Posts Tagged With: Boot camp

Remedial Composting

When I did my composting boot camp posts we were under a few feet of snow here in Denver.  I was unable to get outside and get any useful pictures of the compost bin in progress for you.  But over the last two weekends, mother nature has been much more cooperative.  We were able to get out to the bins, and coupled with the spring garden cleaning we did, we had plenty of stuff to add to it.

Both bins were pretty full.  The bin on the right had been covered, and I was hoping that it would be full of finished compost, ready to go.

Instead, it was nearly done.  But there were a lot of sticks and twigs in it from the tree last summer that hadn’t broken down yet.  Rick raked it all out of the bin, while Henry and I collected as many sticks as we could.  The plan is to power compost this stuff so it’ll be ready to go into beds by April or early May.

Here is a close up of that almost ready compost:

It looked pretty good, but there were still a lot of big pieces that I wanted to get broken down before we put it in the garden.

The left side of the bin is where we added our kitchen scraps all winter, fall garden materials and sod this spring that we removed from the edges of our flower and herb beds where it was encroaching.  We didn’t turn the pile over the winter at all, and it had many fabulous layers.

See all that beautiful finished compost at the bottom?  That is what I want!  But there is an awful lot of other stuff on top of it.  So we used the now empty bin on the right side to mix up the stuff on the left side all the way down to the finished stuff, which we will keep separate.

We started moving it over…

Not pictured is a bunch of dried grass and leaves and yard clippings that will get mixed in with the layers.  It’s off to the left of the frame.  We had more stuff than we could immediately fit into the bins without doing this process first.

So we tossed part of that top layer of grass and sod into the empty bin on the right, and part of it got tossed in front of the bin, so we could mix in other layers too.  As we moved layers over, we had H grab big armfuls of dry leaves and dry grass to mix in with the stuff coming from the left bin.

As the right-hand-side pile grew, we put the front boards back in to keep it contained.

We watered the pile with the hose as we went.  Remember, it takes water, air, carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) to make a great compost pile.  It was a hot day and the week was supposed to be plenty hot, so I wasn’t worried about making it too wet.

Where the layers were already very wet from the winter snows, we added lots of dry stuff.  If anything was too big, we tried to break it up as well.  The layer from last year’s garden was pretty wet, so it was good to mix in some dry brown material as we went. We were trying to balance it out. 

Also as we got to the middle layers we mixed in some of that first stuff that went over the side of the bin.  The idea it to get it somewhat uniform, so it all rots together, as opposed to the layers we originally had.

You never know what you’ll find in your compost bin.  I found this perfectly grown beet with a weird, crunchy, light-starved top.  It grew somewhere, way down in the pile.

We continued layering and watering and mixing and putting the boards of the compost bin back up until we had reached that finished compost down at the bottom of the left bin.  Then we pulled all that great, finished compost out of the bottom of the bin.

Now we had two piles.  Finished compost on the left, nearly finished compost on the right, and an empty bin.

We could use all that compost on the left, but I really didn’t have a place ready for it yet.  I decided to layer it back in with the nearly done stuff on the right with some of the top soil that we had from the bed edging.

Rick and I grabbed shovels and tossed both piles into the empty bin.

We watered it and then covered it with heavy black plastic. Over the next few weeks, it should cook down to great, useable compost ready to feed this springs’ gardens.

We did all of this work on the 11th.  I’ve checked the left-hand bin pretty regularly. Some days I uncover it and watered it; I’ve mixed it again once with a rake and my hands (so I could feel how wet and warm it was/wasn’t) since then already.  I want to keep it hot and damp, but not too wet.  Like a wrung out sponge or chocolate cake.  We’ve been adding our kitchen scraps and other yard waste to the bin on the right.

That is what composting looks like in action… the down and dirty work of spring cleaning.  ;)

About these ads
Categories: Compost, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

The Other Cleaners

I mop and clean the windows vinegar and water, and I use baking soda to scrub everything else.  But what about the rest of the house?  I don’t make everything we clean with around here.  We buy a few products to keep everything else clean and as chemical free as possible.

