Sunday, May 1, 2016
Compost the Easy Hard Way
Chicken waste and straw make excellent compost after time. It has to compost for at least a year because chickens eat meat. But, rabbit waste can be used immediately because they only eat plant material. This is a key to how soon you can use your composting efforts. It's an important point. That's why we have both rabbits and chickens. Plants such as vegetables need a booster when they start to flower and set fruit. We will use either composted chicken manure from the previous year, rabbit manure straight from the cages, or purchased composted vegetable/animal waste to side dress the plants. We will continue side dressing every couple of weeks until the harvest is finished.
Now, Mel will toss the contents of the kitchen compost bin out into our composting area. We grow our compost close to the garden bed. I've seen several articles and videos on using chickens to help your composting efforts. Our chickens are totally free ranging birds. They have no penned in area and are free to roam on our acreage. Here's the rub. They eat all the green manure (scraps-nitrogen source) except for the paper towels so we are left with only the carbon source in the pile. Yes, they do leave their droppings in the pile as they scratch it and turn the pile, but I noticed a marked reduction in the amount of nitrogen in the pile. The combination of the nitrogen and carbon decomposes (heats) the pile to promote decomposition into the rich, dark fertilizer we want.
Compost needs several things to work effectively. Namely air, water, heat, and balanced nitrogen and carbon. When an inbalance occurs like a skewed ratio of carbon and nitrogen the compost pile will stagnate instead of decompose. You get the nonbeneficial type of molds that just stink up the place. Granted it will decompose over time, but it will take longer. Compost is a living breathing entity.
So what's the answer in our case? We have two options as I see it. We can add the rabbit waste or we can fence off the pile from the chickens. Each one of these options have cons. Using the rabbit waste in the compost pile reduces the amount of nitrogen rich fertilizer we can use as a side dressing to boost plant growth and vegetables. Fencing the pile off means we will have to manually turn the pile periodically. Right now, we have a great abundance in rabbit manure so we may do both.
We keep a 5-gallon bucket half filled with rabbit manure and rain water to use as a liquid fertilizer. If a plant requires an instant booster to keep producing, like strawberries, we'll grab a half pint full of the rain water- rabbit poo mix for each plant. It's similar to compost tea or worm tea in properties. Within 24 hours, we see a difference in the plant we are growing. The plant will green up, and stand a little bit taller. With our strawberries, we water them in with this rain-rabbit poo mix every two weeks. It between we notice a boom of flowers for our bumble bees to pollinate, and set fruit.
We don't expect much from our garden this year. Growing an organic garden takes a few years. Our goal for this year is fresh eating. Although we may dry a few ears of corn for the chickens to enjoy this winter. Seems strange to most people that I'm talking about next winter when it's only Spring, but this is the road towards self-sufficiency. Next year's production is geared for six months of sustainability. The following year is a full year to meet our needs until the next growing season. The year after that, two years worth. Yes, I've got a 1-year, 2-year and up to 5-year plan for this homestead already. Planning is key. I'll probably post it here one day for you to see when there is not so much going on.
While Mel has been attempting this for the last two years, her lack of knowledge was holding her back. As for me, I grew 100-300 lbs of each of vegetables each year in my 30x40 organic plot. It did take years to produce that much on such small amount of garden, but it is doable.I should mention here that I started with a 10x10 plot and expanded it each year. It meant looking at what I had, what I wanted, patience, and planning.
But in the beginning of all of it, there was compost. Compost can make the sandiest or hard clay packed soil into a rich growing medium for tasty veges and fruit. It can also make rich soil much more richer and a powerhouse for plants. Manufactured, chemical fertilizers...who needs them? Not us!