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!


Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A reminder about my "How to" gardening guides

 Hello lovely people :-)

I'm getting a lot of google searches showing up for various gardening and veg growing terms.

For those who are new to The Compost Bin, or maybe just didn't realise :-) 

 If you look up the top of this blog, you will see a number of "tabs". One of them is labelled "How to" guides.

If you click on it you will find links to various different posts I have written, which you may find helpful. I have also put them below.

You may also find some of the videos on my YouTube channel helpful at this time of year, click on the tab or follow the link.

Gardening -Composting


How I make compost

Top tips to maximise how much compost you make.

Making Leaf Mould

Gardening -Growing


Starting Tomatoes, Peppers and Aubergine seeds

Starting Parsnip seeds

Growing Beans

Growing Potatoes in bags

Growing Potatoes and Jerusalem Artichokes

Monday, 29 April 2013

Outdoor lighting, keeping the bugs away and and more plans.



With the nicer weather we have had recently, I want to sit outside in the garden a bit more. One of the problems with having a lot of land to look after ( and not a lot of income to do it on!) is that we very rarely get the time to just sit and stare and enjoy the loveliness of it all

So often it is easy only to see the jobs piling up and not see the flowers blooming or hear the bird songs. I have written about this in the past on a number of occasions but, as we get older, the jobs take longer! One thing both Compostman and I do try to do, is to stop for a tea or coffee break together, mid morning and mid afternoon. If the weather is good we try to sit down in the garden or on the bench at the edge of the wood. As the year progresses we all often like to sit outside in the evening, as well. We try then to simply enjoy the moment and NOT focus on all the jobs!

Our old garden furniture is getting very tatty and chewed up by Hornets (yes, really!) It would be nice to have somewhere comfortable to sit, out in the sunshine.. It would be so nice to have a decent set of garden furniture to use outside, maybe so we could even eat al fresco, once in a while ( if the weather gods co operate in 2013, that is!) Maybe not made of wood this time, though. As you know from my post last week I am also considering resin wicker furniture, as it will last a long time and I can clean the chicken poo off it.

One of the things I have talked about recently is that this year we will finally sort out the patio. I have a mental image of how it could be, and the thought of a new patio is spurring me on, in my on going search for possible new garden furniture (I am still looking and adding stuff to my Pinterest board!) I have grown some scented patio plants especially to go out around the new seating area (when it is eventually completed.) I lived in hope that I might get a couple of patio Olive trees for my birthday, even (I didn't)

Apart from furniture though,  we also need to replace various outdoor lighting around the garden. We use lots of solar lights around the garden and wood to mark paths and edges, but the wet weather of 2012 seems to have caused them all to die.  We kept a few useful bits (the spikes, especially, looked useful) and the rest has gone to the Household Recycling Site to have their components recycled according to WEEE regulations.

So I need some more solar lights and I also need some more Citronella candles to keep away the bugs - I react very badly indeed if I am bitten and I don't want my enjoyment spoiled by a Blandford Fly or Mosquito bite. I found some nice, large candles on the John Lewis website (a business I have used before, along with Waitrose) and I also spotted some  very pretty multicoloured solar fairy lights, suitable for outdoors and ideal for draping around a wooden gazebo structure, like this one at Garden Organic or even to decorate an outdoor tree for Christmas.

Now we "just" need to decide how how much bigger to make the patio, what alterations to make to the layout and then dig it all up and re-lay the patio slabs. We actually spent a fair bit of time today discussing what we would like to do/have done. We will use the JCB to do the digging, although I may find some one from outside to do the slab laying, thus protecting my bad back from more injury :-)

Then, if I ever get time to sit down, I can enjoy the view of the garden!







Disclaimer - I am writing a series of posts about my plans and hopes for the garden redesign - this post features a paid link to a company I already use. As always the words I write are my own and are my honest opinions.


Sunday, 28 April 2013

Welcome to the new girls...


 Did you guess?

What my birthday present was?


When you saw what Compostman was up to, yesterday? Or have you noticed that there has been a change to my introduction?



 Probably not that hard to guess that my birthday present involved hens :-) New hens, five to be precise.



Tiny Hen looks in at the new girls


From left to right, at the back, a Partridge Star and a Marigold.
At the front,  a White Leghorn and an Amber Star


And this lovely little hen is a Speckledy. She has just checked out the new accommodation!

The names, Pearl, Amber, Marigold, Topaz  have already crossed my mind - not sure about the Speckledy? 
They came from Newland Grange, near Malvern and are 17 weeks old, so will start to lay in the next few weeks. They are all hybrids so will lay a goodly number of eggs for us and all different colours :-)
They are also still making their baby noises on the whole and are very sweet, if a bit shy as yet.

