This year I am trying to grow food in the winter months. This seems like a critical step in converting my garden into a homestead. I’ve always had winter blooming plants like witch hazel, camellia, stinking hellebore and early bulbs like crocus. But winter food growing is not something I’ve really tried much. Other than harvesting lemons from my potted lemon tree and growing salad greens inside, under grow lights. This year, however, I am going to try arugula, endives, leeks, spinach, lettuce and Swiss chard all outside in a new cold frame. One of the things I’m most excited about is is using compost from the girls. This is the first time I’ll really be trying this.
When I first got the hens I had such high hopes for all of their contributions to the homestead. In my mind they would support our homestead by:
- Providing eggs check ✅
- Spreading mulch – sort of
- Turning compost ✅
- Providing turbocharged compost from their poop and used bedding
What I didn’t expect so much but got was:
- Tremendous Joy ✅
- Limited mosquito control ✅
Using chicken-enabled compost has been harder than I thought. But that’s less about the chickens and more about my keeping of them. And the compost. On the good side, the ladies really do a fantastic job of turning over the compost and actually speed up the composting of the various things I put in there. And that’s really awesome. The more challenging thing for me has been keeping the compost in the bins so that I can actually use it in the garden. My compost bins are comprised of five old wooden pallets standing on end and tied together with wire. Two pallets standing up in the back and three coming out perpendicular to the back two makes two open bins. I’ve never wanted to close up the open sides before. Open I can just add raw materials and turn the heap as needed. With the girls though, that all changed. They do a great job of turning the compost in part because they scratch it all about. Well, by scratching it all about, they scratch it all over the place. That’s a problem for me. In my very small garden, the compost bins are tucked cheek to jowl between a fence and a table – no room for me to easily retrieve or use what the ladies scratch about.
To be able to use what they were making, I first had to better contain it on the ‘closed,’ palleted sides. For these sides, I inartfully tacked/propped hardware mesh to line the inside of the bins. This doesn’t quite keep the girls out- but does keep most of the compost in on those sides. Next, the real problem, I had to cover the open sides. I started by just hanging hardware mesh from screws I put in the pallets to keep the compost in. That didn’t look very very good. But perhaps more importantly, it didn’t work very well. The ladies really do mess about in there with abandon. They will push and scratch and squeeze to get what they are looking for. So the hardware mesh would just kind of bow out from the two screws. This then created a hole where much of what was inside would pour out of the bin. Also, here is where I need to mention that none of my property is what you would call level. So what poured out would get mixed into the mulch outside of the bin and then roll (?) down the slope which sort of ends at the base of the rain barrel that collects the runoff from the coop. Not meaningfully retrievable.
I needed actual doors. And, as usual, I wanted it to look presentable. And, as usual, I wanted to reuse or re-purpose materials I could find in my yard. That led me to build these doors:
They are not glorious. I am still considering painting them. And it turns out that the pallets I’ve been using for years are starting to rot. So, none of it is what I would really call structurally sound. But, that said, it holds in the scratching euphoria from the girls. And has let me actually harvest some compost for use in my cold frame. So, all in all, very exciting!