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The Lazy Farmer

Lazy Composting: Let Nature Do Your Work

In my last post, Rule Breaking Gardening, we discussed how to break new gardening ground using lazy compost piles over the new area in which you want to garden.  In this post we’ll look at a couple of other ways to let nature do your work of composting – one fast, and one slow.  We’ll also review the original lazy compost pile method.

Quick Chicken Composting

Watching our birds one morning we realized that chickens like to turn compost, but we don’t.  Chickens delight in searching for worms and bugs.  Why were we turning our compost piles and stealing all this joy from our poultry flock?  Choosing a downhill corner of the permanent chicken yard, we edged the area with straw bales to isolate a corner created by the fence.  Adding chicken wire to the lower part of the fence kept what we threw in the corner from falling out.

You can do this too in an easy afternoon.  Your kitchen scraps get thrown in that pile.  Excess garden vegetables go in.  After a surprise rain shower, damp hay and straw go there as well.  Tomato and apple skins from canning end up there.  Dying flower and vegetable plants go in.  No matter what you throw in, the chickens are happy to dig through it looking for treats.  They eat some of the vegetable matter.  The rest they churn over and over, creating a perfect environment for worms and sow bugs who help them with the composting process.  Spring through fall your busy chickens will create loose, black compost in under two months. 

To use this wonderful dirt, keep two piles so that after a few weeks new scraps go in the new pile while the old one is finished up by the chickens before you use it.

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Super-Slow Bedding Compost

We raise chickens, guineas, and sheep.  The birds sleep in a coop at night where we use a deep-bedding system of pine shavings.  During the winter, and during early spring lambing, the sheep are housed in an open barn with a deep-bedding of straw.  All the animals create quite a lot of partially composted dirty bedding by the end of cold weather. 

My husband believes that anything can be made with pallets and Zip Ties.  Using these and chicken wire he has created a compost aisle between our coop and the sheep barn.  He lined each pallet with chicken wire to keep compost from spilling out.  Then he attached four pallets into a square using long, heavy duty Zip Ties.  The pallet bins stretch in a line between the two animal houses.

Each spring we muck out the barn and coop putting all the dirty bedding in a large round wire bin.  This lets in lots of air and rain.  Over the summer the contents compost down to less than half their original size.  My husband then turns it all out into the first pallet bin.  In the spring, the wire bin is filled again, and the first pallet bin gets turned over into the second pallet bin.  At each turning, he mixes in soybean meal or bone meal to speed the composting process.  By fall, Bin 2 goes into Bin 3, Bin 1 into Bin 2, and the large wire bin is turned into Bin 1.  By the third spring Bin 3 is ready to use directly on the garden, as beautiful black compost. 

This method takes a long time, but involves minimal work on your part.  If you have animals you must do something with their dirty bedding.  You might as well make lazy compost.

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Straw Bale Composting in the Garden (aka Lazy Compost Piles)

Lay out straw bales, two per side, in a square within your existing garden (or beside it if you are expanding your garden area).  Make the square two bales high.  In the center of the pile, insert an upright tube (slotted PVC or slotted downspout) to allow air to enter the center of the pile.   Now just throw in anything you have to compost: kitchen scraps, old vegetable plants with some of the dirt clinging to them, dirty straw, coffee grounds, whatever you need to toss out.  Avoid meat scraps and fat as you don’t want to attract animals into your garden.  As the first straw bale pile fills, build another right beside it.  Turn the first pile over into the second with a pitchfork and start filling the new pile.  After a year in the garden, and with only the one turning, this compost is ready to lay out on the garden rows in the late fall to finish composting in place before spring.  After a year, start the bottom of your new straw-bale-pile by putting in any rotted straw bales from an old pile.

Something more than compost is made using this method.  Each pile drenches the ground below it with super rich compost tea for a year.  Even if the area was grass covered when you started, after a year it will be black, rich earth full of worms and ready to be planted.  This is a great way to continually rejuvenate your garden.  And since much of your compost material comes from the garden it only takes a few steps to put things in the compost pile.

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Rule Breaking Gardening

Sheryl CampbellWe didn’t know what we didn’t know when my husband and I moved to our five acres of dreams in the countryside.  One of those dreams was to raise much of our own food.  We started with vegetables.  We got to know our neighbors, the local farmers who were already growing food with traditional methods.  They knew the way to go about getting good crops – just the way it had always been done.  But I have a minor character flaw:  I struggle with rules.

Since the rule was to raise one crop in each spot, I wanted to raise two or three; the rule said to tear up the soil each spring, so I wanted to leave it in place.  When I was told to plant in single straight lines, I broadcast seed; faced with scientific ways of composting I just built big piles in place in the garden. 

There was already a small garden plot on our property filled with rocks, an ancient fire pit, and broken beer bottles.  Clean up came first.  Then we used straw bales to enclose compost piles down the grassy areas on each side of the space.  Each year we’d fill one, turn it into the next pile and the next every few months, and so marched gradually around our garden, eventually tripling our space.  As each pile drenched the ground below it with compost tea the grass died off, happy earthworms abounded, and the ground became ready for planting.

We tried many ways of growing our food.  Being essentially lazy we ended up with a no-till approach simply top dressing the permanent rows with our own compost on a regular basis.  Using straw and grass clippings as a ground cover eliminated the most onerous of the hoeing chores.  Don’t you find weeding and hoeing the least pleasant of garden tasks?  Me too!  Follow me on future blog posts to learn more about the Lazy Farmer’s approach to the rural life.

Our garden grew, the vegetables and edible flowers flowed into the kitchen and onto our table, and we successfully grew multiple crops in each space throughout the year.  We intercropped, companion planted, grew trap crops (on accident!), and succession planted.  We were ready to take things to the next level.  So back we went to the local experts.

When we shared our dream to grow ten months of vegetables in each plot without row covers or greenhouses, we were told it couldn’t be done here in zone 6b.  With knowing smiles and pats on our little city heads, the local conventional farmers told us to go ahead and give it a try though.  Since they didn’t say that this was a rule, we did just that.  And it worked!  For the past several years we’ve harvested a wide variety of vegetables for ten months each year using intensively intercropped raised beds, covered by straw, never tilled, without benefit of cover.  I love it when impossible dreams come true.  And sometimes it helps not to know what you don’t know.  What do you dream about in your garden?


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