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 23 January 2013

Being prepared for an emergency

I have had a few interested questions about why we have a generator and prepare for bad weather as much as we do. So, thought this might be an interesting post for you to read.

We live on a very minor, rural lane and can get snowed/iced in. Sometimes our lane floods ( not near us) and we can't get through to the main road. Even in good weather it is quite a distance to the nearest shop, garage, post office etc. So it is not easy to just " pop out" to the shops sometimes!

We lose power quite often and as we have a bore hole and septic tank here, both of which need power to run, we are in trouble if the power is off for too long. Likewise we have a lot of home grown produce stored in the freezers, which we don't want to spoil.

When we moved here, we realised we needed to build up stores of food, water, fuel, medicines, animal feed etc. We had lots of food, wind up torches, lamps and candles, a battery and a wind up radio and could cook on the Aga and woodburner (or even using the Kelly Kettle, outside, if all else failed!)  if the power went off for short times or if we could not get out of the lane.Obviously we also had clothes, bags, etc ready in case of an evacuation situation.

We thought that was enough. THEN we got caught out big time in Autumn 2002 when we had no power, after the terrible Oct storms, for more than a week.

We lost the entire contents of 3 freezers, which meant all the organic meat, home grown veg was lost- all of it apart from what we could cook and eat during that week and cook and freeze in a friend's freezer - but we still lost a lot of good food, which was very expensive to replace . (We also lost the Polytunnel cover in the gales - but that is another story!).

And without water or sewerage here (both of which need power to run) we rapidly used up the tank in the loft so no showers, no drinking water or washing water and as  Compostgirl was in washable nappies back in 2002 it all got a bit dire here! We could flush the toilets with a bucket of pond water, but even so it was all a bit difficult.

We didn't starve or go cold   - we had lots of food, bottled water, fuel, lamps and candles and could cook on the Aga and woodburner or camping gas ring , but rapidly realised we needed a higher state of preparedness than we had previously thought.

So we saved up and invested in a generator, and over the next few years we re arranged things so it will run the freezers for some of the day, the central heating can now be run off the genny as can the water and sewerage. We can also run the microwave and some lights off a circuit in the kitchen so by swapping what is plugged into the generator we can cook, have heating in upstairs at bedtime, keep the food frozen and get water and sewerage sorted. We can even watch TV or use a computer! It has taken a lot of thought and planning and re arranging though.

Another thing people forget nowadays with mobile phones is that they need power to charge up again - and  modern land line phones rely on mains electricity as well, whereas old style phones can still use the power coming down the telephone cable! So, we have made sure we always keep an "old" style phone to hand, ready to plug in, just in case . We just bought another one to replace our very old BT phone which died after 25 years of faithful service.

We also keep a stock of 5 l water bottles just in case - if all else fails I use them in the wood for drinks for people on my woodland courses. The bottles get re used for wine making and eventually recycled.

I also now dehydrate a lot more of the garden produce for storage, rather than using the freezer.

But with the increased renewable energy products we have added to the house comes a new set of "issues" - the solar thermal tubes are wonderful at providing free hot water BUT if the mains power goes off on a hot day the liquid inside the tubes can boil and tune into gloop - which would require a lot of work to flush out and make good again. At the moment if the mains power goes off  on a sunny day we would have to get the generator out to keep the system running - so Compostman has a scheme to make sure that the solar thermal system will still run even if the mains power goes off, so that is hot water in the summer taken care of.

We also don't get any electricity from the pv's if the mains electricity goes off - we would need an off grid battery system and a lot of side by side wiring systems to be able to use the electricity generated by the panels if our mains electricity went off and frankly it is not something we have got around to doing, yet.

I would love us to have battery back up from the pv's ...maybe next year?

Obviously all these stocks need to be checked , used up as their use by dates are reached and new stocks purchased to replace them.

I am sure we could do much more to be prepared for emergencies but that is what we have done so far, here. I am always on the look out for more ideas to do more.

What do you do to be prepared? Any of you have stockpiles, alternative or back up energy arrangements or such like?


  1. I have been ill for 2 weeks now. I think I was a bit run down.

    Anyways, I haven't been shopping for over 3 weeks. This is due to my stock pile, forward planning, constant vigilance of freezer food levels. I wouldn't dare drive at the moment, the thought scares me.

