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 30 September 2012

More garden work.

More work in the garden - this time Compostman used the JCB to grub out 3 large tree stumps which have been getting in the way of scything the long grass and wildflower area by the apple trees.

This area by the garage used to be a lovely flower bed many years ago but has become infested with bindweed. As we have a greenhouse waiting to be erected there ( waiting since 2004!) we have decided to do away with the flower bed and have the greenhouse there instead. It is nice and handy for power, water etc .

I am going to dig up as many of the mature plants as I can, pick out the bindweed roots and put the plant in a large pot and see what happens. When we have decided what is going where I will plant them out but for now they can over winter in the polytunnel in pots. We have saved lots of bulbs as well.

I have also been washing pots and trays and generally having a bit of a tidy up. The major tidy up of the composting area has yet to start, though...

As you may have gathered from my recent posts, we are having a major re think of our garden and how it works. Many areas are overgrown, or infested with bindweed, other areas have over mature shrubs which need major pruning - so we are going to have a bit of a redesign to make it more easy to manage.

Hopefully it will look more beautiful, after!

Friday 28 September 2012

Tidying up and sorting out in the Polytunnel

 It's that time of year...when crops are finished and it is time to have a clear out.

My tomatoes are finished and all the pots are full of weeds. It all needs emptying and composting and scrubbing out and sweeping up.

So, I emptied and dug and pulled and swept up...

And when I had some clear growing medium I planted out some spare Kale, Spinach and Sprouting Broccoli plants, which will stay inside the polytunnel and give us some nice, early, tender greens in the winter.

I already have some growing which we are already eating now  - the pots on the left contain big  Nero di Toscana and Red Kale plants.

I also picked some of the sweet peppers - they have done well this year and are now in the freezer, having been chopped up and roasted in olive oil.

I have more winter crops to sow in the pots, as and when I finish a bit more tidying up I will sow winter greens and carrots, so we have some tasty leaves and baby carrots to eat.

Monday 24 September 2012

Fun and games with a JCB

I don't know if any of you remember, but back in December last year we bought a rather old and very ropey JCB

Compostman has spent a lot of time making it work properly and we have been itching to get using it for all sorts of jobs in the wood and garden, but the ground has been just too wet to use it ( unless we were prepared to totally wreck the garden to and from the places we wanted to dig up). Now I do not mind huge ruts in the wood but  I *do* object a bit to them over the garden grass!

 Finally, the ground dried out enough to drive over so we got JCB - ing

Digging out a load of tree stumps and stuff


Knocking over an old tree stump which was " in the way" on the lawn

And lo! The tree is taken away!

Only problem is - the hens view the JCB as a glorified garden fork and insist on throwing themselves into any hole being dug and trying to get themselves killed at every chance. Seriously. We have to shut them away, now as they bring everything to a halt, otherwise!

As do the lunatic cats!

I cannot emphasise enough how much hard work the JCB will save us. How much potential backache avoided, time saved to do other stuff...really, unless you have tried to remove huge tree stumps by hand, you have no idea...

And it is SO much fun! ( am ashamed to admit I am obviously *still* a "petrol head"* at heart...am a sucker for a lot of horsepower and a lot of torque......despite my green credentials...!)

*Yes yes, I know the JCB runs on diesel! Please do not nit pick...

Thursday 20 September 2012

Product review - Greanbase Wheelbarrow Booster

I was recently contacted by Joe Smith of Greanbase Ltd who said in his email   

I wondered if you would be interested in sharing your thoughts on a new garden tool invention created by my father (a landscape gardener from Keighley in Yorkshire) 15 years ago.

I was intrigued, and accepted his offer to try one out here at Compost Mansions. The Wheelbarrow Booster duly arrived in the post within a few days.