New hens :-)

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Sunny Saturday



Today was a busy day. I felt a little more human today so after getting up, having breakfast, shower etc I did the Ginger Hen Gang, put on a load of washing and stripped our bed. Compostgirl did her bed and tidied and vacuumed her room and cleaned the bathroom (these are her regular jobs, along with her guinea pigs and feeding the birds)
 
I cut Compostman's hair - he looked much tidier after! I also deep cleaned one of the hen houses and put new fresh bedding inside ( more on that, later) while Compostman did some more work to the Pink Bedroom.


Then after lunch we went out on a trip out, to do with my birthday present. We went to Malvern and on the way we passed signs for a Wildlife Trust Bluebell Day. I thought about how none of our Bluebells were anywhere near flowering

We did our birthday shopping, went to a Supermarket  and then came home


Compostman and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening doing lots of outside work, I mowed some grass and moved hen runs and houses around and watered the polytunnel plants. Compostman dug some of the veg patch and also did a bit of this, watched by bemused members of the Ginger Gang ( Marjoram and Titch, here)



(can you guess what my Birthday present is, yet?)

In the late afternoon sunshine we had a cup of tea outside and I went and had a look around the garden. And concluded that yes, Spring was finally here!


The Magnolias are in full bloom and unusually they are flowering at the same time as the Damson, Rivers Early Plum AND the Victoria Plum!


Lots of Cowslips and Daffodils including Pheasants Eye which I love.


And finally! Finally the Fritillaries are in bloom :-)






No apple blossom out yet so I do not know if we will have a good display for the May Bank Holiday "Blossomtime" event here, but at least we have blossom on the plum trees and have had no night frosts - so maybe this year we will see some plums on the trees.

 And when I walked in the wood at dusk what did I see but - the first of the Bluebells flowering :-)

Friday, 26 April 2013

My love of woven things.


I am still feeling groggy and full of face ache so, rather than work outside, I have been searching online for more inspiration for the new garden layout. I have been adding ideas to my Pinterest "Dream Gardens" board and watching the new ( to us) pair of Buzzards wheel and call over the fields outside the house.
 


Today I have mainly been looking online for wicker garden furniture. I love the texture of wicker and I have always been keen on weaving with rushes or reeds or flexible sticks. One of my earlier memories, aged about three, is of us stopping the car in a layby in Wales (so my brother could be car sick). I got out with my mother and we walked to a boggy area by a stream and picked green rushes.

I remember being fascinated when my mother showed me how the green rushes could be plaited, twisted and knotted together, without breaking apart. Later on, I learned how to plait my own long hair and I also learned how to plait rushes and later still to make make coiled, sewn baskets and mats out of the rush plaits. My mother taught me how to do this also, she could make hats out of plaited straw and I remember her making several summer hats for her, and for me.

I don't know if that is where my love of  wicker comes from, but I do like making baskets and twig stars  and willow structures and little corn and lavender favours and garden obelisks...



I also have lots of storage baskets and boxes made of various natural materials - willow, straw, raffia etc. I like the different textures on display.

 


I am looking for new garden furniture because ours is getting really rather old and tattyI am interested in new furniture which can live permanently on the newly redone patio (whenever that will be). I found some rather nice metal and some FSC wooden sets last week, this week I have been searching for wicker garden furniture.
  
I have always liked the look and idea of natural rattan wicker furniture  but in my younger days all the sets I saw, in other people's gardens, seemed to rapidly go brittle - I have painful memories of getting splinters and I suspect they were not really weather proof! My memories are also mainly of big, cane three piece suites and big flowery cushions in very bright colours. 

How things have changed! From my on-line searches I have found that the modern outdoor wicker/rattan sets are mainly made of woven resin on an aluminium frame, rather than rattan, so I guess no more splinters now, which is a relief. 




My search
came up with the usual garden superstore sites but I also found a lot of interesting independent suppliers. I liked the garden furniture sets displayed on the Bents website - they are a  third generation family business based in Glazebury, Cheshire. I was very impressed with their Our green credentials pages as well, where Bents itemise the things they do.
 
Looking at the selection of wicker garden furniture on the Bents website there is a wide range of prices, styles, colours and materials to chose from - all of the furniture is made from resin weave so the splinter/rot problem has gone away :-)

I called the Bents customer helpline to ask about the resin material and if it could really live outside? The answer was, yes, resin rattan weave  furniture really can stay outside all the time, although the fabric cushions need to be brought in out of the rain. I was impressed with the customer service I received when I called Bents and I was even more impressed that you can also wash the furniture, which is handy to know with the Ginger Gang of incontinent chickens hanging around us all the time

I am a bit concerned that synthetic resin rattan is made from HDPE (so made from oil) but on the other hand it should last a very very long time and not have to be replaced as often as wood (especially if the Hornets are around!) and is recyclable at the end of its life. That is an aspect I will have to take into account before deciding what to finally buy. 

Of course what I could also do is make a living willow chair for the garden - something I have been thinking of doing for a long time now, ever since I made various willow wigwams and domes. But not really very portable and also not likely to survive on the patio! 

Anyone else have a patio set made from either resin or real wicker? Or a living willow chair?





