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, lecturer, writer and Forest School leader at Moors Wood . I am a Master Composter and have spent the last 11 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!


Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Winter festival


Wishing all my readers a very Merry Festive Season!



love from all of us at Compost Mansions

xxx

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Book review "Christmas Stories" by Michael Morpurgo



I have to hold my hand up and say with pride that I am a complete bookworm and the "rules" about children's books being for children don't really apply, in my opinion. I believe that if a book is well written, it will appeal regardless of the age range it is aimed at.

So there are many authors with books on the bookcase in Compostgirl's bedroom which I enjoy reading : Philip Pullman, Alan Garner, Michael Rosen, Elizabeth Gouge; to name but a few. Many of the books in Compostgirl's collection are books I owned and read as a child and teenager and have passed on to her and I still enjoy re- reading them, today.

I have long been a huge fan of the author Michael Morpurgo; Compostgirl has read pretty well all the books he has written and owns nearly all of them and I often pick one up and read it with great pleasure. I find his writing to be moving and realistic and very engaging. So I was delighted to be sent a review copy of  "Christmas Stories" by Michael Morpurgo

This is a collection of three of his existing Christmas stories, along with a fourth NEW story "The Goose is getting fat".

This is how the publisher's website describes the collection:

The Best Christmas Present in the World: A mysterious letter in a secret drawer brings one night in the Great War vividly to life. Writing home from the front, a soldier has an incredible story to tell.
On Angel Wings: A singing of wings, a glorious light, and a sudden beacon of brightness? It can only mean – can it really? – a visit from the Angel Gabriel himself...
The Best of Times: When the Prince and Princess marry, joy rings out across the land. But all too soon it fades away and a shadow hangs over the royal palace. As Christmas approaches, Prince Frederico must find a way to warm his new bride’s aching heart.
The Goose is Getting Fat: – A NEW STORY! Gertrude the goose is getting bigger by the day, and Charlie is proud to look after her. But as Christmas approaches, the thought of the grizzly fate awaiting her fills him with sadness. Can he save Gertrude from the Christmas dinner table?
 
Four very well know illustrators (Emma Chichester Clark, Sophie Allsopp, Quentin Blake and Michael Foreman) have provided beautiful illustrations  - indeed I delighted in the pictures as much as I did the words.

All four stories are wonderful - I won't say any more as I do not want to spoil the stories but they are really lovely.

Although titled "Christmas Stories" this book could be read and enjoyed at anytime. If Compostgirl were still a toddler this is exactly the book I would buy her for Christmas. As it is *I* loved reading it and I hope some of you will, as well. 

 
This book is a ( sturdy) paperback, beautifully illustrated and priced at £14.99 It is aimed at children aged 5+ years old 
(but this 50+ year old loved it, too!)

With thanks to Egmont publishers for sending me a copy to review.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

"Grow Harvest Cook" book review



I was sent Grow Harvest Cook to review some time ago and have only recently got around to using it, but am glad I did!

The press release which came with the book says
Grow Harvest Cook is a collaboration between experienced gardener Meredith Kirton and food writer Mandy Sinclair. This comprehensive guide, offers advice on growing your own produce, indispensible tips on harvesting, storing and freezing, and finally over 280 recipes for what to whip up from your home-grown yield. Grow Harvest Cook shows you how to grow everything from peppers to passionfruit and has recipes ranging from delicious Apricot Tiramisu and Caramelised Parsnip & Chorizo Salad to Pork Cutlets with Sage and Prosciutto.  

This book has instructions for growing ingredients, harvesting them and then some recipe ideas for cooking them.  If I am perfectly honest, I was a little dubious about the availability of some of the ingredients as the authors are Australian so I expected a lot of the recipes to contain things not easily grown here.

But I was wrong ! Some of the ingredients are probably more common "down under" - I certainly can't grow lemons easily in my back garden, but I know from reading blogs based in Australia that this is very common, there. The few items which we don't grow here ( lemons, papayas, watermelons and persimmons were the main ones I spotted)  are available in the shops if you want to use them.