Laundry:  I used to make our own laundry detergent using a recipe of grated soap, borax and washing soda.  I thought it worked great for a while and we saved a bunch of money… until our clothes started to STINK.  All of our clothes.  All the time.  It was super gross.  So now we use store-bought stuff.  I’ve tried pretty much every brand because I have very sensitive skin.  Right now we’ve settled on Whole Foods Market brand Green Mission Organic Laundry Detergent for all our clothes and Rockin Green for the cloth diapers.  In the past we’ve been happy with Charlie’s Soap for both, as well. For the diapers, I use a few drops of tea tree oil when I need to deodorize.

Fabric Softener:  If I had my way, it’d just be dryer balls (when we use the dryer), but the husband can’t seem to give up dryer sheets.  He even makes special trips to buy them all by himself.  I don’t use them, but since we tag team everything, including laundry, they still get used about half the time.  They are at least fragrance free, but not really ideal.

Dishwasher:  Like the laundry, I tried making my own for a while.  I used Borax and washing soda with white vinegar as a rinse aid.  But after a while there was terrible build up on all of our dishes.  Nothing looked clean, everything had a hard, chalky film on it.  I could even remove the film with hand washing.  I thought all my glasses were etched.  I went back to commercial detergents, everything from Seventh Generation to Cascade.  I was thinking my dish washer was broken.  Then somewhere, on some random forum, someone said try Lemi Shine.  It is for hard water, and it WORKS.  It is phosphate free, and I only need to use it periodically.  And I use the phosphate free tab detergent things.  It fixed everything; we’re sparkling again.  What do you use?

Shampoo:   Still looking for a good natural shampoo.  I tried the baking soda thing.. . yeah, no.  What do you use?

Body moisturizer:  I used to sell natural soaps, scrub and body butters by a local company, but they went out of business.  But there is a new company here in Colorado making a wonderful body butter called Simple Sundries.  My friend Genny started it after she couldn’t find a good moisturizer.  She’s obsessive about ingredients.  This stuff is awesome, and I’m not just saying so because she’s my friend (though a shameless plug in never a bad thing, is it?).  The butter is sooo creamy and is a great moisturizer.  It cleared up C’s awful cradle cap within two days.  I use it on my legs after shaving, and it is very lubricating, if you catch my drift.  You can get it with different essential oil combinations or unscented.

Soap:  I use Vermont Soap company bar soaps, which can also be bought from Simple Sundries.  They are facial quality, non-drying and organic.

Toothpaste: We like JASON PowerSmile All Natural Whitening Toothpaste.  It’s the only toothpaste we’ve found that is fluoride and SLS free, doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners and actually gets our teeth clean.  All of the other brands we tried left a weird filmy build up.  Yuck.

Deodorant:  Based on a recommendation from Deanna Duke, author or The Crunchy Chicken blog and the book The Non-Toxic Avenger, we tried the Crystal Body Deodorant Stick.  And by we, I mean Rick.  And it works great.  It has no smell, and leaves no stain on his white undershirts.  And he really sweats at work sometimes.  I have not read her book yet, but plan to.

What green products do you use at home to keep things squeaky clean?  Have any recommendations for me?

Categories: Simple Living, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Green Cleaners in the Kitchen

The kitchen is the urban homestead’s work horse.  And boy do I ever give my old porcelain sink a workout.  It gets pretty stained and dingy and needs a good deep cleaning every week.  Like the bathroom, I basically use white vinegar and baking soda to get the job done.

I start by rinsing the sink, and then I sprinkle baking soda in (again, like many people use Comet).  I drink coffee and my sink gets easily stained.  I grab a sponge and start scrubbing.  Baking soda is actually pretty abrasive and it cuts odors.  Just a little water on your sponge makes this pretty effective.

After the scrub down, I rinse the sink again, plug it and pour in a little white vinegar to take care of any staining that I couldn’t get with the baking soda.  I leave it to soak there while I take care of the back of the sink.  I use a butter knife wrapped in a dishcloth with a little baking soda to get the edges and hard to reach places.

