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 October 2013

Titch the poorly Hen

Titch the last Ex battery Hen has been looking slower, and frailer as the Autumn progressed - not ill exactly but slow moving and tired. 

A few days ago I found her hunched in the run, not wanting to move, with her friend Bunty standing close by.

Top Ginger Hen Babs was not showing any concern though - she was off digging in the newly cleared raised bed!

I decided to bring Titch in for some warmth and care so went off to set up a cat carrier inside. But  when I went back to collect her she was not in the run - and I could not find her anywhere. I looked around the wood but could not see her and it was not until the next day that I found her, caught up in some undergrowth and very chilled. I am amazed she survived outside over night!

As soon as I spotted her I picked Titch up and oh, how light she felt! And she sounded a bit wheezy. So I started her on some Baytril and took her down that evening to see Mike the vet, who gave me more Baytril and said to keep her warm and try and get her to eat.

I have a poorly house Hen at the moment :( Not sure if she will survive, but am doing my best to help her recover. So far she is still alive and looking a little brighter. .

Sunday 20 October 2013

How to draw a Hare - by Jackie Morris

Thanks to Jackie Morris I have managed to draw a recognisable Hare - first time I have ever managed to do a recognisable animal!

It is not much good ( being honest, here!) BUT it looks like a Hare to me and also to my family - so for me that is a huge step forward!

Thank you Jackie for such a great "how to" and I am, yet again, so impressed with your skill and creativity

Thursday 17 October 2013

RIP Nutmeg Hen - who laid down her life in defence of her chicks.

I write this post with enormous sadness but also enormous admiration.

Nutmeg Hen, the elderly "generic ginger hybrid"  hen, all broodiness supposed to be bred out of her, went broody for the very first time a few months back and, as regular readers may remember, I put some fertile eggs under her. And they hatched! 

She was the most attentive Mother Hen I have ever seen, really astonishingly devoted to her two chicks and her devotion showed in their rapid growth -

they look at least two weeks older than they actually are, due to her good feeding and care.

I took this photo of them all on the chicks 7 week birthday, and am very proud of it.

But it is a bittersweet feeling as later that same afternoon I found the two chicks cowering under a bush crying disconsolately for Nutmeg, who was nowhere to be seen or heard. The Younger Hens were squawking and scanning the skies nervously, in a way that I knew meant "airborne trouble" -  they do this for planes, crows, buzzards and hawks in general. The old ex batt Gang Hens (now sadly down to just two members, Babs and Bunty) were muttering worriedly, whilst hiding deep under a Rose of Sharon bush - their favourite place to flee when scared.

I looked around and eventually found a pile of ginger and white feathers near the Broody Ark along with a few black feathers from Blackie the Copper Marans chick.

Nutmeg was gone.

I am guessing from the feathers ( and a bald patch on Blackie's back) that a Buzzard swooped down on Blackie and Nutmeg tried to defend her chick and so was taken, instead.

As I posted on my personal Facebook Wall

"RIP Nutmeg Hen, brave and loyal girl, last surviving member of the original Spice Girl gang of five, survivor of 5 fox attacks, Top Hen who ruled with a velvet claw and a kind "cluck"

who gave up her life today to defend her two chicks."

In the aftermath the chicklets were very distressed, crying out and looking around for Nutmeg, and I had the problem of where to put them to be warm and safe without her.  I could not give them to one of the other hens to foster as hens do not work that way, instead of mothering them, they would attack the chicklets. So the rest of the afternoon was spent re arranging various runs and houses and the chicklets were moved into a large run with the Eglu attached, as it is the most insulated house. 

I think it was one of "our" Buzzards who must have taken Nutmeg  as I heard a lot of commotion earlier on, then went out and found the two chicks calling in distress and no Nutmeg, just the few feathers. All the other hens were all hiding under things and this makes me think Buzzard rather than Fox, as when it is Fox all the hens tend to go up things.

