Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Taking compost up a notch

For several years I stopped composting--traditional compost, that is.  When we got our chickens, we discovered they could break down our usual composting materials much more quickly and easily than the compost bin ever did.  The bin went empty for a while, and I just gave everything to the chickens;  even stuff they didn't eat broke down very quickly thanks to their scratching and manuring.

However, I dusted off that old plastic compost bin last year to fill with excess chicken bedding (manure and straw).  Our flock numbers have been creeping up, and while I usually like to pile their bedding onto an empty garden bed, in the summer I had too much bedding and not enough beds!  So the composter got excess summer bedding, kitchen (and fabric, and paper) scraps, and a bit of our urine.  The chickens still got everything else.

This year I'm ramping it up again.  We have even more chickens (current count is 16..!).
Compost pile
I've built a second composter, made from scrap materials I had laying about (an old metal fireplace guard, wired into a square-ish shape), and filled it with leaves, bedding, and a few random garden trimmings.  It will also get the above mentioned scraps and urine.

Both composters are in chicken areas, and I will let the chickens do the turning for me;  I've already let them have the older pile (in the plastic bin), and they've happily flattened it for me over the course of a couple days.  I'll let them scratch it over for a few more, then pile it back in the bin for more cooking.  The newer wire bin has already begun breaking down;  I'll let the chickens scratch up that one very soon.

If I can, I will add a few more composters to my system;  right now one composter is next to the coop and the second is just outside the permanent chicken pen.  We keep almost all our organic (aka compostable) material on site, and get plenty of garden trimmings from fast growing perennial weeds such as elder, blackberry, and nettle in addition to the summer bedding:  I think we have enough material to fill at least one more bin, possibly two.

In fact, we have a third pile already:  part of the chicken's permanent pen is the site of our old, now drained pond;  we've been throwing extra garden waste in it for two years, so it's functioned as a big compost heap too.  The chickens certainly enjoy scratching it up to search for bugs, and it's got a thick layer of soil/compost under the top few inches of fresh material.  This heap doesn't heat up like regular compost; maybe I could make my third bin here, to get things cooking.

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