Disclaimer - I am writing a series of posts about my plans and hopes for our garden redesign - this post features a paid link to a company I would be happy to order from, in the future. As always, the words I write are my own and are my honest opinions.




Thursday, 25 April 2013

Teeth, face aches and a dull day.


Not a lot happened today, really. I have a dreadful cold and am sneezing and bunged up and with face ache again - I am really getting fed up with it tbh  and have done very little outside or inside as a result.

Compostgirl is being very brave as she had to have two upper pre- molars extracted yesterday evening  (to make room for other teeth) Poor thing, she couldn't eat or drink much last night and slept very poorly so had the morning off school (only the second time this school year) She went in for the afternoon period and stayed for her club after school, but I think will not be attending Guides tonight. She is being so very sensible about it all and I am very proud of how she is handling all this - I remember having the same thing done when I was 11 and it is not nice at all.

We have decided to get some new hens this weekend as it is my birthday next week - we need some reliable egg layers and much as I love the Ginger Gang I fear their egg laying days realistically are over. Not quite sure what breeds to get, yet  - I will have a think about that and a look at the website to see what is available. I want at least one White Star/Leghorn. though.

I am still looking for ideas for the redesign of the patio and garden and pool area - have a look at my Pinterest boards if you are interested in what I have found, so far.
 
This is the latest in my "view from my study window" photos. You can see the hedges have begun to turn green and the oak trees over the field are just showing buds now.


The Magnolia in the front garden is now in bloom - it looks lovely!



It is dull and gloomy but dry here at 6 pm - I think we will not see a fabulous sunset tonight as there is no sun. I need to go and water the plants in the polytunnel and maybe sow some more seeds - I did hope to get the onion sets in the ground today, but the face ache etc rather put a stop to it. Hopefully I will be better, tomorrow.

Have you all a good day? I hope so :-)


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Ways of selling surplus stuff - clothes recycling for cash, musicMagpie, Ebay and other such sites?


As you may remember we are currently living in a bit of a rearranged house, due to refurbishing and redecorating the guest bedroom. This means that all the furniture from that (large!) room, apart from the king size bed base, mattress and the triple wardrobe,  have been moved out and re distributed elsewhere in the house.

Our bedroom has extra stuff piled in the corner, the blanket chest is in the sitting room, a chest of drawers is now in the bathroom and as for the boxes which lived under the bed and the books  - well there is a lot more stuff in the attic now!

 I have had to do a major clear out and a de clutter - if you remember that is how I found Compostman's Christening robe again? It came up beautifully clean, after a gentle wash and drying in sunshine :-) I must take a photo and show you all :-)

I have a lot of old towels and surplus bedding ready to go to either a charity shop or to an animal shelter. But I also have sorted out some good stuff in the way of books, DVDs, CDs, games, shoes, handbags etc. Compostgirl is also in the middle of a bit of a sort out  - now she is 12 there are books and DVDs which she no longer wants but which might make her some money.

So, I would like to make some money from all this "stuff" by recycling for cash,  but am not quite sure what is the best method. Ideally I would like the cash to save or put towards some new garden items (a Gabriel Ash cold frame springs to mind!)

Amazon

I do have a Trade in account which I use sometimes - this is easy to do if the stuff is in good condition but you do not get much money back and it stays in your Amazon account as a gift voucher, so can only be spent there.

I have signed up to an Amazon Sellers account as The Compost Bin, to list some of the books and DVDs but Amazon take quite a cut I think? And I also feel Amazon know enough about me, already, so I wanted to try somewhere else.

musicMagpie

Given my wish to try a non Amazon site I was pleased to be asked to try out musicMagpie as I didn't really know there were online sites like it (I am so behind the times!) where you can sell all sorts of items such as CDs, DVDs and games, mobile phones, laptops, consoles - they even offer clothes recycling for cash!

With the musicMagpie site (I am guessing there are other sites which are similar?) you enter the barcode of the CD, DVD or game, or enter the make and model of the electronics item or the brand and type of the clothing onto the site and they give you an instant price (alternatively, you can use your computer’s webcam or the musicMagpie iPhone or Android app to scan in your barcodes and start selling your items - but I am doing it from my desktop computer not my phone)

I have registered on the site, which was easy to use, and have been sent a welcome email - it was easy to register and when I forgot my password (oops) I was sent a link to re-do it straight away  - no hanging around. I have entered a couple of CD's and a DS game into the valuation box and been offered what seems a reasonable price. I have a lot of good quality, little worn clothes which I will now never again wear, as I don't have that lifestyle anymore, so I am interested in clothes recycling for cash as well as CD's and DVD's.

You need a minimum of 10 items (or 1 tech,or 3 games) to complete an order, so I will have to add a few more things I want to sell before I can send it off. I found it easy to save items I have added to my seller account, until I have enough to place an order.

