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, 27 December 2016

A New Year next week.

So. A New Year next week. 2017

I don't do resolutions and all that stuff...if I want to do something I do it and I do it when *I* want, not on a certain date dictated to by the calendar/the media etc....

BUT I have decided to try to be a little more balanced in the way I work during 2017, so as to spread out my work load. Several friends have commented that I seem to do "a lot" and that maybe, sometimes, just sometimes, I overdo it a bit..(Moi? Overdo it? Surely not?)

Well, actually, yes I do. So much of what I do seems like fun, not work, so I don't notice how shattered I am until I have finished. I am not good at doing nothing and never have been!

But, I am aware that as I get older my health gets worse. My immune system is still pretty poor. I still have CFS/ME and although I am so much better than I EVER thought I would be, if I overdo things I suffer the consequences of days and days of fatigue and I seem to catch the weirdest illnesess. The fact that I am a Type "A" hyper achiever doesn't make resting up any easier, either. Lol.

Losing 10 stone in weight and keeping it off has helped me enormously but I still have to be careful I don't overdo things.

So. I have to recognise these facts. I have to make myself pace myself and factor in some rest time during the day, so as to be able to keep on, keeping on. This is worse during the winter months, of course.

So I am going to try (again!) to only do "One Big Chore" (OBC) a day, either outside or inside, depending on the weather. Obviously I have a family, a house and business to run and animals to feed etc and they need doing everyday, but apart from that I will try to do only do one chore which is the sort of thing that takes a couple of hours to do. Things like spring cleaning one room, or washing all the windows, or mucking out the Mega HenPen or digging out a number of compost bins and spreading the compost. BIG CHORES. You know the sort of thing.

Previously I would do One Big Chore (OBC) and then think "oh still time to do ..." and get stuck in to another OBC, and then another one, even though really I needed to go and sit down with a cup of tea for half an hour and rest. I also want, need to make time to do some of the craft things I so love.

I also now find I need to make time to practice meditation at least twice a day to keep me calm and my blood pressure under control, given all the stress going on around here all the time.

Today my OBC was mucking out the Mega Hen Pen hen house and the three Serama hen shouses in the polytunnel. I also cleaned out all the feeders and drinkers and re filled them and re filled the treat balls with lettuce and cabbage leaves.  

And then I had a sit down, and a cup of tea and I wrote this post. And then I did my meditation :) 

See, I CAN "do" resting and pacing, honest! :-))

I hope you have all had a very enjoyable festive season. I have not, due to illness and other stuff. I hope, this way, I can keep as healthy as possible,

Sunday, 25 December 2016

A very Merry Christmas







... to you all.

We are all ill with a really nasty cough/cold thing and I seem to have developed a chest infection as well, so its not much fun here.

Hope all of you are well and happy and stay healthy!

with love from Compostwoman and all the family (human, cat and chicken plus all the wild creatures in the wood and garden )


xxx

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Chicken antics and being shut away.

My chickens are really not happy at being shut inside, due to the Avian Flu precautions. The Seramas are shut in the polytunnel, a huge space for 14 tiny chickens to free range in, but are they happy? No!

The same thing goes for the big Hens and Chancellor their Serama cockerel - shut in a walk in Mega Hen Pen which is larger than a lot of people's sitting rooms, they have lots of space BUT they are used to free ranging in the wood and garden so are NOT happy.

They are VERY free range hens! They are bright, friendly, inquisitive and such good fun to be around. How ANYONE can possibly think it is OK to shut hens up in very little space is beyond me and ESPECIALLY when you get to see what the NATURAL behaviour of a hen actually IS...I find it truly beyond comprehension.

BUT THAT is what the life of a battery hen is like and UNLESS YOU only ever buy free range or Organic eggs (AND make sure that's what ALL other products you eat which have got egg in) then YOU may well be eating eggs laid by hens who live in FAR FAR less than ideal conditions ( I am restraining my language deliberately here...) The same goes for the chicken meat you eat. Unless it is free range or ideally Organic....it may well have been reared in an intensive broiler unit.

