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, which we share with Chickens, Cats, Guinea Pigs 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 work as an environmental educator, writer and Forest School leader at Moors Wood . I am a Master Composter and spent 10 years as a volunteer Community Compost adviser with Garden Organic and my local Council. I offer talks and run workshops and events where we talk about compost, veg growing, chicken keeping, cooking, preserving and sustainable living. We also make crafts and have fun.

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!


Friday, 30 November 2012

More detail on my crochet rag rug

For those of you who are interested

I cut up the cotton fabric into inch wide strips - and wound then into balls of yarn for easier handling.

Most of my tee shirts are not tubular round the middle section, so I could not use the "continuous spiral method" described in this link ( kindly given to me by Blue Witch ). They have seams up each side, so I had to cut them into long continuous strips, with a thicker section where I turn around and cut back down again.

As I also used the arms of some long sleeved tee shirts this gave me shorter lengths which have more knots in the ball of yarn.
 
So, having cut and joined the strips of tee shirt,  I then made a foundation chain of about 75 stitches using a 15 mm hook - I just made the chain as large as I wanted the width of the rug to be (about three feet)   and then I used (UK, not called the same in US!)  double crochet in rows, back and forth, - the rug is about 4 feet long now and VERY colourful :-)

The knots merge in with the holes in the crochet loops and it feels fine under foot, and I am very pleased with it :-)

Hope this helps you to get started.

Flannel shirts would work for this I think, as would fleece (spun polyester type) blankets - they can be found very cheaply in charity shops here so I am going to make one of these as a cat bed, next.


Monday, 26 November 2012

Frugal gifts...and shopping



I do not like "shopping for basics" in "real life" - I much prefer to spend my precious shopping time wandering around browsing in small shops, chatting to shop staff, tasting, smelling, looking and maybe buying and then going to visit somewhere like a small museum, a book shop, a church - in short I love browsing but I do not like "shopping"

So I am really pleased with my latest bulk purchasing experiences on line for both store cupboard essentials and some gifts.

I shop, in bulk, at Natural Collection. I get points and every now and then they send me a voucher by email for money off my next shop. I also get sent various discount codes and alerts about discount days.

So I have just done a load of bulk buying on their excellent website,  of bread and baking flour, dishwasher tablets, shampoo, hand wash, cleaner, various canned food items and lots of other store cupboard essentials, all at 20% off AND I used a voucher to reduce the bill ( got from my previous shops with them ) AND I got free delivery AND I got another £20 evoucher to spend on my next shop AND several  free gifts ( which will be added to the gift stash I keep hidden away, so I always have a little something ready to give to someone)

And it is all organic, cruelty free, ethically produced etc etc  - and delivered to my door.

I paid for the orders with my Amazon credit card , who give me a £10 voucher when I reach a certain level of spend. ) Thery have also just given me a gift voucher for £50 because I subscribed to Audible, their audio book scheme (which I was going to do, anyway)- and gave me a £10 voucher because I purchased an item of clothing as a gift ( which I was going to do, anyway) and have given me a £ 2 voucher for mp3 downloads (which I was going to do, anyway)

So I have just bought from them a major electrical item ( which I wanted to buy, anyway) for free

Win, win in my book. I bought the things I wanted AND got some vouchers to use now, or later  It really DOES pay to "shop around" 

Am feeling good, as I have sorted all my Christmas/Yule shopping out before the end of November. Just got to write and send the (few) cards to people who don't get e-cards from us!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Opening my 2012 "sealed pot"


 I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but I have a small change purse in my handbag and I periodically place all the contents in a special pot, leaving just a £1 , 50p, 2 x 20p and a 10 p coin in the purse.

Once a year I open this out, count it up and spent the money on something  - usually for me, sometimes a gift or a treat for all of us but very occasionally it has come in very handy in a month where there have been lots of expenses.

I have got into the habit of opening my "sealed pot" in end November or at the very latest Dec 1st, mainly because my car is due MOT testing and service at the end of Nov, Compostgirl was born at the end of November and Christmas/Yule is on the horizon. So extra money in my hand is ALWAYS welcome, especially at this time of year.

I don't actually have a sealed pot - I use an old hot chocolate container with a slot cut in the lid - so in theory I could " dip in" to this pot during the year, but I don't .