One of the appeals to me of musicMagpie is sending items to them is FREE! I can use one of many Local Send Shops open weekends, evenings and 7 days a week - my nearest is the Spar shop in Ledbury which is convenient, but I could chose from any other shop on the list, anywhere which suited me. If I had lots of stuff or heavy electronic equipment I could send the items using a FREE courier service which would come to my house to collect.

music Magpie pay by either cheque, bank transfer, M and S e-vouchers (ever heard of those?) or you can donate the money to charity. Obviously I have not yet sent off items and been paid so I can't yet comment on how well that side of the site works, but so far I am impressed with my initial use of the site. I will keep you posted about the musicMagpie experience as it unfolds

Ebay

I have a seller account as The Compost Bin on Ebay but with the recent postage increase I gather it has become less economically viable to sell cheaper things and make much profit. The appeal of musicMagpie is that it has FREE postage and I don't have to even queue at the Post Office, as I can leave the parcel at the Spar shop, in Ledbury.

Second hand shops

One other alternative is "Stock Exchange" type shops where clothes, shoes, handbags etc can be sold and the shop takes a commission (usually 50%, sometimes less). We have a very up market "posh frock"one in Ledbury and a more general one in Newent - which sells good quality stuff, the shop is well run and always busy and they take children's clothes, toys, games and books as well as adult clothes, shoes, bags and family DVDs.  I have a box of good, little worn  items which will be going to this shop to be sold on and I get paid in cash for these if they sell or I can have them back after 8 weeks if they have not sold. I might then relist them on musicMagpie!

Car Boots sales

I know a lot of you sell at Car boots, but they really do not appeal to me at all and people do not seem to get decent prices for items? Maybe I am wrong, though - anyone any thoughts on this?


Any other ideas for selling items? Any of you do it differently or use another on line service?



Disclaimer - I had a post in mind about ways to go about selling my items for cash and then I was asked to review the musicMagpie site for a  fee - so I have added in my experiences to this post.  I have  signed up to the site and intend to sell items through it so as to provide a fair review - as always the words I write are my own and are my honest opinions.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

More sunshine! more gardening! (and Cat shenanikins in the middle of the night)


The cats kept us awake a lot of last night as it was obviously a hunting night - all three took it in turns to catch various unfortunate prey ( not Rats, sadly!) and then bring them in and shout to the other cats to "come and see what *I* have caught" VERY LOUDLY INDEED

I was awakened at 2, 4, 5 and 6.30 am  and Compostman also in between, he woke me when he got up  to sort out yet more cat antics - so we are a bit shattered, here!

Nevertheless today I have written a couple of articles, investigated an on line selling web site for a review post, done several loads of washing, pricked out yet more tomato and pepper plants and sowed more seeds in the polytunnel (oh, how I LOVE my polytunnel - it is my cheap version of a fabulous wooden potting shed - not that I would not like a fabulous wooden potting shed, but it just is not going to happen so, I love my polytunnel!)

I have also dusted all the hens with Barrier lice powder AND Diatom as they have lice (yuck  - on a par with head lice in hair)  I hate any sort of lice or flea infestations and dealing with it makes me feel quite queasy, but hey ho if we have animals we have to do this sort of stuff for them. :-(  I am not at all squeamish about blood and guts and gore, but lice ugh.

Anyway I sorted out the feathery (now lice less) girls and then, being liberally dusted myself, went and had a shower and washed my hair. At least I am lice free, also!

I know it is now OFFICIALLY SPRING as I am now having to open up the polytunnel window and door before 9 am so my precious plants do not cook during the day and  I am now watering the plants every evening. Also the porch plants need daily watering now and a window opening to stop them frying.

I need some form of automatic watering system in the Polytunnel - will have to have a bit of a think about that.

Shutting up the hens tonight at 8.30 there was a fabulous sunset - the first of many I hope! I also saw my first Swallow of 2013 today :-)

Now off to settle down to wine, food and the Great British Sewing Bee final on BBC 2 HD, I love it and can't wait to see what happens - have logged off Twitter and Facebook so I don't find out in advance who won!

Hope you all have a lovely evening :-) xxx




Monday, 22 April 2013

Monday in the polytunnel, with Rocket Garden fruit bushes to plant up and more tomatoes and peppers



I have spent a lovely day in the garden and polytunnel, it has been warm and sunny and I wandered around in t shirt and jeans, no fleece, no coat, no gloves!

I have been pricking out more tomato and pepper plants - I have done several hundred now and I have them in the cold frames in the polytunnel or on the window sill in the porch. I have no more space left!



The first batch I did are growing away really quickly and are nearly ready to be potted on again!


As I mentioned  I have become a Rocketeer and I received my first  Constant Garden delivery from them last week.

I should have received  a selection of organic seed potatoes ready to be chitted and planted - these would have been

Early potatoes x 10 tubers. Variety Colleen or similar, Second early seed potatoes x 10 tubers . Variety Maris Peer (or similar) Maincrop seed potatoes x 10 tubers . Variety Isle of Jura (or similar) Salad potatoes x 10 tubers. Variety Charlotte (or similar) Also included a 10 litre sack of wormcast

But as I have already planted out my potatoes (same choice of organic varieties - great minds think alike) , the lovely people at Rocket Gardens very kindly agreed to send  me a Small Fruit Garden, instead. They also sent me the bag of wormcast fertiliser.

