We usually try and compost earlier in the year when things are really dormant, like fall, but it’s never too late to compost. Well right now the garden is just coming out of being buried in snow so this is a good time. Compost is decomposed organic material made from garden waste and kitchen scraps from plant material. Do not use animal products such as meat, bones and dairy (or you’ll have rats). Over time this material breaks down into a rich, black material resembling a light fluffy soil. It is high in nutrients so when added to the garden beds it increases soil fertility and helps improve the soil structure. By improving the soil the plants thrive.
Here at Old Goat Farm we are fortunate to have the space to have a compost pile. We also have a lot of material that needs recycling so it is a win win situation. Even in a small garden you can have a compost bin or two which will benefit your garden and cut down on your waste.
The process of composting is relatively simple. You combine organic matter, moisture, oxygen and bacteria.
There are two types of organic materials, brown and green. Brown material consists of dead leaves, small twigs, straw, sawdust and wood chips. It is best to shred some of the larger pieces to speed up the composting process. The brown materials provide the carbon. The green material consists of fresh trimmings for the garden, fruit and vegetable scrapes, grass clipping and manure. The green material provides the nitrogen.
We generate a lot of all that material here at Old Goat Farm. Besides the yard waste we use the bedding from the goat pen and the chicken house. It ends up being a small mountain of debris.
The next element for the process is water. If your pile gets too dry the process is slowed down. The third element is oxygen which is introduced by the turning of the pile. When turning the pile is a good time to see if it is dry. The pile needs to reach a temperature of around 140 degrees. The heat is generated by the action of the bacteria, the fourth element, which is present in the debris. If your pile is turned every two or three weeks you will get usable compost in about six months.
At Old Goat Farm we are not quite so dilegent so the pile only gets turned seasonally. We turn it with the scoop on the tractor and make a pile about nine feet high. This is where our birds come in, doing the turning for the next three months. They love the compost pile and scratch away at it until it is down to about three feet. The chickens really do all the hard work looking for worms and bugs and in the process do most of the turning and shredding. That sure beats having to turn it myself with a pitch fork.
The pile still reaches the desired temperature and we still get the same result it just takes us a bit longer. When we use the compost from the back of the pile it is about two years old which is good since it has a lot chicken manure which runs a bit hot when too fresh.
Next is the good part, spreading it around the garden. Since I compost almost every year I only apply a couple of inches on top of the beds. You do need to be careful not to compost too close to the trunks of trees and shrubs. With the rains the nutrients slowly work their way into the soil and in the process feeds the plants and improves the soil. A side benefit is that the compost is also a good mulch which smothers some of the weed seeds so they don’t germinate. Cutting down on weeds saves you work later. In the vegetable garden I apply about three inches to the rows and rototill it in.
It is all part of the cycle of life and having the chickens doing the heavy lifting is a really good thing.