April 2009 Forest School Practitioner/Leader OCN Level 3.

July 2000  IIHHT Diplomas, Aromatherapy, Indian Head and Body Massage.
July 1989  B.Eng. (Hons) Materials Science and Technology, Birmingham
July 1986  HNC Electronic Engineering, Worcester Technical College.
July 1984  ONC Electronic Engineering, Worcester Technical College.
July 1978 8 GCE “O” levels, Worcester Girls Grammar School.

Training: (date/qualification)

June 2011  FAW course(Renewal)
June 2011  First aid in the outdoors/Epi pen use. (Renewal)
Mar 2011 Master Gardener. Garden Organic accredited course.
Nov 2010  LGBT training, HCC course
Oct 2010   Diversity training, HCC course.
June 2010  Paediatric First Aid Certificate/Epi pen use (Renewal)
May 2010  Health and Safety Level 2 Certificate, CIEH, Anubis Training.
April 2010 Safeguarding , HCC training course.
Feb 2010   Risk Assessment, Anubis Training
Feb 2010   Fire Marshall, Anubis Training
Oct 2009   Disability Equality training, HCC course.
Sept 2009  "Playing on the Range" Playworker Level 2 Certificate, Uni of Gloucs.
Oct 2009   Fundamentals of Food Hygiene Level 2 Certificate, RSPH  PCT Training, Rotherwas.
June 2009  Food Champion training with WRAP.
April 2009 Food For Life Partnership training with Garden Organic.
Sept 2008  FAW course/Epi pen use, Anubis Training.
July 2008   First aid in the outdoors/Epi pen use. Anubis Training
Nov 2007  Introduction to Forest School OCN Level 1 Certificate, Cambium Training. 
April 2007 Paediatric First Aid/Epi pen use. Anubis Training.
April 2007 RSPB Wildlife Explorers Club Leader, RSPB HQ.
Jan - June 2007 Playwork NVQ Level 3 training Herefordshire PCT.
April 2006 Master Composter. Garden Organic/CIWM accredited course/cert.

Key Skills:
Sarah demonstrates excellent academic, practical, communication, presentation and negotiating skills gained from the wide variety of work she has undertaken. She is

 Highly skilled in providing both practical and theoretical environmental/sustainability/gardening/smallholding information tailored to the age range of the target audience/workshop/class/group, in an engaging, amusing, playful and informative way.
 Demonstrates very high practical, academic and professional abilities and knowledge in a very wide range of fields.
 Is a  good communicator with very effective presentation and report writing abilities. Has had much one-to-one contact with the general public in a variety of environments.
 Is an experienced speaker, well used to organising and chairing large and small public meetings, holding workshops and training courses, presenting evidence at Public Inquiries, dealing with the media, giving live and recorded TV and Radio interviews and writing press releases.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Pruning - Compost Mansions style!

Some 30 m of the very over mature, very dead and tangled up front fence shrubbery. We spent yesterday morning doing this -

a lot of the bigger tree shrubs were felled at the weekend and dragged round to the sawing area  by the wood so we can get any firewood off them - there is a big bonfire patch there for twiggy material we do not either save for firewood or use as habitat piles etc - but all this tangled jasmine, rose, honeysuckle etc was no use for anything other than burning so that is what we did.

The ash will be collected up today and will go on the compost heaps or as a dust bath for the hens.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Sunny Saturday in the garden

We have started a major tidy up of the garden, with lots of the rather overgrown, mature shrubs and trees scheduled to get pruned...this is our idea of pruning! None of that easy stuff with secateurs and saws, oh no...we use a chainsaw and BIG ratchet loppers, to cut things down a lot...

it looks a bit brutal but it does need doing and the plants do actually survive and grow again! (As long as we don't have a month of snow and low temperatures, that is...)

Eglu set up with netting so the stronger ex battery hens can go outside and explore in safely.

Brave Coriander takes her first step "outside" a run.

Attilla the Hen takes her first step in real freedom.

Cumin was too scared today and decided to chicken out of exploring. Maybe tomorrow?

Thursday 5 January 2012

Update on the hens.

Am a bit run off my feet looking after the existing gang of 10 hens plus the 7 new ex batts.

I have just integrated the 3 new point of lay hens in with the existing flock of hens which is provng difficult - I did this to free up the Eglu for some of the ex batts  - but the old girls do NOT like the new girls and while Snowflake and Pearl are doing ok, Nightshade is very shy and is not getting enough food or water or respite from being pecked.

SO, I have had to add more feeders and drinkers into the Mega Hen Pen run so while the girls are all shut in they do not kill each other...

Also the 3 new girls do not seem to understand about roosting in the hen house and are settling into the nest boxes, which means I have to get up very early to clean out the poo, or the newly laid eggs are very dirty and I can't sell them...

The most feathery ex batts are now in the Eglu, and have names - Coriander and Cumin - and have been joined by the very bossy but rather bald hen now  called Attilla - because she was such a bully to all the other baldy ex batt girls in the polytunnel I had to move her out...

The lame hen (Yarrow) and the broken winged hen ( Comfrey) are doing ok in the Polytunnel - I open up the really rather tiny Broody ark first thing so they can wander around the polytunnel and talk to the other two baldy hens inside the big run in the polytunnel - these two are ok health wise but are weak and bald so need a bit of tlc and feeding up before they can go outside. I still have not named these two but am musing about it.

