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!

Thursday 29 May 2014

Hello and welcome Guardian readers

@GdnLiveBetter   @gardenorganicuk

Today I am very excited!

I was delighted when The Compost Bin was added to the Guardian Live Better Grassroots green blogs list on Twitter, and today I am even more delighted to be the Sustainable Blog of the Week.

So I’d like to welcome Guardian readers to The Compost Bin, where I write about us and our life here at what we jokingly refer to as Compost Mansions (it isn't a mansion btw, but a normal detached house in the country).
We are not totally self sufficient deepest darkest greens here by any means (!) but we do try to live a bit more of a self reliant lifestyle. We have, during the years we have lived here, gained a lot of experience of how to grow stuff, compost, keep chickens, manage woodland, preserve food and live on a smallholding, which I like to write about and share. So there are (I hope) lots of good ideas on this blog; some are ours and some we have gleaned from other people. 

Please do read and enjoy and share any of our ideas or experiences, after all that is why I write about our lives! And please, do leave a comment as I love to read comments and I try really hard to reply :)

Thank you for reading and welcome, once again, to The Compost Bin :)

Sarah aka Compostwoman xxx

Tuesday 27 May 2014

A difficult challenge.

If you may recall, back in March I wrote about an interesting new on line project starting in the Guardian  called "Live Better".

Each month, it focuses on a different area of sustainability, this month's challenge on the Live Better Site is  : to recycle and reuse everything you possibly can, instead of throwing it away.I signed up to join in, as I have done with the previous challenges on food waste and energy consuption. In each of the previous challenges I found ways to reduce my food waste or energy consuption even though the changes were minimal.

I actually found it very difficult to take part in this challenge - I am sure we could re use and recycle more than we do, but I am blowed if I can see where to be honest.Which has made me think about how we could reduce our waste still further in the longer term as I hate to be complacent.

That is not a criticism of the challenge btw, I think it is a really good idea and it has certainly given me some food for thought! A  few years back I would have found it easy to reuse and recycle more, but maybe that is the problem? We have already done so much here in our lives on the reduction and recycling front that it gets harder and harder to do even more?

I guess if we bought no packaged, prepared goods at all we would reduce packaging waste - but it is very difficult to do so and  we make sure we buy recyclable packaged goods. I honestly cannot see how we could increase our recycling as we already recycle everything we can. We re use a lot of it, first as well. And as for composting...! Well lets just say nothing goes uncomposted. Except - we could have a composting toilet. Now that's a plan.

Does anyone else find challenges like these hard to do, just because it is the normal, routine way of life for you? I am sure that other challenges would be more difficult for us (cutting out computer use, anyone? Or maybe eating local, with zero imported goods at all such as coffee, chocolate, spices etc?) 

Comments welcome please

Monday 26 May 2014

The problem with squirrels

 @JacobiJayne  #feedthebirds

As well the Woodpecker "problem"  I talked about in my last post, we also have a real problem with squirrels. Our wood is home to a number of grey squirrels and, as long as that is where they stay, we adopt a "live and let live" attitude to them. Indeed we are amused and entertained by their antics. One year, though,  the numbers multiplied and suddenly they were eating all the apples, all the growing crops and even chewed into the polytunnel. That year we had to resort to live trapping and shooting some to restore the balance, but usually we all get along together. The squirrels do however love to eat the bird peanuts and seed and will chew up any vulnerable feeder to get to the food. I use squirrel proof metal Droll Yankee nut feeders which work well but have not, so far, come across any squirrel proof seed feeders. I have been resigned to just regularly buying complete new feeders to replace the damaged ones.

So when I was contacted by conservation products company Jacobi Jayne & Co to see if I would like to try out some of their products I immediately said yes.  I had a lovely chat on the 'phone with Graham from Jacobi Jayne about squirrels, gardening, birds and wildlife in general and I outlined my problem with squirrel damaged feeders. As a result I was offered two different seed feeders to try;  one of which says it is 100%  squirrel proof and the other a general purpose easy to clean feeder but in which all the parts can be replaced.

