Composting

Composting presents one way—perhaps the most important way—of supporting the web of life. Compost restores structure and nutrients to the soil, increases the ability of plants to absorb minerals, and boosts biodiversity among beneficial bacteria, fungi, and microfauna in the garden.

Finished compost ready for the garden bed.

Finished compost ready for the garden bed.

Composting is easy. We throw food scraps unpalatable to our chickens (and worms) in a salvaged plastic bucket. Fruit and vegetable cores and stems, egg shells, animal bones, spent coffee grounds and tea leaves, excess kombucha mothers and kefir grains. Everything organic goes in.

Compost bucket

Food scraps too bulky or unsafe for chickens go into the compost bucket.

We built a three-tiered compost bin behind the shed in a back corner of the yard. From equinox to solstice, one compartment actively receives food scraps, green yard waste, and chicken manure—all sources of nitrogen. Occasionally we’ll add dried leaves, straw, or cardboard and newspapers—carbon sources—to keep the ratio of carbon to nitrogen about 30:1.

A three-tiered compost bin using scrap and salvaged lumber.

A three-tiered compost bin using scrap and salvaged lumber.

About once a month, we’ll use a pitchfork to mix the active pile of food scraps around to increase air circulation and accelerate decomposition. Shortly thereafter, the pile gets hot toward the middle as microbial activity accelerates.  Our piles are 36 inches deep, high, and wide—about the smallest possible size to achieve the mass for the heating effect.

Halfway through its breaking down cycle, woody stems, straw, and paper scraps are visible in the compost.

Halfway through its breaking down cycle, woody stems, straw, and paper scraps are visible in the compost.

The moment the equinox or solstice hits, we retire that active pile and shut the lid on its compartment. That pile rests till the next season (90 days safely ages out possible pathogens from chicken manure). The three-tiered compost system enables us to have one pile actively receiving fresh organic waste, one resting, and one full of finished compost.

Finished compost is full of beneficial earthworms, millipedes, sowbugs, beetles, and mites

Finished compost is full of beneficial earthworms, millipedes, sowbugs, beetles, and mites.

We use finished compost to start seeds, ensure the success of transplants, and strengthen existing garden beds. Our fruit trees also appreciate the extra soil fertility. Because the yard was entirely flat upon purchasing the property, we’re also using the finished compost to create small slopes for microclimates.

Compost with earthworm

Compost with a surprised earthworm.

Terrestrial life starts with the health of the soil. I encourage anyone with the yard space for a small compost pile to try something. It will decompose eventually, regardless of whether the carbon to nitrogen ratio is perfect. Just be mindful of neighbors in deciding where to start composting.

Also, don’t be surprised if composting feels a little profound. Because it is.

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