The book is well laid out and easy to use, with a good list of contents at the front and a very useful index at the rear. The growing tips seemed easy to follow and the harvesting/preserving ideas I  looked it seemed to follow what I know to do.

I found lots of suggestions for combining some ingredients which were fresh and new to me and I think that is this book's best feature - it gets you thinking about different ways to use familiar ingredients. I particularly liked the idea of combining prawns, peas and avocado as a salad ( I added pea shoots as well) and the spinach and ricotta pie was very good.  I was intrigued by the idea of Jerusalem artichoke bread but have not tried making any!

This  is a solid, hardback book - which looks like it will withstand being handled in the kitchen without falling to bits, a huge bonus if you have ever had old favourite paperback books disintegrate due to handling! This book also has some lovely illustrations and beautiful photographs by Sue Stubbs.

So, I was impressed and "Grow, Harvest, Cook" has been added to the bookshelves :)

With thanks to Hardie Grant books for sending me a review copy.

Grow Harvest Cook retails at £20 hardback

Monday, 16 December 2013

An unexpected gift from Ecover UK

 I got an unexpected padded envelope in the post today. When I opened it



This was inside!

And when I untied the ribbon, look what I found!




Special Christmas washing up liquid :) 





Thank you Lauren at Ecover UK for my lovely festive smelling washing up liquid and the lovely card. The washing up liquid smells delicious - like a Christmas Grotto full of cake :).

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A bit of a catch up


Having been quite poorly recently, I have not written much about what we have been up to - mainly because I have not done very much.



The strong winds we have had here recently meant we had to " batten down the hatches" and make sure hen house roofs, wheelbarrows, garden furniture, pots, compost bins etc were all well fixed down - even though we did have one compost bin blow over ( it was nearly empty, when I thought it was half full :)  )

The chickens were not impressed by the wind  and grumbled about it. A Lot. Cassi Cat seemed to like it wild and windy, though as she ran around the garden, ears flattened, eyes wide, running up trees and pouncing on whirling leaves.

 

With her help we have managed to finish off re building the compost bin area and very nice it looks, too :)

I have been trying to summon enthusiasm for the upcoming festivities, but am not doing terrible well on that front. I hope to feel more festive as I recover a bit more strength and the Year turns from dark to light at the Solstice on 21 Dec.  

But for now, about all I can manage is to stay warm, read, do some crochet and sit by the fire, resting.

I hope all of you are well and safe and busy :)

Monday, 9 December 2013

Scotch tape

As you know I get sent all sorts of things to try and  I was recently sent a Scotch Pop-Up Tape Handband Dispenser.
 
This has neat pre-cut sticky strips held in a case, which is mounted on an elastic band which can be slipped over the wrist so both hands are left free to fold, dispense and stick. Scotch say it will save you time while also making Christmas gift-wrapping a hassle-free task.
 
The idea here is that you have both hands free while wrapping parcels and indeed it is very useful for doing just that. No more bits of tape stuck to the edges of tables or on my clothes!







So, I wrapped some presents using the tape and indeed it did make the task a little easier.


But it is also VERY VERY useful when laying out pieces of fabric whilst quilting :)



And when laying out cut out papers for a craft project.

So thumbs up to Scotch (both of them, not stuck together!) for a useful idea.



Friday, 6 December 2013

Leaf mould bins build


It's that time of year again, when the leaves are ( finally!) falling and are there to be gathered up and used to make leaf mould - that wonderful, rich, dark, crumbly soil enhancer :)

I have been sent a new ( to me ) sort of leaf mould bin by The Recycle Works - normally I use their wooden compost bins and excellent leaf mould they make too  - you can read how I do it in this post 

The new leaf mould bin I was sent to try out is a variation on their usual compost bin modules - this model fits on the end of an existing bin or you can get a stand alone version with a few more boards and parts.