When the parcel arrived I realised I had also been sent a couple of big feeder hanging hooks and a 12.5 kg bag of Special Mix bird food, so thanks Graham!

The One feeder is a standard looking bird feeder but is very easy to take apart for cleaning ( it is a very good design) and I can see it would be easy to just replace any chewed or damaged parts so I was impressed even before I hung it out.

The Squirrel Buster was easy to assemble and I could immediately see how hard it would be for a squirrel to get at the seed!

 Fill up the inner hopper

 Add the outer mesh cover - here it is open for birds to eat the seed

but if a squirrel tries to get to the food  (Compostman's hand pretending to be the squirrel, here)  the extra weight of the squirrel makes the cover slide down and blocks the feed. What a brilliant idea.

These two new feeders went out on to the bird table along with the Droll Yankee nut feeder - the birds immediately began to use the new feeders, and as usual the hens hung around waiting for the dropped seed (sigh)
You can buy Jacobi Jayne conservation products in shops or online at their website Living with birds
There is a wealth of useful information on the site and they sell lots of other products for wildlife. The Squirrel Buster retails at £24.95, The One feeder will be launched in mid June and the medium sized one (above, lhs of the pole) I am using would sell for £11.49.

I haven't seen a squirrel try the Squirrel Buster yet but I bet it will find it hard to get at the feed. I will keep you posted and try to get a photo if I can!

Disclaimer. I was sent the feeders, a couple of hanging hooks and a bag of seed to review. All opinions are my own.

Friday 23 May 2014

Feeding the birds

 #feedthebirds  #rspb

We are very lucky here at Compost Mansions as we are host to lots and lots of wildlife, including lots of birds :)

At the moment I am having to avoid work around the front of the house due to Mrs Blackbird nesting

Can you see her? Click on the photo to make it larger and you can see her yellow beak in the middle of the image.

When we do the Big Garden Birdwatch we always have lots of different birds on our list, and of course we follow the advice from the RSPB on feeding "our" birds all year round. This can be a problem, though, when some of the residents decide to sabotage our efforts by drilling holes in the bird table pole.

This was done by one of our many Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. They come and take peanuts and usually fly to the nearest tree ( we offer them lots here!) to wedge the nut in a hole or crack to eat. But we now have at least one very lazy 'pecker, who hops off the nut feeder (to the right of the pole) and just sticks the nut in this hole to eat! I fear we may need a new pole for the bird table fairly soon.

So I decided to dig out a metal bird feeder pole I was given as a gift ages ago and had never got around to using (sorry, Sue!) to see if that would deter the vandal. It has a mesh food tray, hangers for three feeders and a water tray and I don't think even our Woodpecker will be able to drill into it. I try to put out more food at this time of year so an extra feeder pole seemed a good idea.

The kit was was easy to put together and, so far, the birds love the extra feeding station. The Woodpecker is just taking nuts from this new one and flying to a near by tree to eat them. Hopefully this may fix the pecking problem!

Monday 19 May 2014

View from my office desk

 #gardening  #wildlife  #bumblebees

I have spent a lot of time working at my "desk" recently, sometimes sowing seeds, sometimes doing some paperwork - but mostly sowing seeds or pricking out and potting on many many small plants.

My version of hot desking. If I get up, I have a job to sit back down sometimes! Cassi Cat is a faithful companion, even if she does steal my seat at every chance.

My "office window" has a lovely view and I am even provided with an ever changing background soundtrack.

And I have wonderful floral arrangements right next to my desk.

Just round the corner is an amazing, naturalistic, art installation which climbs up the office wall and moves with the slightest breeze from the air conditioning.

And I am provided with a variation on the office fish tank to look, at if I want to rest my eyes from my work...