This year I opened the pot today and I counted out £234.55. I was very pleased with this result :-)

I hadn't actually realised that there were people who do this as a challenge in the blogosphere so I was delighted to come across Saving for Travels blog and challenge 2013.

So I have signed up for 2013. I want to buy a better apple press for making cider :-)


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Life, now the nights are drawing in.


I must admit I really do not much like this time of year. It is not light until nearly 8 am and it is dark before  4pm  ish - and often it has been damp and dull.

I don't mind if it is cold and sunny - I like this sort of day as I can still do stuff outside, but the dull damp days really get to me.

I am still not back to full activity from my back injury so this, the soggy ground underfoot making it impossible to do anything much outside and the shortened days means I have been generally taking it a lot easier during the day than I would wish.

One thing I have been doing a lot of recently is crochet and fabric and yarn related "things".  I love crochet, knitting, sewing and embroidery. I am not that skilled at it but I really enjoy it:  :-) I also like making paper and papercasting and  love using "waste" materials to make cards, notebooks, and small gifts.

I have also been doing a lot of decluttering and tidying up (not that you would think so if you came round to Compost Mansions!) and taking stuff to the Charity Shops in Ledbury or to the HWS.


So I have been quite busy making "things" for Christmas/Yule. I have also been spending a lot of time reading and listening to music and audiobooks, in front of the woodburner with one or more cats to keep me company  :-) Compostman and I have also been catching up with a lot of TV programmes which have been sitting on the hard drive for many months, waiting for us to have the time to watch them ;-)

What do you all like doing in the winter months?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

What I have been up to recently

  As you may recall, I have been slowly learning to crochet. Recently I decided to crochet a rag rug.



I have loads of old, worn or holed cotton tee shirts, which are no good for charity donation, so I keep for making rags. I had a look and sorted out some in bright colours to make into cotton yarn
 


 I cut strips about an inch wide and tied them together.


because the fabric is 100% cotton all the trimmings can go in the compost!





And then I started to crochet... using a 15 mm crochet hook


As you can see, it is going to be a good sized rug! It keeps me occupied during these dull wet days where I can't do much in the garden.

I will keep you all posted as to how I get on :-)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

How to identify Chalara ash dieback

Chalara fraxinea is a disease that has decimated Ash tree species throughout Northern Europe, already affecting over 90% of Ash trees in Denmark and Sweden and is present as far as Belgium. Until recently the UK was unaffected, but it now seems that imports of Ash saplings have released the disease into the wild, and at least two outbreaks have been spotted in wild woodland in Norfolk & Suffolk.

This is very bad news indeed. There are about 80m native Ash trees, making up 30% of our indigenous deciduous woodland, so there are very serious ecological consequences if the disease is not contained.
Spores can spread about 20 miles, and it could be as bad as the Dutch elm disease which hit Britain in the 1970s and all but wiped out that native tree species from our landscape. More about the science here.

I wish I could check our Ash trees  but virtually all the leaves have now come off now after we had strong winds a week ago. I went for a wander with my binoculars to see if I could spot any lesions etc in the trees themselves, but as a lot of our trees are Ash mixed in with other species, I couldn't really tell much.

I think I am just going to
have to wait until new leaf burst in spring shows more signs of dieback ( if it is there in our wood) .

This is a really useful video of what to look for in Ash.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Slowly getting back into our routine

Yesterday Compostman and I went to Ledbury - he had a physio appointment and I had stuff to take to the Red Cross charity shop to donate - I came away with two craft books as well for the princely sum of £3.

I also got a 15 mm crochet hook, as I am in the process of turning a lot of old cotton T shirts into yarn to crochet a rug and needed a larger hook to do so. I have spent the last four weeks doing a lot more knitting, crochet and other fabric related crafts and have enjoyed this, although I didn't like the fact that I had *no choice* but to practice them. I have improved a lot, though!

We had an £8 off £80 spend voucher for the Co-Op, which expired today so after a bit of discussion we decided we would spend some extra money to save some. I had done our normal household shop last week in the Co Op - and got 10 % off that time - so really did not need much everyday household stuff - but we decided to spend on stockpile items to get the maximum discount this time. We bought extra stuff - packs of tins of cat meat ( to be stockpiled in the garage)  - some alcohol (to be stored away for Yule and for gifts) and reduced free range pork joints (which when cut up to make lovely chops which went straight into the freezer). This plus some normal household sundries came to £82, so I was pleased to get 10% discount on stuff we would have bought at some point soon.