At least the chicklets know how to feed themselves and are so big and strong and well feathered that they are ok without a Hen to brood them any more.

 Nutmeg's legacy of strong, healthy chicklets. But, such a shame :(

Sunday 13 October 2013

h Energy marketplace event, Hereford

Sat 12th Oct was the start of h.Energy week -, a week long (12th - 20th October 2013) celebration of low impact lifestyles in beautiful Herefordshire

I was there doing my Master Composter and Gardener stuff, along with fellow Master Composter Martin.

I actually got to High Town at  8 30 am to set up the stall and spent all day there, manningthe Compost stall, doing a bit of shopping, looking at the other h. Energy stalls and also looking at the usual Sat market stalls

As usual I had display boards, compost samples, leaflets, information, seeds and seed planting stuff, and some games as well as my Bug eye glasses. These were VERY popular!

This is what it looks like to see the world through insect eyes :)

Same place without the bug eye glasses.

Lots of different campaign and information groups were present. Greenpeace were there, seeking support for the Arctic 30, unjustly imprisoned in Russia 

There were a variety of different events on during the day and it was really good to be involved. The hula hooping was excellent!

The h Energy event opened at 10 am and closed at 4 pm but I got there at 8 30 am and by the time I drove the car round to the square and packed up at the end, it was 5.30 pm so a very long day!

But, I spoke to over 70 people and had a really great time promoting composting, organic gardening and sustainable living. I was also given lots of tea and cake to sustain me during the day by the organisers :)

We are also hosting an Open House as part of h Energy so lots of tidying up is going in here!

Friday 11 October 2013

Apple picking - a bumper harvest!

In common with many who have apple trees, we have a bumper harvest of apples this year

We have been picking them over several days, this week. The platform I got from Argos is really helpful!

Compostman does most of the picking  - he goes up the ladder; I pick from the ground. I also grade the apples and pass him the newly emptied buckets to pick into

The air is scented with appley-ness   as we are surrounded by cider and juicing orchards here. All our neighbours are doing the same as us, although they do it on a much larger scale.

Still, we enjoy how we do it here on our small scale and love to drink the fruits ( ha ha ) of our labours -cider for us and juice for Compostgirl and friends ( we drink the juice as well and it is lovely to be able to give a bottle as a gift, but we prefer cider!)

We are still drinking cider we made from the 2011 harvest and very nice it is as well - 6.5% abv, so a tasty alcoholic tipple, and free!

 So far this week we have picked more than 300 lb of assorted apples - with loads more to come. This should make around 40 bottles of pasteurised juice and more than 30 l of cider, if yields are good. I will also be dehydrating a load and we will be cooking and freezing some as well as making chutney and jelly with the windfalls.

We have also done a swap with a friend - a large quantity of his assorted cider apples for a similar quantity of our eaters and cookers  so our cider this year will be a rather more balanced mixture rather than our usual "whatever we have to hand to juice". We only have one cider apple tree so this arrangement is a great one and I hope we can continue it in future years :)

I have ordered some more bottles from Vigo for juice and washed all our saved wine and juice bottles again, ready to sterilise. Compostman has got down the scratter and press from the loft and I have washed them and the garage is FULL of boxes and buckets and tub trugs of apples.

Just need to make some time in the very busy next week, to do some pressing :)

Thursday 10 October 2013

Blue Ginger Gallery. An afternoon with The Sisterhood of Ruralists; and then an evening with Jackie Morris

I had a really lovely day out last week .

I had a meeting in the morning in the Frome valley near the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border, so after my meeting I went to Blue-Ginger Gallery in Cradley to meet up with Jackie Morris, Hannah Willow and Tamsin Abbott, who were all artists in residence for the afternoon creating postcard sized artwork in aid of The Big Draw.