So I was very excited to get my box delivered on Wednesday last week.


 Lovely straw packing keeps the bare rooted plants safe and damp


And paper bags to hold the Rhubarb crown and Strawberry runners


A comprehensive set of full instructions on planting the bushes is provided. All the plants are beautiful, lovely, healthy looking plants. The Strawberry runners needed to be soaked in water straight away for a few hours to rehydrate.


The rest of the plants were fine to be left for a few days as they are bare rooted, so I actually planted them up into pots on Friday, along with the now re hydrated Strawberry runners.


 Four bare rooted Autumn fruiting Raspberry canes


I planted up the Gooseberry bush


And the Blackcurrant and Raspberry canes as they were on Friday evening.



I took these photos today when I was working inside the polytunnel. This is the Blackcurrant bush after just 3 days in a pot in the polytunnel Amazing what some soil, water and warmth will do to a good healthy plant :-)



 And these are the Strawberry runners after being in the soil for three days - see how fast they have grown already!

I have yet to plant out the Rhubarb - have to find a larger pot to put it in.

All of the bare rooted plants were in excellent condition and beautifully packaged up and of course I have composted all of the packaging ;-)

Can't wait to get my next delivery in a week or so - this time it will be plants :-) Lots of plants ;-)

In other news, I managed to sow some beans and peas in pots and also the parsnips into cardboard tubes - if you want to know more see the "How to" page at the top of this site for more info.




Cold frames and earlier crops (and a major case of greenhouse envy!)




One of the things we love here are tomatoes - we love the taste of a freshly picked, perfectly ripe tomato and we use them a great deal in our cooking even when they are out of season by freezing or dehydrating them and making lots of tomato based chutney, sauces and soups.

I grow a LOT of tomato (and pepper and cucumber) plants in the polytunnel during the summer and I always grow lots of different varieties - I like the flavour and taste of many different ( mostly Heritage ) varieties - which are often no longer grown by commercial producers because they do not meet the "perfection" of shape and size required by supermarkets, or because their skins are thinner and would not handle being transported around, or any one of a number of " business" reasons. I don't care about  all that - my fruits are only transported a few feet from where they grow to where we eat them and they all taste mighty good!
  
We also use lots of fresh herbs and I don't want to buy or grow new plants every year (waste of money!) so I overwinter my herbs in pots and keep them going ready to start fresh growth in the new year. Same goes for salads and other green leafy veg like kales and sprouting broccoli - I always have plants growing under cover in the polytunnel and so can eat some fresh green food even in winter. Although some of the herbs plants die back, I still get some fresh shoots to use in the kitchen. 


I have just spent the last few days "pricking out" several hundred tomato seedlings from their cramped seed trays into individual 4 inch pots and I have the yellow fingers to prove it :-)  The plants now live either outside, in the polytunnel, or inside in the porch greenhouse. I should have my first tomato from them in early to mid June, if all goes well.
  
 But the polytunnel is unheated,  and it can still get very cold in there at night, too cold for green leaves to survive the winter and certainly too cold for tomato plants now. So how do I manage to put tomato plants out so early, and have fresh green leaves in winter?

The answer is, I use a cold frame, well several, inside the polytunnel, along with horticultural fleece if needed. I have three aluminuium and polycarbonate cold frames, with lids, which go into the polytunnel over winter and provide an added level of protection to my overwintering plants.


In this photo you can see some lemon balm, watercress and salad leaves whch have been happily growing all winter, inside the cold frame inside the polytunnel. I have been picking from them, cut and come again, since November.

 The advantages of a cold frame are that it provides shelter and a warmer microclimate for the plants inside, compared with being outside - like being in a glass house/green house, only cooler. It also provides an intermediate stage between sowing and growing under cover ( greenhouse or window sill) and finally planting out in the great outdoors (hardening off). Traditionally a cold frame was used in conjunction with a heated greenhouse, the cold frame getting its name from being outside and unheated hence "cold".  In fact if you visit Victorian gardens you will often see magnificent glass houses surrounded by cold frames, outside.

At the moment I have aluminium and polycarbonate cold frames, which were relatively cheap and are lightweight and portable (handy and really useful for me to move around inside the polytunnel) BUT don't, in my opinion, provide as much internal warmth as a traditional wooden framed, glass cold frame. In the past I have built cold frames from old windows and bricks which worked well, but as I am now re thinking the whole layout of our growing area I have also been looking at buying some wood and glass cold frames - which will be beautiful in their own right as well as functional and useful.

I am hoping to add a new greenhouse in addition to the polytunnel this year - I would love a Western Red Cedar one from Gabriel Ash  (if you follow me on Pinterest you will know I love their RHS range of glasshouses, and I have been drooling over the new greenhouse Monty Don has, ever since it was first shown on Gardeners World - some serious greenhouse envy going here!)