 The Greanbase website says the Booster was
Designed by a gardener, for  the gardener!
As you may appreciate, only a gardener really knows what works and what doesn't when it comes to labour-saving equipment around the garden.
Having been used and trialled over almost 20 years by the designer/inventor - himself a landscaper of over 25 years, the Wheelbarrow Booster is one of the few pieces of  equipment that can be claimed to 'pay for itself' with the time it saves the user. An innovative, new must-have accessory for the gardener/landscaper/equestrian; designed to fit most gardeners wheelbarrows  to carry often light-weight, but bulky garden waste e.g. grass/hedge trimmings, leaves, prunings, cleared vegetation. Not forgetting hay, shavings etc.  around the stables. 

I unpacked the Booster and tried to fit it to my wheelbarrow.


According to the website you are supposed to

Open out the loop of the body, and loosely fit it over and around the rim of the barrow.     Note: there is no 'front' nor 'rear' to the device, therefore there is no 'wrong way round' to be concerned about.  Now, working around the barrow, carefully pull the body of the booster upwards until the elastic skirt seam just appears over the top of the rim all around

 I ran into a problem - all three of my wheelbarrows ( one cheapo one and two rather more expensive ones) have no rim by the handles - so I could not fit the Booster over the rim. I wondered what to do and then had an idea.

 I cut two holes in the fabric, put the wheelbarrow handles through the holes and then fitted the rest of the Booster as described on the Greanbase website.

It does increase the capacity of the wheelbarrow a lot - I more than doubled the volume of grass cuttings I was able to move around.

So am I impressed? Well, partly. I was a bit disappointed that I had to modify the Booster to fit my wheelbarrow, but to be fair the makers do say " fits most makes" not "all makes" and it was not difficult to cut two holes.

It does increase the capacity by a lot, but I found only if you are gathering up shortish stuff like grass clippings, hedge cuttings or hay. I tried to use it with a load of very tall weeds and they just folded the Booster down at the sides where they overhung. I don't really want to have to chop stuff up just to save an extra trip across the garden with the barrow. It was fine filled with a lot of shorter weeds though.

Trying to fill up the wheelbarrow with twice as much compost as normal was probably a bit excessive - it just meant I could not push the barrow as it was too heavy (!) I guess it was a bit silly of me to try in the first place  - I was just experimenting to see how much more I could put in my barrow with the Booster in place

So - useful for certain jobs but be aware of its limitations.

Would I buy one? possibly, yes - especially as I have a lot of grass to cut and a lot of weeds to pull.

The Whellbarrow Booster  retails at £12.99 plus p and p direct from Greanbase Ltd 

With thanks to Joe Smith for giving me a Booster to try out.


Monday 17 September 2012

Just Do Something - Stop The Badger Cull

The first cull  of Badgers in the UK is expected to begin with days or weeks in a precise area of West Gloucestershire which is being kept secret. But it is going to be somewhere near where I live.

  • The West Gloucestershire pilot area description: mainly in the county of Gloucestershire, predominantly within the council districts of the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury, and parts lie within the districts of Wychavon, Malvern Hills and the south east part of the county of Herefordshire. The area does not include the public forest estate in the Forest of Dean. (Source: Natural England)
According to the BBC,  the first licence to kill Badgers will be issued today. The cull, which according to the BBC  is being paid for by the farmers taking part, will allow the shooting of free-running badgers
Please watch this film and listen to what respected experts, such as Sir David Attenborough, Simon King OBE and Mark Carwardine,  have to say about the UK Badger Cull and the spread of Bovine Tb (BTb)

Independent scientific studies have shown that culling would be of little help in reducing bovine TB, and even suggest that it could make things worse in some areas.
If you don't want to see more badgers killed, please sign the petition. This is a new petition and we need to reach 100,000 signatures so please sign it and encourage others to do the same.

Saturday 15 September 2012

"Meet the Masters" event at Garden Organic, Ryton

I spent today at Ryton, the HQ and showcase gardens for Garden Organic

Throughout the spring and summer Garden Organic have been running a series of events called "Meet the Masters" where Master Composters and Gardeners are present at Ryton on a Saturday or Sunday, to answer queries and talk about composting and gardening to the public.