This is the Dragon van of Jackie Morris in the car park  - Tell me a Dragon, in mobile form! I felt so excited when I saw it :)

Jackie, concentrating on painting a Hare

Jackie, Tamsin and Hannah all at work making beautiful things

Jackie working on the beautiful hare

Hannah cutting into some birthday cake :)

Some of Hannah's beautiful craft

All three of the artists were delightful to chat to, and I am amazed they were able to talk AND create wonderful art at the same time! I wish I could just create the art!

They are all lovely, lovely people and I felt very honoured that they were willing to chat to me and work. This was a drop in session so  I did not have to pay for the honour and, although I did buy some wonderful stuff, I did not have to and there was no fee involved :)

I SO love indy galleries and bookshops for putting on events like this :) Thank you to Jackie, Hannah and Tamsin and thank you to Sue for hosting the event.

Then later I went back for a magical evening (yes for this I paid for a ticket and was lucky to get one as they sold out really fast!) listening to Jackie telling tales from some of her latest books and talking about her craft and how she sets about writing. Magical, simply wonderful.

I also ate some lovely food and drank some nice wine provided by Sue Lim of Blue-Ginger Gallery, and had lovely conversations with other members in the audience.

It was a wonderful evening. If you ever have the chance to listen to Jackie speak and read from her books I urge you to go - she is a wonderful storyteller and is warm, witty and very engaging as a speaker. I had a magical evening listening to her read and talk and answer questions from the floor.

 Then I went home and when I got home despite being tired I started reading East of the Sun, West of the Moon; and I stayed up until 2 am so I could finish it in one sitting .I drank in the rhyme and the beauty and the words and feasted my eyes on the sumptuous illustrations which oh-so-perfectly enhanced the words.

I honestly could NOT put the book down until I had read to the end. And then I cried. THAT is how good a writer and illustrator Jackie is :)   

And then I went off to bed, to dream of bears and hares and cats.

Seriously, you need to go and listen to Jackie speak if you can -and you need to buy her books. All are so fabulous both as tales and as art.

I had SUCH a great evening. Thank you Jackie.

You can read more about Jackie's tour of the UK here 

Saturday 5 October 2013

Book review - Once Upon A Flock - chick(en) lit

I am, as you know, mad about my chickens - I love my feathery girls very much indeed and am always keen to hear about other chicken keeper's experiences. For some time I have been reading illustrator and chicken keeper Lauren Scheuer's blog  Scratch and Peck . I find it very entertaining  and love her illustrations.

So when I was asked by Kew Books if I would like a review copy of Lauren's new book Once Upon a Flock, I jumped at the chance. I love the way Lauren writes on her blog, and the press release and the blurb on the book cover made me pretty sure I would like the book as well.

When writer and illustrator Lauren Scheuer was looking for a new project she decided that chickens were just what she needed to bring her back yard to life. She built a coop, read books on hen rearing, and placed her order for four chickens of different breeds, chosen to provide colour and decoration to her lawn. She expected a daily supply of fresh eggs. What she didn’t expect was that her fluffy round chicks would grow-up to be hens with big personalities, and that she would fall completely in love with her quirky flock.

Well, I didn't just like the book, I LOVED it. It is a really terrific book and I really enjoyed reading it. Lauren is obviously also chicken obsessed, which is reassuring for me as I know I am as well!

I also loved that Lauren really really wants to understand what her feathery girls are up to and what they are thinking - I know I spend endless hours watching and wondering eggactly (sic) what my lot are doing (in the case of Pearl, plotting world domination I suspect)

I also empathised with Lauren's experiences of chicken motherhood - so carefully observed and gently retold; it made me smile and wipe away a tear ( in a good way) as the words on the page made me recall all the broody hens and chicks I have experienced and how much they touched my heart.

The illustrations throughout the book are wonderful, as are the photographs. The number and scale of the chicken "coops" Lauren has built is awe inspiring; I have several new ideas in my head as a result and I promise this book will make you want to pick up a hammer and nails and some lumber to go build something!

Lauren clearly loves her chickens with a passion and it shines out from every page of this lovely book, one which, although aimed at adults, could also be read aloud with children. There is no bad language, no distressing scenes, it is just a really good story, well told.