But sadly I don't think the funds are available for a Harlow Carr greenhouse like Monty's - especially as we already have an Aluminium/glass greenhouse in bits, just waiting to be re-errected!

But  we do have a south facing house wall and a patio so I have been thinking about a freestanding wood and glass cold frame there. Again, if you follow me on Pinterest you can see some of the ones I have been thinking about; you can also see them on the coldframes product page here. The one I am keen on is The Upright Coldframe and it is actually on offer at the moment at a substantial discount. I also like The Grand Coldframe as I could make that into a Hot Bed  - great to get tomatoes and pepper seeds growing! These cold frame look moveable, but also a lot sturdier and more solid than my aluminium and polycarbonate cold frames. I think they would provide a lot more in the way of shelter and heat, not to mention being less likely to get blown away in a gale.

I really like the Gabriel Ash website and the ethos of the Company and the fact that they are endorsed by the RHS; and have just requested a brochure be sent to me - apparently it should be posted out in a day or so (you can ask for one by email if you are really in a hurry!) so I can indulge in a bit more greenhouse envy :-)

Anyone else built or bought  a greenhouse or cold frames recently? Hopefully we will be able to get started on digging the area out where our new greenhouse is to be sited - when the ground dries out enough. And yes I know I have said that many times recently, but a lot of the groundwork is waiting on the soil to be a little less soggy, as we would like to be able to use the soil after the JCB has driven over it.

Anyway - back to the polytunnel for me as I have more pepper and tomato plants to prick out.  I also have lots of new soft fruit trees to tell you about - but that can wait until later :-)

Thank you for reading :-)






Disclaimer - I am writing a series of posts about my plans and hopes for the garden redesign - this post features a paid link to a company I would be happy to use. As always the words I write are my own and are my honest opinions.



Sunday, 21 April 2013

A busy Sunday - spuds, straw, small creatures under the microscope ( including a scorpion!) and much more.


Today I have been busy outside - Compostman helped to dig over the raised beds so I could weed them and put in some more potatoes - these are Orla, an early maincrop which are good to eat as earlies or leave to lift in late summer and use over winter.















I have a raised bed which had Kales in last year and was meant to have a thick topping of compost put on it to raise the level to the top of the bed edge, but the weather was so dreadful ( and the Kales didn't come to much) so I never got around to it. So this year I am trying a new (to me) method of growing potatoes - in the soil but under a cover of straw with a top layer of compost.



 Ideal for an experiment!


so half the Orla are in this front raised bed, in a shallow hole, covered in straw and then compost, the other half of the Orla are in the rear, next door bed, planted in my usual way. Both sets of potatos were planted with a generous scoop of wood ash, as is my normal method.



I shall see which bed does better :-)


In other news Compostgirl and I went on a bug hunt in the compostbins   Sorry I mean a micro animal safari in the varied and many micro habitats we provide at Compost Mansions.

We found a lot of different species and had several interesting talks about habitats, micro organisms, food chains and such like. Compostgirl asked lots of very good questions and came up with many of the answers from her own musings. We also dug out various bug viewers and microscopes for her to use in her work - she is lucky both her parents were research scientists I think :-)

I also think Compostgirl now has a good selection of topics to discuss for her homework :-) And we had lots of fun :-)

She also has some photos printed off to take with her but unlike her paper copies these are better as if you click on them as they get bigger :-)






A Millipede - they feed on decaying material and are primary consumers



A Pseudoscorpion! Mighty predator of the compost world - eats anything it can get its claws on and inject venom into. Nice.


Am going to settle down now this evening to watch some TV, read and catch up with some quilting :-)

Will post about the first Rocket Constant Garden delivery tomorrow but am just too tired to do so now.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Paid!

Thank you Moneysupermarket.com for the payment :-) And thank you Ilona for the original heads up that this was happening :-)

So they are still paying bloggers at the moment. Wonder how much longer?

30 Ways to Save £1.

No idea if I am too late to get the £30 from Moneysupermarket.com
but thought I would have a go at this, anyway :-)

This is what the Moneysupermaket.com website has to say

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the £1 coin, we're asking the UK's most talented and creative bloggers - that's you, by the way - to give us as many money saving tips as they can. We want 1,000, to be precise!

We realise that asking each of you to give us 1,000 ways is perhaps demanding a little too much, so we'd like to reach to the magic figure by getting up to 30 ways from each blogger.

To thank you for your hard work and inspiration we'll be giving away £1 for each money-saving tip (up to £30).



So here are my 30 tips to save at least £1 - in no particular order.

  1. Make compost if you can - it is free soil improver!
  2. Grow at least some of your own food - even without a garden you can grow a lot of food in pots outside and if you don't have an outside to grow in, you can grow herbs and salad leaves in pots on a windowsill.
  3. If you don't have a garden why not see if you can use someone else's?Or sign up for an allotment, or a scheme like Landshare?
  4.  Swap any glut of fruit/veg with other people for things you don't grow, or other items or services.
  5. Make wine, cider, flavoured spirits at home to save on alcohol purchases - they are lovely to give as gifts as well.

