03 May 2009

Compost ... before it's really compost

The compost we create around here begins it's life in a rather inelegant fashion: it starts out as a big stinky pile of disgustingly mucky hay and straw.

We use deep bedding during the winter - sometimes on purpose (like in the barn and the shelter), and sometimes it just kinda happens (as hay piles up in the feeding areas and such). In the spring, once everything thaws out, we have to dig down through the layers of bedding and waste until we find the dirt beneath, moving the mixture of soaked hay, straw and manure into a big pile so that it can compost into something fit to put on the garden.

Today we used the bobcat to get most of the muck scraped up - the space in front of the barn is almost entirely cleared, and the sheep's winter feed pen is now a foot deeper along one side. There's still a bit more to move, but The Reluctant Farmer was otherwise occupied this afternoon: there was a grass fire in the next county over, and our district was called to help. He's so much better than I am with the bobcat, I'll let him get the remainder of the muck.

I did use the pitchfork to clear out the barn (it has to be done by hand), which was a bigger job than I anticipated. Still, it's better to take a couple of hours in the spring and get it all cleared out at once than try to chip away at frozen chunks of straw and manure every day during the winter.

The barn windows are open to air out the ammonia, and a fresh layer of straw is down in the two main stalls. We'll be keeping the doors closed to keep the chickens out now, as they liked to roost on the stall barriers and they made a mess of things. The two infrequently used stalls still have to be mucked out, but that can wait.

The compost pile is huge - one long windrow just north of the barn. It will sit there until fall, when we'll move it over to a spot nearer the garden to finish cooking. By the end of summer, the pile will be about half the size it is now, and in another year, it'll be ready to go on the garden. The pile gets "turned" when we move it from point A to point B, which helps the composting process along, and we can assess the progress and see how much longer it'll need. With our long winters, we often need a bit more than a year to get nicely finished compost, although this year the ingredients of our pile are a bit richer (thanks to the cows) so it may cook down a little quicker. It'll be interesting to see what it does.

1 comment:

  1. Was that the Bruderheim fire? I saw the smoke from it on my way into the city today. It's so dry already, so early in the season.

    That is a lot of compost!


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