Last night, after inviting a friend over for a chicken and biscuit supper and scary movies, I gave him a tour of "the farm". As we walked I articulated the use of each critter living at Jewel Street Paradise. It occurred to me then, that I had a pretty significant composting operation going now. I'm proud to say that not much food goes in the trash at my house anymore...and here is why.
The hens do a great job of gobbling up any of the food scraps that they are able to peck apart. Cooked pasta or rice, leafy greens, old bread, stale popcorn, leftover fish, egg shells and corn cobs are all completely consumed happily by them. I've even gone as far as to give them leftover hotdog buns from our many barbeques. The end result is a darn tasty egg and LOTS of high nitrogen manure!
Downside is that they can't eat harder vegetable matter, as it cannot be picked apart easily, so that has to go someplace else.
For the past few years, We've been putting many of the food scraps that the hens don't eat into the compost pile. We layer our food waste with yard debris and bedding from the chicken coop, watering and turning it regularly. We occasionally add spent grain that has fermented too much for the hens to eat. This really kicks the decomp process into overdrive. Right now, there are LOADS of worms at work, breaking down the food that fungi and bacteria have made available to them and creating an amazing soil conditioner that we will be able to add to our raised beds in the spring.
During the winter, I stop adding fodder to the compost pile. Low temperatures halt the decomposition process and any items added to the top will likely just sit there, frozen. Turning the pile in the winter can kill the critters that are keeping warm at the center of the pile. So I just pile lots of leaves and yard debris on top and let the center of the pile keep cooking. To pick up the slack I've been using a worm bin that was given to me by my lovely friend Liz Neves I add about a lb of compost every two days and they are just about ready to be put into a larger bin. I've added castings to house plants and sprinkled some into the furrows where I planted garlic this weekend and I feel optimistic that doing so will result in very happy plants. Worm castings are highly valued compost. I am very fortunate to have my own wriggly friends to help with added composting.
The most recent addition to the operation are our breeding trio of rabbits. I've not started breeding them yet, but they've been tremendously useful producers of manure. In addition to their organic formulated feed, they are given a daily ration of coarse vegetable matter....usually whatever the chickens won't eat (carrot ends, sweet potato, collard and kale ribs, celery scraps). Every few days I scrape the drop trays into resting garden beds or into the main compost pile. I've been piling manure and straw around the raspberry bushes this fall in the hopes that it gives them a boost in the spring, resulting in more growth, and more berries. As soon as the ground thaws, I'll turn the manure and straw in and get planting!
I realize that I am very fortunate to be able to have all of these great ways to minimize what I send to the landfill but people with no outdoor space can keep a series of worm bins in a closet and donate unspoiled food scraps to a local community garden for composting or livestock feed. Don't let limitations get in your way! Get composting any way you can!