More than 850 million broiler chickens are slaughtered every year in the UK. And of these hundreds of millions of chickens, most of them - more than 95% - are reared inside, produced in industrial conditions in vast, enclosed sheds. Their lives are pitiful – but at least they’re short...

Standard chickens are grown from newly hatched chick to oven-ready bird in an astonishing 39 days, that’s just over 5 weeks. (An organic chicken, which grows at a natural pace, takes more than twice as long.)

How do they do this? Poultry scientists have bred chickens which grow fast. As they grow, their living space – smaller than an A4 piece of paper for each bird – gets more and more cramped as they near the end of their short lives. With around 17 birds packed into each square metre they have barely enough space to walk, preen themselves, stretch their wings or even turn around.

Such cramped conditions and rapid growth cause severe welfare problems. Chronic lameness is common – one third of chickens have difficulty walking without pain. The stress on their hearts and lungs can cause heart failure. About 5% die or have to be culled prematurely.

A typical chicken shed holds 40,000 birds… They never set foot outside or see natural light… They feed around the clock - with as little as one hour of darkness for every 24 hour period.

It’s not nice – but it’s certainly cheap. And THAT is how supermarkets can afford to offer you two whole birds for a fiver… or sell a whole fresh British chicken for £2.

There is another way… You could rear your own hens for eggs and/or to eat......or if that's not for you...you could make sure you ONLY buy free reange ( and ideally Organic) eggs AND meat!

And I PROMISE you, once you have tried the taste of proper free range eggs and chicken meat you will NEVER want to eat anything else! 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Childhood memories of washing lines

I was struggling today with damp sheets on the washing line and when I came in and hung them to dry over the indoor dolly in the kitchen, as I hoisted it up to the ceiling I remembered my childhood 49 years ago. 

My family moved to a very rural smallholding in 1969, no mains water, electric, oil or gas,  oil lamps, candles, wood range for cooking, a well for all water, chamber pots inside and a pit privy at the bottom of the garden, the building covering it which was moved once a year to a new location, with copper and dolly and mangle for washing, and a tin bath which we all shared once a week and a kitchen garden, a larder, a cold shelf ( no fridge!) and killing and gutting game, chickens etc.  My poor mum spent 2 years living  like this!

She even made beer in the copper wash kettle! (real Lark Rise to Candleford stuff, and my Mum actually lived in that area in the 1920's! - I was born in 1962 when she was in her late 40's btw) and we had bees and pigs and chickens and rabbits and ducks and geese and sheep and goats and horses and a milk cow.

No electricity for the first 6 months we lived there... so we had tilley lamps and candles for lighting and an iron heated on the range.

I helped with all this and can remember the effort involved even now, nearly 50 years on (I was 7 at the time) helping Mum with the washing and the cooking and the getting water from the well.

I remember washing as an absolute MISERY in the winter. Trying to get clothes, especially sheets and towels, dry was terrible, and the house wreathed in stream, and the pages of my Christmas present book getting damp ( it was the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as I recall!) 

BUT it was also magical and the first winter we were there, it was the BEST Christmas I can ever remember,  which is why I can STILL remember it so vividly I guess :-)

Hard to imagine now, living like that, within a middle aged person's lifetime (me)...but we did,  until 1971 when we finally got the new kitchen and bedrooms and bathroom built, then it was radiators and electric cookers and 'fridges etc, (although my Mum always said nothing she cooked ever tasted quite as good, compared with what she had done on that old range) 

I also had horses and we had chickens and pigs and sheep,  .and I used one of those LETHAL chaff cutters to make food for them, omg child protection laws would have a field day over that now! Whirling, unprotected blades being operated by an 8 year old! The Mangel Worzel cutter was almost as dangerous!

Actually, it WAS ALL dangerous, not all the old stuff is good!

But I do look back on it with immense pleasure, not least because I KNOW I could do it all again ITSHTF (!)