With the colder weather coming up I like to have at least four weeks worth of food, loo rolls, etc for us, the cats, the guinea pigs and the hens. We have previously been frozen in here for nearly 2 weeks   so I am not taking any chances! And oh how useful it has been recently ( with us being virtually housebound)  to have a good stockpile of provisions!

We then went for a treat - an early (noon)  lunch at a local pub in Much Marcle - they do very good lunches sourced from local ingredients and they do a lunchtime deal which is really good value. We have not been out together for a very long time so we really enjoyed our treat.

We came home and as it was warm and sunny we decided to do some work outside on various gentle tasks - both of us found we were as weak as kittens after less than an hour of very light work - it is amazing how rapidly one can lose fitness from an illness or injury!

But at least we got some wood moved into the log store and some compost moved into a raised bed and I managed to clean out a whole hen house by myself ( for the first time in 5 weeks!)

When Compostgirl came home on the bus from school at 4 pm that was the signal to retire to make tea, light the woodburner, sit down and have a chat and a rest.

Compostgirl and I enjoyed watching "Wizzards vs Aliens" on CBBC - a Dr Who ish programme from Russell T Davies and co. And after food and homework for her we watched "The Simpsons" on C4 plus 1 (as usual) - something our family have enjoyed together for several years.

Compostman and I later ate some homemade soup and bread for supper (as we had eaten a main meal at lunchtime) and watched "Only Connect" on BBC 4 - a quiz show we love and  which I would like to appear on.

Slowly we seem to be getting back into our normal routine of work in the day and family life in the evening. Which feels good. Fingers crossed we can keep up the progress!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Frugal soup


One of the things I did manage to make this week was a big batch of veg and lentil soup.

Peppers from the polytunnel featured in this soup, as I used up the mis shapen or slightly damaged ones from the big basket I harvested..




I used a couple of onions and some tomatos - the last from the polytunnel -  a few very limp bits of celery , a courgette which I had left on the plant and it got nibbled,  I also used up some slightly stringy beans, which I stringed using my magic bean stringer thinamajig, cut up very finely and simmered first until tender - so I could check there were no stringy bits in them BEFORE I added them to the soup - I HATE bean strings!

They were not stringy :-)    so in they went to the pan, cooking water and all.




I then added a couple of handfuls of red lentils, and a tub of stock made from the last chicken we had roasted for dinner. All this was boiled up and then left to simmer and turn to delishousness



We ate 3 huge bowlfuls between the three of us, with home made bread, we had 3 more portions for lunch the next day AND I froze 12 portions.



I calculated that the ingredients cost me less than two pounds, maximum - and that is at organic veg prices! but I did allow for them being in the "reduced" section of a shop - rather than at full price - because that is where they would have been.

18 BIG portions of organic lentil and vegetable soup for less than two pounds

I love home made soup :-) I could happily eat it every day I think

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The virtues of a store cupboard.

At the moment, with both Compostman and I still operating at much less than full capacity, shopping is a bit "ad hoc" and rather a chore - we are both finding it hard to drive far and neither of us has much energy or inclination to slave over a hot stove - just standing up has been a bit of a problem sometimes recently!

So we are really pleased to have lots of meals and easy to prepare food in the freezers, as well as a good store of food in the cupboards.

Living where we do ( a fair few miles from the nearest shop) we tend to keep a good stock of food in, and even though we have had a pretty disasterous harvest this year we still have a good supple of home grown veg to chose from and there are lots of potatoes and onions in the veg store. We are also lucky to have large freezers well stocked with good quality sausages, chops and a selection of home grown, prepared veg open frozen for easy use ( as well as oven chips, pizzas and suchlike :-)   ).

There are also lots of home made cake portions in the freezer - Compostman makes several tray bakes and we portion them up, usually so Compostgirl can have a sweet treat, but the fruit/chocolate slices make VERY acceptable puddings with cream or custard :-)

Add in a plentiful supply of eggs from the feathery ladies, flour, cereals, dried fruit and home made wine, cider and fruit juices, home made bread etc , and we are managing just fine without as many trips to the shops as normal.

I am so glad we do this as trying to get to the shops as normal would have been a bit of a struggle, tbh.