This leaf mould bin is The Recycle Works usual easy to put together wooden posts and boards, but instead of each side being five boards high there are only two of the boards which are then held apart by vertically placed plastic strips


The bottom board ( the thicker one above)  is slotted into the post as usual then the plastic strip is slid down the post until it sits on top of the bottom board


then the top board is added - held in place at the top of the post by the plastic strip, as in the photo below. Chickens are not supplied with the kit!


A roll of plastic wire mesh (also supplied) is added inside, to hold the leaves in place. The leaves will compost down as the air and rain can get to them easily


 This is not fixed into place yet by the (provided) tiewraps, but you get the general idea.


I think this is a good product, it is a good idea and easy to assemble and as usual from The Recycle Works is of good quality.
 
I am, however going to disassemble it from where we put it today in the row of compost bins and re errect it as a stand alone leaf mould bin. I am doing this so I can compare this new bin with my usual method of making leaf mould - you all know how I love doing composting experiments :) I have enough spare parts to create a stand alone module.

You can buy these leaf mould bins from The Recycle Works as single, stand alone modules ( four posts, 8 boards, 8 plastic spacers and extra tiewraps) or to add on to an existing one of their compost bins.














Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Compost bins and leaf mould bins rebuild part 2



 Today we added more modules to the compost bins we put up last week - It was Compostgirl's birthday on Friday, Compostman and I then had a few days feeling very unwell and a family situation left both of us very distressed and stressed, so we didn't get back out to them until today.


I sorted out more of the planks and posts and started  putting them together whilst Compostman gathered up a couple of wheelbarrows full of leaves from the front garden.


Then he came round and helped me put more of the bins together


 The Recycle Works compost bins are easy to assemble, they just slot together!
 

We actually added a Leaf Mould module to the line of bins as well, but are rethinking where to put this so a "normal" compost bin will be going where it is at the moment.


 As always, we had chicken helpers !


it was lovely outside, cold but sunny and it felt good to be working outside after a very trying few days

Friday, 29 November 2013

Food handling training - with a difference!


So yesterday I spent all day on a CIEH (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) Food Safety Level 2 course - with a difference!

I spent it outside, cooking in the woods at Bishops Wood Environment Centre


We were an assorted group of ( mostly) Forest School leaders, but although I am a FS Leader, I was actually there with a couple of other Love Food Hate Waste Ambassadors, as we want to do some cooking demonstrations as part of our volunteer role.


We talked through the usual Food Safety stuff, different bacteria, danger zone/safe zone temperatures, how to keep clean, the use of different colour coded chopping boards, general food preparation,  the importance of proper storage and reheating,


and then we put it all into practice by making a delicious vegetable soup for lunch, cooked over the fire


We also toasted teacakes and made hot drinks and then mid afternoon packed up camp to do the CIEH (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) Food Safety Level 2 exam

I have done a more conventional version of this course before and although it was helpful I did have a lot of questions about cooking outdoors which were not really addressed. This time they were :)

The course was taught by Sal Teasdale of Anubis Training - those of you who read my past posts will know I have done lots of training with Sal and Anubis and as usual the whole day was excellent.

Just hope I have passed!




Thursday, 28 November 2013

Building some new compost and leaf mould bins part 1


It's time to make more compost! So I took delivery of some more modular compost bins from The Recycle Works



This is my composting area, the yellow builders bags are full of finished compost and leaf mould, dug out from the compost bins

 

There were six wooden compost bins in this empty space before, but some of the wooden planks had rotted away ( well, they had been buried in decomposing material for more than eight years!) and the ground had become uneven due to tree roots and needed levelling.



So we dismantled the old bins and dug out the base. Quite a lot of the older posts and planks can be reused but the inner posts and planks will be replaced by new ones, as they are the ones which get the most contact with decompostition :) The bricks are there to put the compost bin posts on.



