Our composting systems are far from perfect, but they do yield some nice rich dirt a couple of times a year. I have three dedicated compost areas.
One is a plastic worm tower with the different levels, and I collect from that every three months or so.
The second is a 3x3 redwood bin that my dad made for me, and to which I add worms every other year. This is where all the non-chickeny kitchen scraps go (non-chickeny just means the things that chickens won’t or shouldn’t eat, like garlic peels, coffee filters, paper towels, whole eggshells, etc). I collect a bucket or two from the bottom of this bin every six months or so.
The third pile is in the chicken run, and this is where all the yard scraps go - leaves, old plants, stems, etc. I also add soiled chicken bedding here. It gets knocked down by the chickens every couple of days and strewn about and scratched in and pooped in, and then I hill it up again. Repeat, repeat, and repeat. The chickens turn the compost pile for me, in other words.
To reach the good, composted stuff here, I have to move all the loose, fresh stuff off the top with a garden fork. Then I can dig down deep and find the gold. I sift out all the big pieces - bark, sticks, and the occasional rock, with a screen Tom made to fit on top of our wheelbarrow. More often then not, I end up balancing it on a garden trug because the trugs are easy to maneuver in and out of the chicken run.
It’s a little herky, but I make it work. In the summer, decomposition moves very slowly despite the heat of the pile, because it’s very dry. But still - down deep under the pile - things are cooking. The microbes never stop working for you. They are eating and pooping constantly, aren’t they terrific!
And so, I start with this….
… and I end up with this. Enough to fill an entire 3x8 bed.
This bed won’t be used until March, when my asparagus crowns arrive. At that point, I’ll dig out some trenches in which to put the crowns, and fill it back up again, and likely will add another layer of compost at that time. Meanwhile, I watered it well and covered the entire surface with coffee chaff, to protect it from erosion, compaction, and the sun.
I may not be making perfect compost, but as one of my lecturers (Dr. Stephen Andrews, UC Berkeley Soil Science professor) once said to me, “the best compost is the one you make at home!” Already inoculated with all our good local microbes, and made with our own plant and food residues, which means no waste.
If you’re not already composting, I encourage you to find a neglected corner of your yard, and start a pile today. Even if you don’t grow food, the finished product will work wonders on your ornamental garden plants. You won’t need any fertilizer, and you’ll be taking food waste out of the municipal landfills. There is no ‘perfect’ system - whatever you make will work great!