Funny what memories small domestic tasks can trigger :) 

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Looking back through the blog - 20 years of Compost Mansions #1


[ We have lived in Compost Mansions for 20 years in 2017. So I have been looking back at all the things we have done here, since we moved in. ]

Looking back through the blog, as I do, sometimes, and I realized this time in 2010 I was packing up and clearing out our sitting room ready for Compostman to start the huge refurbishment. the sitting room is the very heart of our house, with the woodburner, books crafts table and chair, music and tv so it was a huge job! 

We then spent the next 12 months squashed into a room less than half the size. but it was worth it in the end.



Clearing out our sitting room so it can be gutted and insulated and all sorts of stuff done to it by lovely Compostman


 

Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween/Samhain

The end of the old year and the start of the new year.

I have walked in the wood today and watched the leaves as they came whirling down, broken free from the tree by the wind to land on the ground and slowly return to the soil.


I caught a leaf as it fell through a shaft of sunlight and made a wish.

I spent today outside, tending to my plants and animals and family, weaving the threads of love and nurturing around them all to make them comfortable and secure.

I shall sit by the fire tonight, with candles lit, and think of all my loved ones, my friends and family, animal and people. Those I still see in life and those who have gone on before me.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Making chutney

A very useful way to use a glut of fruit or vegetables ( home grown OR shop bought) is to make Chutney.

Wikipedia ( always useful) describes Chutney as

a term for a variety of sweet and spicy condiments, usually involving a fresh, chopped primary vegetable or fruit with added seasonings. Chutney, as a genre, is often similar to the Pakistani pickle and the salsa of Latin American cuisine, or European relish.

Chutney may be dry or wet; dry chutney is generally in the form of powder. In India, a chutney is often made to be eaten fresh, using whichever strongly-flavored ingredients are locally available at the time. It would not normally contain preserving agents, since it is intended to be consumed quickly after preparation. The Hindi translation of "to make chutney" is a common idiom meaning "to crush". This is because the process of making chutney often involves the crushing the ingredients together.[citation needed]

The use of a stone mortar and pestle is often regarded as vital to create the ideal chutney. It consists of a small stone bowl (called a "kharal" or "khal" in Hindi, Tamil kal கல்), or a flat piece of stone (called a "sil") on which the ingredients are crushed together with a rounded stick of stone or wood (called a "batta", pronounced with a hard 't').

Chutney is more familiar in North America and Europe in a form that can be stored. To this end, vegetable oil, vinegar, or lemon juice are used to enhance the keeping properties.

Beginning in the 1600 chutneys were shipped to European countries like England and France as luxury goods. Western imitations were called "mangoed" fruits or vegetables. In the nineteenth century, brands of chutney like Major Grey's or Bengal Club created for Western tastes were shipped to Europe.

Generally these chutneys are fruit, vinegar and sugar cooked down to a reduction.

The tradition of chutney making spread throughout the British empire, especially in the Caribbean and American South where chutney is still a popular condiment for ham, pork and fish.
So...a tradition of chutney making, hmmm? well the tradition is alive and well at Compost Mansions, that's for sure! I love making Chutney, I usually make 4 or 5 different batches in the autumn and winter, from fresh. glut fruit and veg and then later from stored apples and frozen fruit and veg. I then have lots of jars stored, to give as gifts, to barter for other foods or services and, of course, to eat! I am talking, of course, about the sort which is preserved by having lots of vinegar and sugar in it, potted whilst hot, into warm jars so a vacuum forms when the contents cool and then kept in a sealed jar until ready to eat

I made Apple and Courgette chutney back in September, as I had a lot of Apples and Courgettes to hand



















Recipe

1 Kg cored, peeled , diced Apples (Bramley)
1 Kg peeled, diced Courgette
0.5 Kg diced Onion
Some Garlic ( I used about 6 small cloves...and they WERE small!)
0.5 Kg skinned chopped Tomatoes
0.5 Kg chopped Raisins and Sultanas mixed
0.5 Kg Light brown Sugar
0.6 L Cider Vinegar( I actually used a mixture of Cider and Red Wine)
20g Salt
1 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
Black Pepper ( I just grind it into the pan...I used lots)




Prepare everything by finely chopping (if you use a machine be careful not to mince too fine or the chutney will be a little mushy), put it in a large Stainless Steel pan, bring to boil, reduce heat to low simmer, leave.



and go and grade apples for storing, clean out hens, drink tea, etc etc....




return now and then to give a stir with a wooden or stainless spoon. About 4 hours later (it may take less time , I find it depends on the size of the base of your pan!) keep a close eye on it to see if it is nearly ready to pot.