One which, in my opinion, should be read by everyone to learn how to see love, everywhere.

Once Upon a Flock was published by Souvenir Press, 3 October, £18.99, Hb and is available from all good book shops and Amazon, online. It is also available as an e-book.

With many many thanks to Jane Beaton of Kew Publicity for sending me a copy to review :) Jane, you made my day :)

Friday 4 October 2013

A good night's sleep

If you recall I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was taking part in a sleep survey to see if various accessories can aid in getting a better nights sleep.  I often find it difficult to get a good night sleep - I work quite hard during the day so am tired by bedtime -  I fall asleep OK but then wake up frequently and find it hard to relax and go back to sleep or I lie awake for a couple of hours before I finally do fall asleep. Some of this is related to various aches and pains (which are chronic and not solvable) and some is stress related. It's a vicious cycle as I am then tired  and get more achey and stressed during the next day and so then I sleep more poorly the next night, and the next...

I know from experience that I need at least 8 hours of sleep a night to feel fully functional, so when I was contacted by a company working with bed manufacturer Silentnight and asked if I wanted to try out a sleep accessory I was interested. Last year Silentnight carried out some research which showed that only 25% of all parents are getting a good night's sleep. So they decided to dig deeper and find out if various sleep accessories can help you sleep better. Do they stand up to the claims that their manufactures make? Can they make you relax before bedtime? Do you feel more refreshed in the morning after using them? 

I agreed to take part in this study and filled in a sleep survey to establish how well (or badly) I sleep normally. I then was sent a random product - in my case a pillow spray. 

Well two different ones actually,  the L'Occitane en Provence pillow spray smelt fabulous but had Tea Tree oil in it and made Compostman itch when I sprayed it on my pillow, so I had to stop using it. 

I was very kindly sent some John Lewis pillow spray as a replacement, which smelt lovely according to a friend, but I really did not like the scent at all. :(  So I decided to see if I could try the L'Occitane en Provence pillow spray again without upsetting Compostman. 

I sprayed a hankie and tucked it inside my pillow case rather than spraying the pillow directly and it did not bother Compostman at all so I decided to use this spray for my sleep survey experience. I used the spray on the hankie trick every night for a week and logged how well I slept, what time I went to bed and when I ate and drank before hand.

My findings

I think the spray helped me to fall asleep a little more easily. I certainly found I did not lie awake for a long time during the week I used it.

I sleep poorly if I am too warm, as I wake up and throw the bedclothes off me. I sleep poorly if my feet or shoulders are cold. 

Cat shenanigans (bringing in nearly dead mice or making lots of noise because they want a cuddle) is a major cause of disrupted sleep in this house for all of us.

I slept best on the nights there was fresh clean bed linen, but as I always have a shower before I go to bed when  there is new clean bedlinen, it might be that relaxing me? I do shower at other times during a week, but make a special point of always doing so when I have changed the sheets and my pj's

I need near darkness to sleep deeply, otherwise I doze off but wake up lots of times. Fortunately we have blackout blinds over our two windows and no street light but a light in the bathroom woke me a couple of nights. 

Eating late at night really does stop me sleeping well. I fell asleep OK but on the two nights I ate after 9.30 pm I had very bad dreams and woke up many times.

The night I slept the least and was disturbed the most I had been working at the computer until 5 mins before I got ready for bed so I need to switch off the computer at least half an hour before I go to bed - otherwise my brain is too active and I don't fall asleep easily.

Being in pain from chronic back ache makes it hard for me to sleep well or deeply.

My conclusions 

I think the essential oil spray did help me to fall asleep more quickly. I am a qualified holistic Therapist and I used to use a lot of essential oils at bedtime to help me sleep but have got out of the habit more recently due to being too busy (!) 

I definitely felt better on the mornings after I had a better nights sleep (no surprise, there!) .

