My past attempts at composting? Piling wheelbarrow-loads of bedding and droppings from the goat shed in a pile, and harvesting the black soil a few years later.
Now I need a great deal of compost quickly, ready to use this fall so that I can fill the rest of the raised beds I'm building and double the size of my garden.
This spring I quickly used up all the compost I had access to. I started with a small pile from a previous shed-cleaning (hubby had robbed this pile in order to fill in the holes in the yard that the dogs had dug, serious holes that you might lose a pickup-truck in). I shoveled out the uninhabited buck pen. I deep-cleaned the chicken coop. I mixed in well-aged (but not composted) horse manure.
All this barely filled the three raised beds I've built, and I had to buy several bags of commercial compost and what was called "top soil" to finish off the last bed. I won't waste my money on that stuff anymore, I wasn't at all happy with the quality of either the compost or what they called top soil.
So I've gotten serious about composting. I have seven more raised beds to fill as soon as the heat breaks this fall.
I started with a small pile of grass clippings, weeds, and kitchen waste, adding more material almost every day. Although you can make a container to hold your compost ingredients, so far I've just piled it on the ground. I turn the pile once a week and it's much easier if it isn't surrounded by a container of some sort.
After awhile the pile was large enough to begin working and it was hot inside! I was so excited that it was actually working.
Pet hair, feathers, eggshells, coffee grounds, goat/chicken/duck manure, autumn leaves, weeds I've pulled (without seeds), shredded paper, dead plants, more kitchen waste - anything and everything that can be composted has ended up in my pile. No matter how small the amount is, every day I use the pitchfork to make a hole in the middle of the heap and add whatever I've collected that day, then cover it back up. It's hot in there, and it makes me smile.
Even the soil underneath and around the pile has improved. It used to be hard to stick the pitchfork into the ground when I was finished using it; now it's easy to sink it into the soil.
My chickens aren't happy though. They used to get all the table scraps, and now they only get the ones that contain meat or dairy, which you're not supposed to put in your compost pile. The goats don't get as many treats now either, but I still give them the weeds I pull that have gone to seed, and the trimmings from the rosebushes so I won't be surprised by thorns when I turn the pile.
Although honestly, it's not going to fill seven raised beds. I need MORE. At our previous home in Michigan, our city had a composting facility where we could shovel up as much compost as we needed for free. I've asked our county commissioners, but we don't have that benefit here (although I'm trying to convince them we should!)
Without going into the science behind composting, in simple terms you can turn waste into great soil by mixing carbon and nitrogen together, add some moisture and air, and let microbes do the rest.
Ideally you should add at least three parts of carbon-rich materials, known as "brown" items, to one part nitrogen-rich materials, known as "green" stuff. I haven't been too scientific about it; as long as the pile isn't too wet and soggy or too dry, and it's hot in the middle, it's doing ok.
I've caught myself driving past a yard full of fallen pine cones, or passing someone who is cutting grass and thinking what a good addition that would be to my compost pile. I've gone a little overboard, I think.
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