I had offered my services this weekend and, as Compostman and Dear Daughter have never been to Ryton, we all went, along with a friend of El's.

The journey across was a bit long as there was some terrible traffic through Worcester, but we arrived in glorious sunshine ( which lasted all day!)

My fellow Master Composter and Master Gardener had already set up our stall, in the new Home Composting area and I was very pleased to see this had a nice shelter for us to stand under - most of the summer we have been hiding from the rain but today we were sheltering from the hot sun.

The rest of the family went off to join in a garden tour with one of the volunteer guides while I got on with answering questions - lots and lots of questions - from the public!

There was an Exotic Food Fair happening as well, so we had a lot of visitors who had not been to Ryton before, and were not Garden Organic members, coming in to see what was happening. We had some really good conversations and I think we helped a lot of people with their queries about gardening.

There were all sorts of attractions going on, Alpacas being the most popular outside I think! (They were very lovely)

An Indian cookery demonstration, a talk on seed saving, demonstrations of various exotic foods which can actually be grown in the UK ( although you might not have thought so!) and tours of the new Exotic Garden at Ryton.

We had lunch in the excellent cafe and later, some very welcome tea (and scones for the two children)

I think it is a mark of what a terrific place Ryton is, that two 11 year olds were occupied and had fun for 5 hours there. They really enjoyed wandering around looking at the gardens, they LOVED The Vegetable Kingdom  and stroking the Alpacas, they thought the food was really good and the whole place was excellent. They did have electronic games with them which they played with towards the end of the afternoon for a little bit, while sitting under some trees waiting for me to tidy the stall away.)

Compostman also saw some of the things I have been talking about incorporating into our gardens here at Compost Mansion and, while he thinks most of it would cost too much/be too much work etc  - he CAN see the merit in some of what I have been saying so that is good ;-)

I had a chance to look around, with my family, during my breaks - and stroke an Alpaca :-)

Home for tea time having spoken to 45 people on the stall and handed out a lot of leaflets with advice and ideas.

A good day out - so please go, if you are in the neighbourhood - Ryton Gardens is open every day except Christmas Day, and admission is free if you are a Garden Organic member.

Next event is Apple Day on Oct 13th.

Friday 14 September 2012

A visit to Wroxeter Roman City

As is traditional, August Bank Holiday Monday was wet. VERY wet indeed. So we decided to go out for the afternoon. Being members of English Heritage we decided to re-visit Wroxeter, a Roman city in Shropshire, near to Telford.

This was the reconstructed villa as seen is " Rome wasn't built in a day" on C 4. We saw it being built, on our last visit back in 2010 - the day we also went to Acton Scott.

This time, when we went the reconstructed town house was inhabited by re enactors " in period" and very good they were.

We had a really good day out at Wroxeter, despite the (traditional on a Bank Holiday in the UK) dreadful weather! We even sat in a shelter, eating our packed lunch and drank tea while the rain poured down outside. Ah traditions!  This reminded me of many an August Bank holdiday as a child, sitting with my parents and brother in our car or in a cafe, looking out over a deserted Welsh beach which was being lashed by Atlantic wind and rain :-)

The rain did stop though and we had a look around the rest of the site.

El looking through part of the Forum wall

The Baths

The sunken Calderium

After we left Wroxeter, we all went and had a nice meal in our local pub before heading for home. A good day out for all of us :-)

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Peat Free compost now available from Aldi

You all should know how I feel about growing media containing Peat - it is not needed, it destroys priceless habitat during extraction  and I do not use it in my garden. I use Fertile Fibre for seed sowing, with the occasional bag of New Horizon purchased, but I mostly make my own growing medium from home made compost.