Bumblebee on Columbine

and on Solomon Seal

I think I am very fortunate to have such a wonderful office :)

Saturday 17 May 2014

Lovely gardening weather

Hello lovely people, how are you enjoying this weather? I have been working outside early in the day planting seeds and doing stuff in the poly tunnel and generally gardening like a mad thing - then at lunchtime it all gets far too hot so I retreat inside to do housework, computer work, read, craft or some such.

Then when the sun has gone down a bit and the heat has lessened I am outside again, planting and weeding and generally doing my Compostwoman stuff. 

This is the road side face of our house, with a very wild flower border and a climbing Hydrangea up the wall.

I was weeding and planting this border last week when I realised I was hearing a LOT of Blackbird scolding - no cats around so I knew it was me who was the problem.

I had a closer look at the Hydrangea and realised I could see a yellow beak and a pair of eyes...click on the photo to see what I mean!

And later when I looked, I saw this - a Blackbird nest with four eggs :) Lovely :)

I just need to make sure that  these three do not find it. It is high enough that they can't get to it, so I am hopeful that the fledgings will be ok.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Two useful garden items

@AldiUK @Easywatering #busyinthegarden

 I have a huge polytunnel so you would think I had lots of space for plants wouldn't you? Well actually at this time of year no I don't :) I need all the space in there for the tomatoes and pepper plants so am gradually planting out all the other stuff. Some of the plants are a bit tender to go outside just yet so it is really handy to have cold frames and cloches but they are all full of vegetable plants at this time of year. Also to save my back something which means I don't have to bend down would be very handy. 

Some of you may remember that back in March I was sent some items to review by Aldi. I was sent a small greenhouse and some covers; a pair of secateurs and some plant pots. The pots are now filled with perennials waiting to go outside into the new flower bed, the secateurs are used for cutting flowers to bring into the house and the Greenhouse? It is full to bursting with all sorts of plants at the moment, mostly  perennials grown from cuttings - I must have saved 100's of pounds by doing this considering the cost of good sized  perennials to buy in garden centres!

It was far too windy here in March to put the Greenhouse outside so I left it in the box for a bit but when I  finally got around to erecting it I found it was very easy as the instructions were pretty clear.

Top tip - put together one side of each shelf like this,

before slotting the tubes into the other side fixture bar. Then add the four vertical tubes and repeat three more times.

Add the top two arched bars...

Drape the cover over the top...

And fill with plants. It took me about 10 minutes to put together with no help from anyone else.

I am very impressed with this little greenhouse :) The four tier greenhouse cost £19.99 from Aldi and  replacement covers are £4.99. Aldi also do some good offers on plants so keep an eye open for them in store.

Another useful garden related item I was sent recently was a small drip feed irrigation system from Easy Watering. Easy Watering was formed in 2005 and was based on a very simple principle. The owners of the business moved to a new house and found it took hours to water the garden. They decided to try to set up a watering system but found it difficult to get all the parts they needed then found it difficult to find someone who also had the knowledge on how to install an irrigation system. As a result they decided to start up Easy Watering, a business dedicated to Watering and Irrigation Systems. The business is based in Newent, not very far away from Compost Mansions.

I was sent a 7.5 Metre Micro Drip Line Kit to try. Included in the kit was 7.5 metres of Micro Drip Line, 4 x Elbow connectors, 4 x Tee Connectors, 5 x stop ends and a tap connector.

By using the elbows, tees and stop ends you can make up a drip watering system shaped to your design which takes water from a tap and delivers it where you need water. It was easy to set up and I have mine arranged around the pots which are hardening off on the tables near to the polytunnel. Later in the year I will move the system and rearrange it so that it adds to the other drip watering hoses I use inside the polytunnel

Easy Watering. 7.5 Metre Micro Drip Line Kit  price: £10.69

Disclaimer. I was sent these items to review. All opinions are my own :)

Monday 12 May 2014

Gardening and tea bags

#teabagplants   @BandQ   ‪#‎lotsdoneinthegardentoday‬

I spent the whole day doing lots of veg and flower garden stuff. We did loads of digging and weeding (the very heavy stuff done by lovely Compostman) and planting of plants and I planted up two new flower beds with perennials I have grown from cuttings and overwintered in the polytunnel.

