With spring just around the corner we are getting things ready for our garden here at the Yardstead. Currently the garden is bare with the exception of a strip of onions sticking up in the middle. We will be adding compost in a few days and our plan is to till it in well and then cover the entire garden with a heavy layer of mulch. The compost bin shown here on the left is pretty full, but not nearly enough to cover our entire garden. Luckily a neighbor of the Yardstead works for a local Ag Center and maintains a huge pile of old shavings once used to bed stalls for horses or cattle. They turn the pile regularly with a front end loader. Althought the shaving are resistant to rot they do slowly break down. There is a great deal of manure and other organic matter mixed in and the shaving help make it more coarse and airy. Last time (about 5 years ago) I added this compost to the garden it took 4 loads to cover it sufficiently. I plan to add the same amount this time.
The compost in the bin will be...
used for potting plants and flower beds. I built this bin from culled fence pickets and landsape timbers. I have been pretty pleased with so far and it has been in production for over a year now. It does require manual turning though. I usually accomplish this by open and removing the door on the front then raking out all the contents. I then close the door and shovel it back in. It sounds pretty labor intensive and it is, but labor is part of our culture at the Yardstead. I do plan however to make an identical bin attached on the left side, so that I can shovel the compost directly from one bin into the other. This will eliminate the step of raking it out and add capacity.
Some of our chickens range free over the Yardstead and their favorite place to lay eggs has become the compost bin. I have'nt turn the pile in months or added much except some dry leaves and food scraps. I plan to build a wooden laying box on the outside of the bin soon, because there will be too much activity inside the bin in the spring. It has made it easy to find the eggs though.
Normally I add grass clipping and garden and food waste directly to the compost pile but recently I have changed the procedure. Now I am tossing everthing into the chicken pen for them to pick through first. I simply toss everything in, then rake out the debris once is a while and toss it in the compost bin. The chickens eat what they can (which is a surprising variety) and add manure. It is providing a good suplement to their feed at the moment and may befcome their primary source of food in the spring when I begin mowing and have an abundance of clippings. The chickens in the picture above are eating some expired cottage cheese. They love food scaps but be warned, heavily spiced foods can add strange flavors to their eggs. I can remember a particular morning when I had some strage tasting eggs. I remembered later that I had fed two quart jars of old homemade pickles to the chickes a few days before. Well this article is supposed to be about compost and not chickens but there will be many articles about chickens to follow.
The plans are set for the compost transfer and I will be reporting as we go along. It will be a slow process but I believe we can do it in one day. We will be loading the trailer with a bobcat ,but unloading it onto the garden one shovel full at a a time. Hopefully we can start early in the morning and finish late in the afternoon. Next will be the addition of a heavy layer of mulch. As I mentioned in a previous article, for mulch we will be using wood chips left behind by the tree service who clears the local right of ways. We hope an eight inch layer of this mulch can help reduce weeds and conserve moisture to reduce the time and resources we need to put into the garden. Time will tell and I will be reporting our progress soon.