If I eat and drink earlier and more wisely and stay away from computers, exciting TV and discussions of a difficult nature in the run up to bed time, I sleep better BUT I need the lights dim, the right level of bedding and no cat wakes me up.

Using some relaxing essential oils seems to help me drift off to sleep more rapidly.

I will be using my L'Occitane en Provence pillow spray again, and then will make up my own version to use.

Here is some useful advice from The Sleep Council, which ties in with what I found during my week of monitoring my sleep habits. I need to follow their advice a bit more I think!

  • Keep regular hours. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will programme your body to sleep better.
  • Create a restful sleeping environment. Your bedroom should be kept for rest and sleep and it should be neither too hot, nor too cold; and as quiet and dark as possible. Make sure your bed is comfortable. It's difficult to get deep, restful sleep on one that's too soft, too hard, too small or too old.
  • Take more exercise. Regular, moderate exercise such as swimming or walking can help relieve the day's stresses and strains. But not too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake!
  • Don't end up compensating for lack of sleep by going too heavy on stimulants such as caffeine in tea, coffee or cola - especially in the evening. They interfere with falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Have a hot milky drink or herbal tea instead.
  • Don't over-indulge. Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, just before bedtime, can play havoc with sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but will interrupt your sleep later on in the night.
  • Don't smoke. Yes, it's bad for sleep, too: smokers take longer to fall asleep, wake more often and often experience more sleep disruption.
  • Try to relax and insist on some 'me time' before going to bed. Have a warm bath, listen to some quiet music, do some yoga - all help to relax both the mind and body. Your doctor may be able to recommend a helpful relaxation tape, too.
  • Deal with worries or a heavy workload by making lists of things to be tackled the next day.
  • Resolve arguments before bed. Ongoing conflicts are not conducive to putting you in the right frame of mind for sleep!
  • If you can't sleep, don't lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again - then go back to bed

Compostwoman x

With thanks to Silentnight beds for providing the Pillow Spray for me to try.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Masters Conference 2013 Garden Organic Ryton.

8 am on a sunny September Saturday morning saw me heading off to Garden Organic HQ at Ryton.

Having arrived safely and refreshed myself with coffee and cake, I chatted to various friends and then the Conference proper started in a huge marquee in the grounds, with Dr Margi Lennartson welcoming  us to the Conference.

More than 215 volunteer Master Composters, Master Gardeners, Seed Stewards and other like minded volunteers attended  the Masters Conference for a day of activities organised to celebrate their achievements.

A series of organic gardening themed workshops took place across the day with subject areas including community composting, wildlife gardening, soil science, chicken keeping and fruit growing advice.

I opted to do the Hens@Home training workshops. This is a new scheme which trains Master Composters and Master Gardeners as "Hen Ambassadors"  to encourage and mentor people who want to keep chickens in their gardens. The scheme was launched at this Conference. and you can see a photo of some of us here

We took part in a series of workshops and much information was exchanged and discussed. Some of us kept hens and knew a fair bit about them while others did not know so much, so it was really enjoyable. We were given an excellent handbook on basic chicken keeping (as always anything produced by Garden Organic is excellent) and also had sessions from  a BHWT  tutor. He bought along some lovely ex commercial hens and everyone enjoyed cuddling them :)

Professor Chris Baines addressing the gathered members.

Chris Baines is a Garden Organic Ambassador and campaigner for urban nature conservation and he treated us to an informative and inspirational speech,  highlighting the actions we can take now, to protect our natural environment for the future

 Everyone was very attentive :)

After the Awards were presented, we ate cake!

Compost related, of course

I went back to the final session of the Hens@Home training

And then spent a bit of time wandering around the gorgeous gardens at Ryton

Ending with a good look around the Composting area :)

I didn't get back home until after 8 pm so it was a very long day and the driving made my back ache.
As always though I came away invigorated and recharged from talking to so many fellow Composters and Gardeners about our passion for Organic methods.

You can see more images from the day on the Garden Organic  Flickr stream