I am watching my new ex  batt girls  - and trying not to think about the disturbing behaviour they are all showing me - like the piling on top of each other even though there is loads of room and a heater so it can't be for warmth...and the hunched, head down postures when flapping their wings - even though there is no longer a cage around them to stop their movements. :-(

If I think about this stuff I get so angry I have to go off and cry...which doesn't help the hens at all..so I don't let myself think about it. Yet.

Monday 2 January 2012

Meet the Christmas present hens

I have realised that I never got around to posting up pictures of my Christmas present hens from Compostman...so here they are :-)

We got them from Newland Grange near Malvern, a lovely place with beautifully looked after hens for sale.

This is Pearl, she is a White Star ( a White Leghorn)  and she lays pure white eggs. She is quite flighty!

This is Snowflake, she is a Light Sussex, a rarish breed. She lays pinky brown eggs and is very sweet.

This is Nightshade, a Silver Sussex ( yes, I know she is black!) She is very shy and sweet and spends a lot of time sitting on my feet. She lays pinky brown eggs as well.

My furry familiar Cassie comes with me to see the hens and comments loudly on all that I ( and they) do.

Snowflake and Nightshade are not amused!

Sunday 1 January 2012

Paper making

I thought you might be interested to see how I do it and what preparations I make.

Recycled paper making is fun, but very messy!

I have built up a list of useful equipment over the 3 years I have been doing this, just to be able to do it in the most easy manner. Remember I am doing this with between 15 and 30 children, so I have extra sets of everything!

Paper making kit

Lidded bucket (to make and transport pulp)
Old laminated floor tiles (useful flat surface to roll out on)
Rolling pins
Jugs (useful to scoop out pulp)
Stick blender or masher
Spoons (for adding/mixing pulp)

Mould and Deckle (you need to make (or buy) a mesh frame (sometimes called a mould) and an outer frame without mesh (called a deckle) Two picture frames and a piece of mesh stapled on to one frame would work.

Sponges (for removing excess water from pulp)
Trays (bigger than the mould and deckle, for the actual paper making part. I use unused plastic cat litter trays)
Plastic tablecloths

My Paper making kit ready to go to Eco Club, all stacked in a big plastic box in the boot of my car, paper pulp in SEALED buckets (formerly had bird food in them, washed and reused for this), standing in the paper making trays. If pulp spills it is VERY hard to clean up!

To make the pulp

Take cut or better still shredded white office paper (printed is fine, but good quality office paper makes the smoothest recycled paper)

Many other types of paper that can be used include: Newspaper (If you want a grayish colored paper), old magazines, old cards (makes heavier paper) tissue paper (for finer paper)

Put a generous quantity of torn or shredded paper into a bucket and add warm water. Leave overnight if possible to let the paper absorb lots of water - this makes the fibres easier to break up. If you need to speed this process up you can add boiling water.

Liquidise or mash the wet paper until it is pulp. I find putting half the pulp in another bucket with some more water is best to liquidise it, if the pulp is too thick it is hard to liquidise.

It will look like porridge when it is ready.

Wash your hands after handling paper pulp as it is alkaline and can leave your hands very dry, and remind the children to wash their hands as soon as they have finished doing the pulp handling bit.

To make the paper

There are several ways of doing this, I put the mould and deckle in water (frame mesh side up, deckle on top)

and then spoon/pour pulp into the frame until I have enough. This is easier for children to do!

OR you can put some pulp in a bowl (bigger than your frame and deckle) with water.
Take the frame and deckle, hold them firmly together and scoop them under the surface of the pulp mixture until you have picked up enough pulp from the water to make an even layer of pulp on the mesh. This makes finer paper but is hard for children to do!

If you want to colour the paper add food colouring to the water at this stage.

Agitate the frame and deckle in the water to get an even layer of pulp inside the deckle, on the mesh. You can spoon some pulp into the deckle and frame to fill in any holes.

When all of the mesh is evenly coated lift out and allow the frame and deckle to drain, keeping level.

At this point you could add glitter, dried leaves, herbs, flowers, scraps of coloured tissue paper etc. I add some vanilla food flavour for a lovely scent, or a drop of lavender essential oil, or some dried lavender also looks very attractive.

Lift the deckle off,

place a cloth (I use old j cloths, anything absorbent will work) over the paper on the mesh of the frame. Gently dab with a sponge to remove the worst of the water.

Carefully lower the cloth and paper, cloth side down, on to a flat surface (I use an offcut of floor tile) covered with newspaper/cloth to absorb water. There WILL be a lot of water around!

You now have the cloth on the tile, the paper next then the mesh of the frame. This is the back surface of the paper, seen through the mesh.

Press down with sponges on the mesh, so the water is blotted off the paper through the mesh.


Lift off the frame from one corner, pressing gently from the mesh side as you go, leaving the paper behind on the cloth

You now have a cloth with some paper on top of it!

Put another cloth on top and roll with a rolling pin to remove any further water (and flatten the paper a litle.)

Repeat whole paper making process, adding each cloth to the stack.

When you have enough paper sheets, place something flat on top ( I use another laminated floor tile) and weigh it down to flatten the paper stack. Leave for a bit (a few hours if possible but it is not too critical).

Peel apart the cloths and leave each sheet of paper and cloth to dry out a bit more if needed.

Restack and put a weight on the stack to flatten the sheets

Finally peel off the cloths and leave the paper to dry out completely. DO NOT put in too hot a place or the paper will buckle as it dries!

I get the children to work in pairs, each one working on an end of the frame and then the sheet can be cut in half when dry. Odd bits can be re used to decorate other sheets of paper.

Put in a warm dry place to dry and make sure you know who made it!!


And THAT is how we made paper!

Happy New Year

A Happy New Year to all my readers.