Poop. There’s a lot of it going on right now. One could argue that poop is not the beginning and then we could get into a chicken-or-the-egg discussion, but let’s leave philosophy out of it, at least for now. It’s spring on the farm. There’s a thousand things to do, but first before we set the first strawberry plant or sow the first carrot seed, poop must be addressed. My strategy for this year is multifold. We have been gifted (among a plethora of other things) a giant mound of composted manure. It’s not enough for the whole 2 acre garden, but it’ll get us started. Unfortunately, it’s situated in the middle of a mud pit. We attempted to scoop it out with the tractor earlier this week, but after about 3 loads it got stuck in a scene akin to Artax and Atreyu in the Swamp of Sadness. My husband’s mad tractor skilz retrieved it, thankfully. We ditched the idea for a trip into town for some purchased manure. It’s hard to spend money on poop. Especially when we need so much of it. So I’m thinking ahead for the future.
We have a neighbor who in a very short amount of time has become a big part of our lives. The husband teaches at my daughter’s tiny little school and 4 of his 11 children attend as well. His amazing wife home-schools a handful of the others, a couple of the teens go to the local high school. Then they have one in college and a 4 year old and she finds time to bake and stuff! They invited us to our first 4-H function, our teenager got invited to Teen Book Club and dinner at their house and I’ve been invited to learn to make cheese (anyone who knows me knows how excited I am about that prospect!). So anyway, they have a couple cows they milk and when you have a milking cow, you have… you guessed it, ok, yes, cheese, but the answer I’m looking for is… POOP!! She was more than happy for us to haul it away and even offered some free teenager labor. I wrangled up a trunk full of old feed bags I found in the barn, and in the basement, and on the porch, and in the chicken shed, hooked up the flat bed trailer, grabbed my teenager and a shovel and we scooped poop for about an hour one afternoon. After exchanging a fresh loaf of banana bread and with our backs in knots, we brought it back to the farm and I added it to the compost pile layered with saw dust… That’s another story.
We have a pile of lumber in the barn of which my husband’s father has been keeping for many, many years. My father happens to be a wood worker, so we brought it to him to plane (shaving off the top layers to smooth it out and show the grain of the wood) and then we could see what we had. Turns out, we have some beautiful pieces! Cherry, oak, butternut and bird’s-eye maple! Oh baby! Mama needs a new kitchen! Anyway, this process of course produced saw dust, so we loaded the lumber back into the trailer and piled the bags of sawdust on top and that’s what I layered in-between the manure. Add some kitchen scraps and chicken litter…. that’s another story…
We have babies!!!! 20 of them! We inherited 7 laying chickens that are wonderful little critters, nice as can be and really pull their weight when it comes to producing eggs, but if we’re going to go to market, we need more than 7 a day! In the interest of starting small, I only got what our current coop can handle… 8 more layers, (warning: this is how chicken math happens) but then they had meat chickens… so I got 10 Cornish Rocks, and then the guy talked me into a pair of ducks. My husband loves duck meat and duck eggs are huge, so I said ok… lesson learned. Those things have dwarfed the chicks 4 fold and if I didn’t know how to count I would think they were eating a chick a day; they are so huge!!!! AND MESSY!!! The sales guy said I could raise them right along-side the chicks, and mind you this isn’t my first rodeo, but holy water usage! They really need to be raised separately with some kind of water bath for them to play in. As it stands, I’m making it work (as in a lot of work keeping the litter dry)… but I’ll do it differently if I ever get ducklings again… If. They are pretty cute though and what personality!
With the abundance of chicken litter plus the other additions, we now have a 4 foot mound of nasty grossness that will over time get turned into ‘black gold’ compost that will hopefully be enough to fertilize the whole garden come fall. (Most places take longer to make compost, it took 2 years in Arizona, but the break down process is accelerated here because of the moisture and relative temperatures). It’s going to be a beautiful sight and I’m rather proud of the locally sourced ingredients. Everything I’ve read about organic farming says it’s more about building healthy, fertile soil rich in organic matter and that starts right here.
Updating to let you know about a week after I finished this pile, it snowed. We got about 6 inches which is pretty respectable for the end of April. The next day I peeked out the window and noticed something… the compost pile! It was the only thing NOT covered in 6 inches of snow. That tells me something… it’s working! The breakdown of organic materials creates heat. This is how you can tell you have a good mixture of ingredients. I’m really excited, more excited than perhaps one should get about such things, but I am.