Composting at Home

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We are still in the middle of winter but it is the season to start planning and even planting seeds for the garden.  There is a lot of thought and planning that goes into growing healthy plants. Good soil is important when planting your flowers or produce. Composting is an easy way to start. We started composting about 7 years ago, and it is amazing the difference it makes in the plants that we grow. My husband has people asking him how we compost and why are garden dirt is always rich and pliable.  He tells them it’s what you put in the dirt that makes it good planting soil. It would be nice if we could all wake up, plant our seeds and in 60 to 90 days have a beautiful garden to feast upon. When it comes to gardening, it is work and there is a science behind it. So, I asked my nerdy science sweet man to give some easy pointers on composting.  So here is Composting 101!  

As you know we raise chickens. And one of the bi-products of raising chickens is chicken poo!  Chicken waste is very high in nitrogen content, and is a great source of fertilizer for growing things.  However, in our region of the country there is a severe problem with excess chicken excrement that turns into run-off and enters the local water system.  Several states within our region, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas… have even sued each other over the polluted waters from excess chicken excrement.  So how do you deal with a very stinky situation?

We turned to making our own compost.  Along with all the chicken waste that is produced, we have a multitude of other biodegradable nitrogen rich scraps that we mix into our compost.  If you have spent any time on this blog, you know that Farm Sis can find a use for about any leftover, but there are those things that even she can’t re-use.  Egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable and fruit scraps, go to the compost pile. Any fresh food scraps from vegetables and fruits go to the chickens.

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One of the main challenges with a compost pile is ensuring that you have enough carbon material to offset the nitrogen that is being added.  If you do any research on composting on the internet, they refer to the Greens and the Browns.  Greens are the nitrogen mix of the compost pile, the items we have listed above, chicken poo, scraps of food, even fresh cut grass!  The Browns are the carbon material, this can include fallen leaves, dead grass, old plant clippings, paper, etc.…  Since we have an abundance of greens at our place we must find a way to supplement the browns.  As a result, we have the kids gathering leaves from all over to utilize in the compost.  However, there are only so many leaves, and they are good insulators for flower beds.  We use pine shavings and saw dust in our chicken coop for keeping the smell down, and making it easier to clean.  This goes into the compost with the chicken excrement, but too much “woody” material like saw dust, can make your compost pile turn into mats of what appears to be rotten compressed board. So, if you use wood chips beware.  This year we have started to try another source of carbon, and really focused on using paper in our compost.  We have a little paper shredder that we bought many years ago, and it has turned out to be a real benefit.  We shred everything we can, old school material, envelopes from bills, lots of junk mail, anything paper that we can get into it.  In fact, last week, we shredded some target paper that we brought home from the gun range.  One warning about this, do not put paper that has a waxy coating in your compost pile as it is not intended to break down well, and will turn into giant clumps in your compost.

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So how do you get good compost? WORK!  To start, you want to find a place close to where you will be using you compost to store it.  Find some sort of container, the size will vary depending on the amount of compost you plan to have, and make sure that it has room to breathe.  If you use a plastic container, make sure it has a lot of holes in it!  Layer brown and green materials, making sure to moisten each layer well with water, this is important to keep the micro-organisms moist so they stay alive.  Do not soak them as they will drown.  Then the only thing to do is turn your compost.  Commercial composters are normally on a stand and allow you to rotate a barrel of some sort to keep the compost material mixed.  But here, we do it the old-fashioned way with a shovel! (The boys look so forward to this each week, NOT.)  As with most projects, timing is everything, so the more you turn the compost the better it will be.  We try to turn ours at least once a week.  By turning I mean mixing it all together, and adding new layers of green and brown materials to your pile.  There is a lot of science in composting, and it does take time and effort.  As mentioned before, there is a lot of information out on the internet, and great ideas for compost bins.  Being able to clean up your place, and re-use most of the “garbage material” to grow produce or flowers sure does save you some money in the spring.  You don’t have to worry about buying chemical laden fertilizers when you start planting.

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-Farm Sis’ Man-

 

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