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.
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.
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.