    I was also thinking how else I could be prepared. I think this needs more thought on my part. Maybe 2013 is the year to be prepared and make sure everything is in place and then all the hard effort will hold me in good stead for the future. Thanks this post has spurred me on

  2. Hi Sol, thank you for commenting. I hope you feel better soon!

    And yes I hope this post makes people think about how they could cope and what they could do differently to survive a day, a week etc - not just bad weather but, as you point out, illness.

    We had a week where we were ALL ill and basically in bed or on the sofa and boy was I glad we had easy to eat stuff ( eggs, bread, soup) and some extra home cooked meals in the freezer for whe we felt a bit better but not well enough to cook.

    Even a few extra tins of soup, candles, matches and a wind up radion is a help - and can be quite frugal to stockpile .

    Get well soon.

  3. Hi there, WOW it sure does sound like you're pretty well prepared but it's also amazing ow fast stores can be used up when they're relied upon 100%. Have you tried bottling or canning food? I have a Fowlers Vacola water bath and the accompanying jars and I currently ave bottled apricots, nectarines, cherries, some of last years bottled tomatoes and have done pasta sauce too in the past. It's all safe to waterbath preserve. I have also bought a canner (via Amazon and shipped from the USA) wich I plan to use to can vegetables. I have a side by side fridge freezer and a deep freeze but once they're full of meat there really isn't room for more than a couple of homemade frozen yoghurts and some homemade icecream so I needed to work out another way to preserve beans, peas, corn and any other veggies. I can also can things like lentils and chick peas rather than keeping them dry stored and needing to always think ahead if I need to cook with them. I also want to can my own meat broths/stocks rather tan buying that nutrient deficient artificial stock from the supermarkets. I love finding ways to "damn the man" anyway so canning appeals on that front if nothing else. ;)
    We also ave chickens, for meat and eggs (although they're not yet at POL or been harvested) and there are rabbits galore here in Australia so I'm working on hubby to get something for rabbit hunting. Although we aren't really at too much risk of being flooded in and if we get snow ere it's measured in millimetres only and bushfires aren't isolating in the same way. Even so, I love the idea of stores and reading your blog has been very inspiring.
    Sorry for the ramble, my morning "coffee" hasn't yet hit my brain.

  4. I can't do as much preparation as I'd like as I live on a more limited income and in a council house, but I do try what I can. I now have a freezer so we can stock up on more food (very useful at the moment when the lanes are full of snow!). I also have a pantry which I stock up annually - great to use as a fall back when I want to do some cooking and yet also don't want to keep ordering from Sainsbury's weekly. Invested in a dehydrator last year and so dried fruit and veg is stocked up as well and I use them in cooking regularly.

    I've got a solar mobile charger on my wish list to sort out the phoneline, and plenty of candles, but we've no heat source if the electricity goes out; it's frustrating as all the people in council bungalows are usually the first to freeze to death, but the council won't let us apply for wood stove installation or anything. I'd consider a paraffin heater but not sure it's safe to have round with cats and child. So I'm not as prepared as I'd like to be but it's currently the best I can do at the moment.

  5. Hello, I just found your blog today, (following a link from Our New Life in the Country,) and I love it. As you guessed I am blog browsing as it's too snowy to do much else but you have given me lots of inspiration to get me up off my backside! However I just want to read all your old posts first!
    I grow lots of vegetables, (though last year was very disheartening due to the rain and slugs) and last spring I got 4 rescued hens, they are such fun, friendly, entertaining and give us eggs too! I've got loads to learn from you so I had better get reading.
    Thank you.

  6. Welcome rabidlittlehippy and Grubby Jeans and hello again Oya's Daughter.

    I have had a go at hot water bath bottling and I also make a lot of preserves of various sorts - not pressure canning as yet as I don't have a canner ( yes have thought about ordering one from the US.)

    Oya, I forgot about the various solar chargers we have - they are very useful in a crisis! And yes I think sprog plus cats plus parrafin heater may not be such a good idea...

    Grubby jeans -are your hens as disgusted with the snow as mine are? Mine hate hate hate it - and blame me I am sure!


Hello! Thank you for reading my blog and for commenting. I try to reply as quickly as I can and I really appreciate your interest in my life and doings here in The Compost Bin.