I also took the opportunity to review a few of the items I have been sent recently.
First up were some bedding plants from B&Q, the DIY store.  I was sent a press release about this because B&Q have removed polystyrene packaging from a range of bedding plants, replacing it with a 100% recyclable alternative called easyGrow. 

 This is what the B&Q press release has to say...( I have quoted only some of it!)

From April 2014, B&Q will replace all polystyrene packaging across its range of bedding plants with an innovative new concept. Harnessing Teabag Technology™, easyGrow™ is 100% recyclable and up to 95% peat-free, removing peat from commercial plant production. The new concept will be incorporated into 20 varieties of bedding plants.
As the largest garden retailer in the UK, over 80 million bedding plants will be sold at B&Q stores across the UK between March and June. Historically, these plants would be packaged in non-recyclable polystyrene trays, resulting in 22,500 cubic metres of polystyrene, enough to fill over 87,200 wheelie bins, ending up as non-degradable waste in UK landfills. Placed end to end, the trays would stretch from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

The move by B&Q is supported by the RSPB, long time campaigners for peat-free gardening. With easyGrow™ with Teabag Technology™, each bedding plant is rooted in up to 95% peat free compost.
 easyGrow™ with Teabag Technology™, consists of a self-contained biodegradable ‘teabag’ made from corn starch, a renewable resource that is fully compostable. Each bag is filled with coir, a natural fibre extracted from coconut husks.
 As part of B&Q’s commitment to working with British suppliers, easyGrow™ with Teabag Technology™ has been developed in partnership with British growers, including Coletta & Tyson, a family business based in Hull.

That statistic about the polystyrene packaging caught my eye when I was first reading through the email they sent me - what a huge waste of resources! So when I was asked to try some plants grown in this way I jumped at the chance - I am always keen to promote a reduction in both packaging and peat!

The plants are grown in coir inside a "tea bag" so are very easy to plant - simply lift the plant out of the (recyclable!) tray, and then pop the whole thing into a pot and cover the tea bag with growing medium. The bags allow the roots to grow through and also will slowly biodegrade
The plants I chose were very healthy looking and strong and I now have a couple of colourful pots to add to the patio collection. You can buy these bedding plants now from your local B&Q store.

To find out more about this new packaging have a look here for a load more information.

I also spotted this in the poly tunnel :) Wonder if I will be eating tomatoes before June 12th this year? 

More from the garden, next post :) 

I was sent a voucher by B&Q to buy some plants to review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Bank Holiday Blossomtime

#CompostAwarenessWeek  @TheBigAppleHfd #MasterComposter @gardenorganicuk 

We were up early and I loaded up the car with more plants and my bag with some lunch and water bottle. All else was left in the car overnight so I didn't need to do much else except put on my name badge and then off we went up the road to the Bank Holiday Monday Blossomtime event at our local village hall.

I set up my stall again in my usual corner, with lots of help from lovely Compostman who came with me to assist. I also handed in the Lemon trickle cake he had made as a contribution to the WI cake and tea stall. The WI do every year as a fundraiser and this year I think money raised will go towards new toilets in the village hall. Compostman was too shy to hand it in himself, but I made sure they knew it was his baking not mine as I wanted him to get any credit due!

Today is usually a different set of people from Sunday, on Sunday I usually see far more local people whereas Monday is often busy with visitors from wider afield - often people holidaying in our area who decide Blossomtime, orchard walks and cider tasting sounds like a fun day out  :) 


Yesterday I spent a lot of time discussing the compost making process. Today I talked to people about chicken keeping and free range eggs, growing vegetables and how to care for tomato plants, as well as how to use compost. This is one of the many things I love about being a Master Composter - every event is different.