Take about 10 washed jars
(350g ish) and lids ( which MUST be vinegar proof! so use old pickles jars for preference!) and put in the oven on a rack ( I use the toaster tray which came with the oven as the jars don't fall off it so easily.







I use recycled jars, as I am not selling my produce. If you want to sell it you need to use new lids (in the UK) and standard sized jars.

EDITED by Compostwoman later for clarity to add

I only tend to re-use the lids once and check the seal VERY carefully each time...and with the button lids it is obvious if the seal has failed......if in doubt get new lids!

glass jars are, of course, virtually endlessly reusable if not damaged...



Heat jars at 120C ish for about 10 mins then turn down oven to 80C until you are nearly ready to pot the chutney, then turn off the oven and allow the residual heat to keep the jars hot ( saves energy!) Try to time this phase so as to coincide with the end of doing the Sunday Roast or some baking....I try but usually fail a bit miserably here!....)



When you think the chutney is nearly done do the "channel" test...draw a spoon through the surface of the chutney, if a channel appears its done. If not, keep simmering for another few mins and test again.





When done, turn off the heat and let the residual heat in the ring ( if electric) finish the simmer (saves energy, but won't work with Gas)







Fill hot jars to almost full, wipe clean, put on lids and screw on tight. Watch out as the jars WILL be hot! I have a stainless jam funnel and a stainless ladle...we got these to make life easier as we make a LOT of jam and chutney! Don't worry if you don't have these, use a Pyrex jug...make sure it is clean and sterilised...and watch out for the hot handle!!



Admire your handiwork, make sure the vacuum "buttons" have pulled down on the lids, if your lids had them, then when cool, LABEL(!) PUT AWAY in a cool dark place to mature for AT LEAST 2months...

Seriously, it WILL taste nicer if you leave it to mature!



I work from an all purpose recipe which I adapt and vary depending on the fruits, vegetables, spices etc. available, and on my mood!

My chutney recipes are basically 600 ml vinegar, 20 g salt, 500 g sugar, assorted spices usually around 2 teaspoons of them (I use ground spices quite happily!),500 g onions and then another 3 Kg of assorted fruit and veg. This makes around 10"chutney/relish" sized jars, the 350 g ones.

I find SOME fruit is needed, even if its only 500 g apples and 500g dried fruit, as apples especially help to thicken the chutney, they and the dried fruit is part of the 3 Kg of assorted stuff though! I also always use Cider vinegar or wine vinegar occasionally, I use Aspalls Organic cider vinegar ( for those in the UK) and find it makes for a smooth result without a harsh vinegary tang...it IS possible to eat my chutney immediately but I would recommend keeping it for at least 2 months, longer if you can!

So, that's how I make chutney. I hope this post has been useful to you and if you don't make chutney at the moment, it will inspire you to have a go. There is nothing to beat home made chutney to liven up a cheese sandwich, or a plate of salads or to add to a curry! And, of course you know what has gone into it and you have saved yourself some money and earned the satisfaction of doing something for yourself.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Making Damson Vodka

Quite a few people recently have asked me how I make the  Damson and the Blackcurrant flavoured Vodkas I give away as Christmas gifts.

So I thought I would tell you, again :)

Take a clean jar, I used a Le Parfait jar, but any wide necked jar will do.

Put in washed, pricked fresh fruit and add spirit of choice. I have found Vodka or brandy to be good - it doesn't have to be an expensive brand.

If you don't want to have to prick the fruit, freeze the fruit whole, then put it in the jar and pour on the spirit. The liquid will rapidly cause the fruit to split.

Add sugar. It is better to add too little as you can always add more, if you want it sweeter when you taste test it!