Because we have a bindweed problem everywhere we always put down geotextile under the bins - it does NOT affect the compost process at all


First couple of new The Recycle Works wooden compost bins in place, they simply add on to the old ones :)

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

RIP Bunty Hen


RIP Bunty Hen, another of our rescue ex battery hens who lived a life longer outside the cage, with us , than in it. You can read about how they came to us here.

Here is Bunty ( on the right) with her very best friend Titch. Titch was very ill in this picture. It was taken the day she got lost in the wood and, after I found her, she then came inside the house to be nursed for the last 10 days of life. The other hens went out to feed but Bunty stayed with poor Titch and preened her and crooned at her.  These two hens ( plus others, now sadly departed) were in the same rescue crate together when we got them and stayed the very best of friends the entire time they lived with us here.




Once Titch died on 2 Nov Bunty rapidly went into a decline, not ill, but just winding down. I hesitate to say she was missing her friend, but I do wonder if she was, even though she still had Babs and the other girls for company.

She got very cold a couple of days ago - it was a biting wind and she just stood in the open, not bothering to move to shelter so I brought her in for some warmth and special feeding and cuddles - she perked up the next day and was much brighter and her last day was spent dozing in the sunshine and pecking at Blondin the Cockerel, to teach him his proper place.

But as the sun went in today she had a seizure and was obviously dying, so I helped her out of this life. Sad, but needed to be done so she did not suffer.



RIP Bunty Hen, gone to join her best friend Titch.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

He, is a she... and other chicken news.



In other news, Blondie the chicklet has been re named Blondin the ( escapologist) Cockerel - he has finally perfected his crow ! Blackie is ( I am pretty certain) a pullet and is already a HUGE one  - she is only 11 weeks old and is already far larger than the adult hens.





And we are having some fabulous sunny days :) The autumn colours are finally here :)


Monday, 18 November 2013

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The last few days


 Have involved a lot of these ...



And a lot of this ...

 More of these - this time cooking  and baking ...


 Lots of these now filled with lovely apple juice and pasteurised, safely stored away to drink over the next year.












Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Jungle cat...


Wherever I go, whatever I do outside I am accompanied by my faithful furry familiar - Cassi Cat. At this time of year she can be quite hard to spot - she loves to hide and pounce out at me.




She is very vocal and loves to comment and grumble about everything - the hens, the weather, the state of the ground underfoot - she chats all the time.

video

She loves to kiss my hand or face - and is often to be found sitting on my shoulder or chest.

The latest thing she has been doing is to chase leaves whirling on the patio in an eddy of wind :) Very entertaining to watch :)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

And this is how the neighbours harvest apples


This is just one of many apple orchards which surround our house and grounds. The trees are planted in straight lines to allow tractor access between the rows.

video


At harvest time each tree is shaken vigorously and the apples fall to the ground.



video


They are then blown sideways by a giant blower. This puts the apples into positon to be gathered up mechanically.

video


Finally they are gathered up from the ground by a rotating brush and go up a conveyor belt and into a trailer.




A bit different to the way we do it, but then our farming neighbours do have a lot of apple trees!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Even more apple stuff !


Having scratted and pressed over 100Kg of apples so far this week we now have 25 bottles of pasteurised juice and 30 l of  cider on the go.

so as it was fine today, we went and picked some more apples,


 

 It was glorious outside, sunny and crisp and with just a hint of wind and a fabulous blue sky.


Compostman picking apples


And, just to prove I do actually do, do some of the work around here (!) I graciously allowed myself to be photographed in action..


 We weighed each bucket




 
 and then I graded them into "juice" or "cider" quality.




 This is some of the pommace from the scratting and pressing we did earlier in the week. All added to the compost bins now, to make some beautiful compost next year :)


After a morning of apple picking another 150 Kg now await my attention to be turned into something else.



 I think tomorrow, I will be mostly pressing apples again!
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