I also handed out lots of leaflets, chatted to loads of visitors and sold more plants to fund raise for Garden Organic. On the stall I spoke to 20 people about keeping chickens,  25 people about compost related issues, and another 15 about gardening and plants :) I talked to lots more people as I wandered around the event as well.

After lunch Compostman arrived with Compostgirl. She immediately went off with a group of friends to have fun at the RSPB stall and pet the animals brought by Paul Hands of Bees and Trees. Compostman and I went for tea and cake from the WI stall - a welcome break!   Then at 2.30 the Leominster Morris Men began to arrive and the crowd suddenly swelled as more people came to see them dance.

I love our local Morris side but if you are not a fan of Morris Dancing scroll down to the bottom!

It was terrific to watch, as always, and so much fun :) 

After the excitement of the Morris dancing, we went into the hall and tasted a few samples of cider and chatted to some of our neighbours. Most of the fields around us are cider orchards and it is good to chat to our farming neighbours as we don't often get to meet up.

Finally at the close of the event we loaded up the car with all the contents of the stall - I try to do it so my stall is packed away ready for next time rather than just throwing it all in the car any old how- although sometimes if it rains that is what happens - today though it was dry and sunny so all was put away in an orderly fashion.

And then home, to sit down with a cup of tea - bliss! 
I feel very shattered after another very long day on my feet, but have had an excellent two days of talking compost to people

I hope you all had a good weekend, also :)

Sunday 4 May 2014

Blossomtime day one.

#MasterComposter @TheBigAppleHfd  @gardenorganicuk #CompostAwarenessWeek

I have spent a busy day based at my village hall just up the road, being Compostwoman at the Blossomtime event  :) Lots of compost advice dispensed, lots of leaflets and chat and laughter and fun and a small amount of cider drunk, once I had finished talking compost to people :) Also sold loads of my tomato plants to fundraise for Garden Organic. I spoke to 35 people today about compost related issues, another 15 about gardening and plants and 10 people about keeping chickens  :)

I always love doing this event; it is usually the first event I do in the new season also it coincides with Compost Awareness Week every year :).

I also did some seed planting with children and we had lots of fun looking at composting creatures through my bug viewers :)

Home this evening to pot on more plants to sell for fundraising for Garden Organic at the Bank Holiday Monday Blossomtime event ( It goes on for two days) I have loads of Heritage Seed Library tomato and pepper varieties to sell :)

I feel a bit shattered after a very long day on my feet, but have had an excellent day.

Then to add the icing on the cake that was today, at dusk the Nightingales started singing and I listened and then rcorded seven males singing their hearts out to each other - I just hope there were some females around to be wooed by their wonderous songs!

Fabulous to be able to listen to something like that :)

I love where I live :)

Thursday 1 May 2014

May Day

So, May Day already! I was up early to bring in the May and greet the sunrise.

I spent a lot of this afternoon getting plants ready for sale at the Blossomtime event this weekend - two days of celebrations of cider and apples and the beautiful fields full of apple trees in blossom we are lucky enough to have around here.

I now have around 100 mainly tomato plants ready to sell with the profit going to Garden Organic.

I also spent a fair bit of time washing the very last of the pots. I set up a washing station at just the right height for me to wash things without hurting my back, which made the job a lot easier.

I just need to sort out all the leaflets and seeds and stuff I need for my composting stall at Blossomtime and  I will be ready for my first "Compostwoman" event of the year :)

Tonight there was a knock on the back door - some people had seen a chicken up the lane and stopped to ask if it was mine - nice of them - so I walked up to have a look.

I spotted this handsome little fellow - a Silkie or Polish Bantam, but he would not let me catch him. I telephoned some neighbours but he was not theirs and he had gone the next morning. I do hope he found his way back home and was not eaten by the fox.

This is the view up the lane past our house, as you can see we have no near neighbours!