  6. Make jams, chutneys and store away- great as gifts and will save you money rather than buying shop ones.
  7. Make a meal plan.
  8. Make a shopping list based on the meal plan and what you already have left in the cupboard.
  9. Keep your fridge and freezer at the correct temperature, more efficient and avoids food spoilage. Keep the coils at the back free from dirt - helps with efficiency.
  10. Keep your freezer full - use bread or bags of ice cubes to fill any empty gaps - you will always use it sometime!
  11.  Cook only what you need to eat, unless you are deliberately cooking extras.
  12. Batch cook double ( or more!) quantities of casseroles, stews and freeze half for a quick meal from the freezer.
  13. Use a slow cooker - tasty, frugal as you can cook cheaper cuts of meat, and saves energy.
  14. Save leftovers and make another meal from them - or take them next day as lunch.
  15. If you have a meat joint, make stock with the bones after you have used all the meat and freeze in clean containers. Then you will always have stock ready to hand.
     
  16. Use up any "tired" veggies in home made soup - add a handful of lentils and it will be even more filling.
  17. Bake tray bakes, cakes and biscuits and cut up and open freeze - better and tastier than shop bought!
  18. Take a packed meal if you go out to save buying food .Or at least some snacks (which you have baked - see above!)
  19. Take a bottle of tap water with you to save buying expensive bottled water.
  20. Save money on Gym membership and get outside, digging the garden, going for a walk.
  21. Walk or cycle rather than drive, if you can. If you take a bus to work or college, get off a stop or more and walk - save money and get fitter.
  22. Get a railcard if you use the train or get a season ticket if you use the bus.
  23. Car share with colleagues, join a local scheme run by your work or council. If there isn't one, why not start one?
  24. Always have some change with you for car park, bus fare etc - so you won't have to make an unnecessary purchase just to get some change.
  25. If you need regular prescription medication buy a season ticket.
  26. Make your own soaps, balms, face oils and creams from raw materials cheaper and you know what you are feeding your skin!
  27. Learn to sew, and mend your clothes as soon as you see something in need of repair.
  28. Learn to change a car wheel, change a plug, unblock a drain etc, so you can make simple household repairs and not have to pay someone else.

  29. See if there is a local LETS or other barter system locally and join it.
  30. Use your local library to borrow books, games, cd's, dvd's rather than buying them.
  31. Try charity shops first if you need something as it is often cheaper. Or could you borrow it from someone you know? .
 I could go on, and on and on...but I will stop, now :-)

Thursday, 18 April 2013

On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring...



Tonight I heard my first cuckoo of 2013, 6 days later than usual, but still, how lovely to hear them again.

There is a beautiful tone poem of this name written by Delius in 1912. You can read a bit more about it here.

And you can listen to it by clicking in the link here

Anyone else heard a cuckoo?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

On being offered reviews and becoming a Rocketeer.


I am lucky enough to be offered all sorts of stuff to review here on The Compost Bin. Some are really right up my street, others are ..well lets just say completely not me (am being really charitable, here!)

To be honest, sometimes I despair at what a company is thinking about when they contact me, given my ethics and the content of my blog - I mean, cheap chicken dinners?

Really?

Not on my blog.

Ever.


In case you were wondering, I will only EVER accept stuff to write about that meets my ethics and hopefully will interest you, my reader. I am glad to say I am getting asked to review some interesting items  - recently including wind up radios, interesting plants, organic veg seed sets, gardening books, exotic seeds, garden furniture, bee friendly seedballs. All things which I really like and want to review and then share  my views with you all. I hope you all agree!


As some of you might have noticed,  I have today added a new badge on my sidebar. I have become an ambassador for organic plant supplier Rocket Gardens ,  which apparently makes me a Rocketeer :-) ( I love it!)

In case you do not know, a Rocket Garden is a box brimming full of baby organic vegetable, fruit, flower or herb plants packed in golden straw and delivered direct to your door. Rocket Gardens say they take out the risk and hard work that comes with growing organic plants from seed and look after the plants when they are young and vulnerable, only letting you have them when they are the perfect size, ready to be transplanted straight into your garden.  All you have to do is pop your baby plants into their new home to begin growing. Sounds great to me!

Last year, after a lot of my plants were smashed to bits by heavy rain for the umpteenth time and I finally ran out of spares,  I ordered a herb garden and some extra veg plants from Rocket Gardens - you may remember I wrote about it here

I was very impressed with the plants which came, they provided me with some lovely crops and were really great looking and cropping and I loved the Rocket Gardens ethos. So, when they asked me last week if I would let them send me a  Constant Garden to review throughout 2013, I jumped at the chance :-)
  
Rocket Gardens say on their website
Our new range of Constant Gardens are the best and easiest way to ensure you have an amazing and continuous supply of fresh produce bursting from your garden throughout the entire year.
Your Small Constant Garden will comprise of a series of 5 gardens delivered throughout 2013.
As with all Rocket Gardens we’ve done all the tricky stuff for you, so all you have to do is unpack your plants on arrival, pop them into the ground and watch them grow. A detailed growing guide will be provided with each garden delivery.
You will need 10-15 m2 of space to grow this garden. Larger plants which take up more space such as courgettes, pumpkins,potatoes,and tomatoes can easily be grown in containers.