I also try to persuade other gardeners to give up using Peat based products, but I accept sometimes it can be hard to find an alternative to use so I am always on the look out for more shops offering peat free growing media. So I was very pleased when I was recently contacted by Aldi ( the Supermarket) who told me that they are now offering Peat Free compost in their stores, along side the Multi Purpose version ( which I assume is not Peat free).
I  get offered all sorts of things to review or try out at Compost Mansion - usually the offer comes from a PR department, and I am happy to accept items to review, as long as they follow my personal ethical considerations (see above).  So I decided I would be happy to accept the kind offer of a voucher for a bag of Aldi's new Peat Free compost. 

I got my bag when we went into Hereford a  week or so ago and I have just opened it up to use some. It is pretty good stuff, tbh - it comes in a 25 l bag for £1.99  so is a manageble size to put in a car boot . I found it to be of a good quality, with no huge lumps of bark, twigs or stones ( something I have found with other brands of peat free compost - one brand was full of shredded plastic!)and it felt pleasant to handle and smelled nice.

I don't know how well it will perform - it seems to hold water well, without drying out with a hard crust (something which I have had happen with other peat free brands).  I used some to re pot a few house plants into larger pots and also sowed some lettuce seed into a tray full. I will let you know how the seeds get on, in a few weeks.

The compost has been available for a number of weeks in store, but this week Aldi also apparently have Spring Flowering bulbs, priced at only £1.39 or a four pack of cyclamen (these are available from the 13th September 2012 – until stocks last).

So, if you use Aldi for your shopping, and need some growing medium, why not try their Peat Free version?

Sunday 9 September 2012

Zero Waste Week - Barn and polytunnel clear out and tidy up

Much like the Study in the house, the Barn tends to be a bit of a dumping ground for all sorts of stuff we want to keep, but don't quite know how or when... so it gets cluttered with empty feed bags, boxes, paper feed sacks, all sorts of stuff basically. I have to periodically have a huge sort out, so I decided Zero Waste Week would be as good a time as any...



Pellet bags and Amazon card used to line the Hen houses and nest boxes.

5 Kg buckets waiting for holes so they can become huge plant pots
Big white bin now a rubbish bin but was the outside of our old water softener, which died recently

Poly bags which had held bales of Aubiose ( hen bedding) reused under wood pile and to cover up bales of straw.

5 L containers which had held bulk buys of washing up liquid etc is re used ( after cleaning) to transport water for the hens to drink

I tore up any damaged boxes as they will be great to add to the compost bins.

The Polytunnel has been tidied a bit - all the blighted tomato plants have gone and I have made a start on clearing out the buckets of old growing media,


 but I have been sidetracked by this happening next to the polytunnel....

 So the polytunnel and washing the plant pots has had to wait!

Saturday 8 September 2012

Zero Waste Week 2012 - Study clearing

Our Study is a lovely room, with a lovely view, but with both Compostman and I working from in there and with it housing a lot of our books and my education and craft stores, as well as a load of other things like household filing and ongoing art and craft items, it tend to get a bit "cluttered".  So I decided to have a sort out for Zero Waste Week.

Before - last Monday

These show my half of the room - Compostman's side was not much better! All a bit of a mess, with unfinished projects and part finished things everwhere.

Stuff I sorted out to be stored in the loft :-)

This pile went to the Red Cross Shop in Ledbury :-) This helped to finish the de clutter of the Guest bedroom as well - it is now as clear as I can get it without removing the bed and wardrobe.

Offerings on Freecycle

And this is the Study after I had finished.today :-)

All clean and dusted and vaccumned. I feel much happier now!

Loads of paper put into the recycle bin and all my invoices, filing etc has been sorted out and paid. Compostman and Dear Daughter E also had a tidy up and produced a lot of paper for the recycle bin. We normally have this bin less than half filled over two weeks! This was after one week!

And only one tiny bin of extra waste for landfill generated :-) mainly bits of plastic wrappers, which I am going to see if I can re use or recycle in some way.

 So - I feel this was a very successful de clutter for Zero Waste Week - but what about the Barn and Polytunnel? Watch this space for more details ...

 How did you get on?