Put the jar somewhere you can shake/upend until all the sugar has dissolved.

Put away in a cool, dark place.

Leave for up to a year...I have found if you leave it longer than that it might get a slightly musty taste.On the other hand it might become divine and utterly delish! So it is up to you to keep on tasting the jar occasionally!

Strain (I use one of those permanent coffer filters for this inside a funnel, all sterilised) into a suitable bottle ( I save the small wine bottles one can get (25 or 35 cl) is these are ideal to give as gifts as well!)


Label.

Drink!



Damsons in Vodka and sugar



After a day of shaking/soaking

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Garden Organic Masters conference 2016


Because I am a Three Counties Traditional Orchards Champion and  now a Worcestershire Master Composter ( yes I managed to get back to being one!)

I am again one of the family of Garden Organic volunteers :)




So yesterday I drove to Ryton to attend the annual conference - always a highlight of my year :)


My first workshop was on natural dyeing



I made this :)


I feel another craft interest blooming :)


Drying my dyed silk hankies on the marquee bunting line


After an excellent lunch we had more talks, another workshop choice ( I did composting creatures :) )


Then tea and cake!


An excellent day, spent with lots of friends as usual :)

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Book launch at blue ginger gallery



So tonight I have been at blue ginger gallery in Cradley for a fabulous supper and the book launch for Jackie Morris' new books One Cheetah One Cherry and The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow.

I was also lucky enough to get my hand on the first advance copy of the White Fox and read it ( I had to hand it back, though!)



Lovely evening among good friends :)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Car repairs


I had to take my car for major repair work on the engine today, over at Hay on Wye.
I got up early and drove to Hay through a glorious morning and arrived at 9 am. The garage gave me a courtesy car and said my car would be ready after lunch.

I decided to have  breakfast and a wander around Hay, then head to Crickhowell and Bookish.














The road to Crickhowell passes by Tretower Castle which I have never visited, so I stopped and had a good look around.




 It was very warm outside and I was grateful for the cool shade inside



Beautiful interiors




While I was at Tretower I got a text that my car would take longer than planned and would be ready at 5 pm, so I decided to have a late lunch in Crickhowell.



I had a leisurely lunch, walked around Crickhowell Castle and then drove slowly back along the spectacularly beautiful road back to Hay. It was the most fabulous sunny day and the air was crystal clear. I was lucky enough to see a load of Red Kites wheeling and tumbling in the sky over the mountains.

Car fixed, for a good price and drove home to sort out the chickens and do some more preserving.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

And so it begins :)


This is one day's worth of pickings from the polytunnel

 
Ready for freezing


Dehydrator down from the loft and ready to roll :)


I do love tomatoes


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Civil engineering :)


Our trench arch septic tank soak away system developed a bit of a blockage in one of the arms. This is what takes the liquids from our sewerage system and drains it underground so it slowly perculates into the soil under the wood where it is rendered harmless and useful. The blockage wasn't serious, but when you have a JCB why not fix it asap?


Digging out the trench - very tight in amongst the trees and I acted as banksperson to Compostman driving the JCB ( I do drive it as well!)


Uncovering the trench under the protective slabs


Clearing the blockage and then putting it all back together


Probably would have cost us a few thousand pound to get this done AND they would have wanted to clear fell the trees to get to it. So good that we can sort stuff like this out for ourselves :)

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Wales day 4

 We set off after breakfast to a nearby Shire Horse attraction as both of us love horses. It was a really good place, despite the dreadful weather.



Gentle giants
















We had a bouncy wet ride around the farm in this carriage :)





We then decided to go and try to find a stone circle we had visited the last time we were in this part of Wales. Despite driving rain and low cloud I had a look at the OS map and identified where I thought it might be



And we found it!




You can see how very very wet it was :(




At this point we were drenched despite waterproofs and boots so headed back to the hotel.

Unfortunately that evening Compostgirl developed a very upset tum and we had to go home the next day a day early. Shame, both because she was ill and because as the weather turned absolutely glorious for the rest of the week.


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