“Buzz, buzz, buzz!” My ears perk up at the annoying sound, and my eyes that would much prefer to stay shut, blink open knowing that soon my backyard chickens will be singing their egg song and waking up a small portion of suburbia. I immediately grab whatever mobile device is close at hand and check my email and Facebook–my brain’s daily breakfast. Once my brain has been fed and I’ve realized all that’s on my to-do list for the day, I drag myself out of bed, hoping that I can accomplish something—anything–from my to-do list.
It appeared first in From Scratch Magazine’s February/March 2014 issue.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a lazy homesteader. I’m also the one whose idea all of this was, so by virtue of being the “brain” of this .18 of an acre homestead, it is my job to make my body follow my brain right into my homesteading duties. Every. Single. Day. My husband works very hard each day as a carpenter at a nearby airport (and on weekends if I need him to build any chicken coops, rabbit hutches, or animal runs); and the kids….well, they are kids (15 and 22yo) and could care less about homesteading at this point in their plugged-in lives.
It’s pretty much up to me to each day to keep things running smoothly, which for this lazy homesteader with so many other hobbies and interests can be a difficult task.
This makes it necessary for me to find ways to cut corners without losing quality—and if I can increase the quality of what I’m doing in less time, I have found a new habit and a fabulous way to keep one part of my postage-stamp-of-a-homestead running like a well-oiled machine.
One of the ways I increase quality and decrease time spent is to compost directly into my garden. I learned to do this quite by accident, and let me tell you, “me + garden composting” is truly a match made in heaven.
This accidental habit happened because of my inability to handle our compost piles. You see, we have a couple of those compost bins that come as a really long rolled up rectangle that you screw together with plastic screws—sort of a “choose your size” type deal.
Because it is my habit to think that bigger is better, we screwed them together on the last holes, which made them about 3 feet in diameter—plenty of room to fit plenty of composting material! Great right? I thought so until I filled them both up completely and couldn’t remove the screws! My poor compost is still trapped in those bins. (On the bright side, I should have some lovely black gold once I wrestle it out of those rectangles.)
I had to come up with a Plan B, and by golly, I like Plan B way better than Plan A because it is much easier and cuts out the middle steps from compost material collection to garden.
This method works best when there are multiple garden plots on your property. I have four—one for herbs and three for vegetables– so there is always an empty plot that has just been cleared out and is ready for its nutrients to be replenished.
Because they are all raised beds, they often need their volume replenished as well, which is a fabulous use of all of the chicken and rabbit poop, shavings, hay, and leftover uneaten veggies that I collect from our rabbit hutch and chicken coop throughout the week.
Each day when I clean out the rabbit hutch tray and refresh the chicken coop, I scoop all the poop and soiled shavings with a dustpan into an 18 gallon plastic blue container. Once it’s full, I carry it over to the composting garden, each day moving from one dumping site in the garden to another, until the garden is evenly filled. I go ahead and add small kitchen scraps if I will be composting this garden for more than a couple of months.
I keep adding material to it, for 2-4 weeks before I will be planting in it. The reason for this is because I want to give the chicken poop and any rabbit urine time to completely compost (otherwise it will burn the tender plant leaves), as well as any kitchen scraps that need time to break down. I don’t get scientific about it at all—that’s just not me—rather I just add what I need to and let it compost right in the raised bed.
Backyard Chickens to the Rescue!
As if this wasn’t easy enough, I don’t even turn my compost—my backyard chickens do that for me! Lucy and Ethel not only make my composting job extremely simple and save me tons of time, but they save me money on feed.
They remove unwanted grubs from my garden bed that would be harmful to my seedlings, as well as unwanted seeds that might otherwise sprout in my garden, stealing all those lovely nutrients from my growing vegetables. Grubs, worms, and leftover food items (saving those that are toxic to chickens—see list below) provide a great source of nutritional content, not to mention hours of pecking fun for our feathered friends.
Because I use my chickens as composting partners on a regular basis, I make sure that I avoid adding the following items to my compost bed:
• Avocado and pits
• Uncooked potato (especially green)
• Tomato plants
• Stone fruit pits
• Foods high in salt
• Apple seeds
• Alcohol (or foods that contain it)
• Dried beans (uncooked)
• Caffeinated drinks
• Food you wouldn’t eat (moldy or rotten food, etc.)
Using compost in my garden has revolutionized the volume of produce I receive from my planting efforts, and composting directly into my garden has done the same for my gardening efforts. It has saved me so much work, time, money, and has given my chickens a place to forage for the nutrition they wouldn’t otherwise receive from their daily laying mash. The nutrition they receive transfers to nutritious meals for our family, and with all of the other benefits of using this method, this method is a huge “win” in my gardening notebook!