The plants get delivered and all I have to do is unpack my plants on arrival, pop them into the ground/final container (or into holding pots until space is available in the ground) and watch them grow. I get sent a detailed growing guide with each garden delivery.

So today, I received by courier the first of the five mail outs as part of my Small Constant Garden.  I will post about the contents later this week but for now, here are some reasons why I have agreed to work with Rocket Gardens and review their products and become a Rocketeer ( still loving being called that!)
  • All of their seeds are sourced from Soil Association approved organic seed suppliers. The compost they use to grow the seedlings in is approved for use in Organic systems by the Soil Association. Their  plants are grown naturally under a fully organic regime.
  • The water they use on the plants is rainwater that they collect from their polytunnel roofs and recycle in their own reservoir.
  • Plants are either grown in their own individual biodegradable pots or bare rooted depending upon variety. Unlike most nurseries and garden centres Rocket Gardens don’t use thousands of plastic pots or packaging to grow the plants.
  • All of their packaging systems have been chosen in order that they are as ecologically friendly as possible. Recycled cardboard is used wherever practicable and this in turn can be used again or put onto the compost heap to be broken down. Where non cardboard packaging is required if possible they try to source recycled products.

  • They are a UK business based in Cornwall.
  • They have a really helpful and informative website and really seem to want to get everyone growing organic plants at home - something I totally approve of.
  • They run an excellent scheme for schools and at the moment are giving away a  Spring Garden a day, though out April.

Schools Garden Competiton

As part of our 'Dig for the Future' Schools Project we've got 30 Schools Spring Gardens to give away. One each day for the whole of April.

Click here to enter your school today.


And the final reason? Free organic plants for me and the families I mentor!

New veg plants, some which are varieties I have not yet tried, so I can grow even more food. I am still going to carry on growing my own plants from seed but I can try new varieties and also know I have some spare plants, as back up, just in case we have another dreadful summer.

And I will have even more spare plants to sell to fund raise for Garden Organic, to share around with friends and to give to the families I mentor as part of the Master Gardener scheme.


Really, what's not to like? 

Oh, and ...I LOVE being called a Rocketeer ! ( I said that before, I guess...)

Happy Birthday Compostman

Today marks 30 years of us first starting out as a possible couple. We had " a date" on this day in 1983. I went to his house for a birthday tea and we ate home made cherry cake - I was impressed then at his culinary skills and I still am, now!

Happy Birthday Compostman - we have been married for 28 years now and are still together, despite a lot of difficulties, and  I love you  very very much. Even more than I did 30 years ago!

xxx


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Cat love

 Tom Cat and Cassiopea in a cuddle on the sofa


I love my cats and fortunately, they love each other ( most of the time!)

Monday, 15 April 2013

Happy 1st Henniversary to Babs, Bunty, Tiny and Titch.


Happy 1st Henniversary to Babs, Bunty, Tiny and Titch.  One year ago today we went over to the other side of Hereford and met up with the BHWT rescuers and brought home five pathetic looking hens. Sadly one of them (Ginger) died soon after but the other four hens have lived very full and happy lives during this last year, laying some eggs but generally just being the most friendly and entertaining group of hens we have ever had.

Tiny Hen now, still small but top hen in every way. Still terrorising the cats and trying to get into the house at every chance she gets!


and then...



Today, from l to r,  Babs, Bunty and Titch all trying to get in through the cat flap - their latest new trick to get up to mischief!


Babs in the sunshine. She still follows me around and sits on my feet :-)


And this is what they looked like a year ago :-(

Babs on left and Bunty on the right



and Titch














 Don't they look good now!

They have had mealworms and yogurt and cuddles and played "Chase the Cat" and "House break in" and generally done what hens do, all day, in the sunshine. Happy first year of freedom, girls !



Now for the serious bit

These girls were rescued a year ago. They came from an "Barn" system, so lived crowded together with thousands of other hens, under artificial light, inside a huge shed. Never seeing daylight or going outside. "Colony"  or "Enriched"  eggs mean the hens are also shut  inside a small cage, inside the huge shed.


If you do buy free range eggs already  - Babs, Bunty, Tiny, Titch, and Yarrow and Marjoram the ex battery hens thank you from the bottom of their hearts , as do I.


If you don't - please - for the sake of hens like Babs, Bunty, Tiny and Titch and all their sister hens still in barns and cages - switch to buying free range eggs - it is the only way to make sure that the eggs you buy come from hens that have had a reasonable life.

Thank you for reading :-)








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