So, we have been eating into our stores in October and spending less than normal as a result.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Juicing and pasteurising the apples.

 Washing the apples - they need to be clean and for juicing you need to use apples you would be happy to eat, whereas for cider this is not so important  - as the fermentation process of making alcohol kills off a lot of "bugs"


Putting the apples through the mill to scrat them




Scratted apple


 Apple press in action.


Juice beginning to flow! I decanted the juice into clean bottles and then pasteurised them at 75 C for 25 mins, to ensure they would keep without spoiling.



Bottles of juice after they had been through the pasteuriser - they will now keep, unopened,  for at least a year, if not longer.

The pasteuriser is a wonderful bit of equipment - I can make all sorts of cordials in it and it is also very handy for use as a "tea urn" !





Hotbin update - a look inside after 90 days.


 So, another Hotbin update:-)

It is now just about three months since I last looked behind the compost hatch of the Hotbin - so I am expecting to find some lovely looking stuff when I open it up


And I was not disappointed at all. The compost is beautiful; a little on the wet side but it will soon dry out if I leave it in the barrow under cover for a day or two.


I got nearly two wheel barrows full of compost from out of the Hotbin , the hens were mad keen to get to it but I managed to shoo them away for long enough to harvest the "black gold"


once I had dug out the finished compost the top surface dropped down into the cavity.


I shall use this compost in the polytunnel to enrich my winter crops and also spread some on the veg raised beds, before I cover them over for the winter.

So, how do I feel about my HotBin, after four months? Well my overriding feeling is one of admiration for the design and the way it works so well. I am impressed at the way it has "eaten" so many refills of material (more than 3 of them a week since the start) of mainly green waste (weeds, potato haulms, grass etc) since I got it. I am impressed , if not surprised, at the temperatures I have seen and even more impressed that I can safely compost bindweed and weed seed heads and roots - nothing much is going to survive cooking in a Hotbin at above 60 C!

  

The Hotbin is easy to use. When I add new material, after a spike in temperature of around 65C on the same day, over the next couple of days the bin surface level drops down to a settled minimum and the internal temperature settles back down to around 40 - 45 C. Lots of steam emerges when you open the lid.

At this point I refill the Hotbin with more waste on the top.  Obviously as time passed over the last three months there was more material building up in the bottom of the HotBin, so I could put less and less in the top, as there was less room.

I stopped measuring all the waste I have put in, but I estimate I have put several thousand l (ish) of waste, by volume, into the HotBin over the last three months (based on my experience after four weeks, ) This has then been worked on by thermophile bacteria and then detrivores to reduce this material down to compost  at the bottom of the HotBin.


As we approach the winter and I have stopped mowing the grass I am finding it difficult to keep the bin well fed, and I may stop altogether and just let what is inside compost down. This is partly becasue I need to divert my waste peelings etc to keep the wormeries going through the winter.

In conclusion, yet again the Hotbin does exactly what it claims; makes compost in 90 days! And that chicken carcass I put in at the end of August, when I took the first sample of compost out after 30 days? No sign of it at all :-)

Friday, 2 November 2012

Harvest

We have been incapacitated, Compostman and I for the last month or so, and very little work has been done around Compost Mansion.

But we did manage to pick our ( pathetic) apple harvest and turn it into apple juice, and gather the last of the various crops from the veg garden which will not stand the winter.



We only harvested 60 lbs this year! That is a tenth of what we normally managed to pick, and we have NO eating apples at all :-(



The ground is still utterly sodden underfoot


And then we took the apples inside to use these  to turn them into juice.
More of that next time :-)


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Making comfrey/nettle fertiliser

Take one water butt - you can use lots of other containers as well, but I had a water butt available and it makes it much easier to get the liquid out !


Cut a load of comfrey ( and nettles in my case) Put them, chopped up, in a bag or cloth.



Tie up the cloth so it makes a large bag.


Arrange the bag inside the water butt, so it hangs in the ( soon to be added) water.


I tied the rope to the down pipe feeding the water butt.


Fill with water and leave for several months before using, diluted intil it is the colour of weak tea, to feed plants.

Ideally site the container away from where you sit or visit regularly as it can get very smelly!


I did this back in August and am now using the diluted liquid as a feed for my overwintering veggies inside the polytunnel.
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