Or for areas that need more muscle, I use a knife/sponge combo.  Like the crack between the sink and the wall, under the window sill.  It’s impossible to get my hand back there – the butter knife does the trick.

By the time I’m done with all of that, the vinegar has done its job in the sink.  So I drain it and move on to the rest of the kitchen.

I use baking soda to scrub my stove top, and dish soap that cuts grease to clean the back of the stove and the toaster oven.  For the counters I have vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle that I spray over all the counters, let sit for a bit and then wipe off.

But recently, I had a stain on my counter that white vinegar couldn’t take care of.  Bleach didn’t cut it either.  It was rust from our cast iron griddle.  What got it finally was lemon juice.

Lemons are powerful.  They can cook shrimp or fish in their juice, they kill germs and bacteria, and the are amazing bleaching agents.  I have proof.  First I squeezed a bit of juice on the stain and rubbed it around.  Then I let it sit for a couple minutes.

I was afraid it wasn’t working.  I sprinkled on some baking soda.  Salt would have been better but I already had the soda out.  It made it all fizzy, and probably neutralized the acid a bit, but I wanted its scrubbing power and figured it had set there, full strength long enough.

So I scrubbed it, and scrubbed it.  And…. it worked.

Then I threw the old, dead, juice-less lemon into the garbage disposal and ran it with water to make it smell nice.  Kitchen cleaned.

What do you use to clean your kitchen?

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Green Cleaners in the Bathroom

This week’s boot camp is about green cleaners.  Lots of urban homesteaders are into doing things with less chemicals, more frugally, and more self-reliance.  Using or making some green cleaners around the house is a great skill to add to the homesteading arsenal.

The thing is, I don’t really use any cleaners in the house.  I use good old baking soda and white vinegar, and lemon juice.  And I think these have been talked about an awful lot on the internet already.  So while I can wax on about how effective these normal household items are to clean with, I am not sure I have much new information to offer as far as ingredients go.  Here it is, none the less.

I can tell you that these things really do work in Colorado where the water is hard and full of minerals that build up on everything.  Like my shower head, all covered in calcium build-up (or is that lime scale? or…  ??):

To get that puppy clean, first I tried just straight up vinegar with a grout brush.  Which did a pretty good job.

But I kind of needed something that would stick a bit better so that the vinegar could sit and work at it for me.  I’m all for scrubbing if it means I don’t have to use CLR, but if I can not scrub, that’s even better.  So I mixed some vinegar with some corn starch.  And poured the gloopy paste all over the shower head.  And then, while I let that sit, I used some on the tub faucet that is always sticking and tough to pull the shower lever thingy on (wow – the technical terms in this post are astounding).  Then, after I got impatient, I rinsed the shower head off… pretty good, eh?

It’s not perfect or anything, and probably if I had been a little more patient, it would have been, but I think it was decent. What’s even better is the mix worked on the tub faucet puller thing.

On to the rest of the bathroom!  Here is what I use:

Like the package says, there are hundreds of uses for baking soda.  That’s why I have a huge bag of it.  In the bathroom, I use it like most people use Comet.  I use it to scrub down the sink and tiles and tub.  And it works.

So what about the throne?  Well, lots of homesteaders are either into saving water or have male persons in the house.  Or both.  And so the toilet often gets stained from letting the yellow mellow.  And in our house, that hard water alone can leave a ring.  The best cleaning tool I have for cleaning a stained toilet is a pumice stone.

The first time I used it, I was scared to death.  I thought for sure I was going to scratch the porcelain and end up with a horrid looking toilet that I was going to end up replacing.  But that was needless worry.  It worked great.  And as far as I can tell, it didn’t scratch a thing.  First I don my rubber gloves and do a scrub with the toilet brush and a flush so the water in there is clean.  I don’t put any cleaners in there.  Then I grab the pumice stone.

I scrub around the water line, in the hole and under the rim.  It gets everything off.  You can see that the corners of my stone are getting rounded off.  The stone crumbles instead of scratching the bowl.  It works.  The toilet is sparkling.  After that, I will throw a splash of vinegar in the toilet and use the toilet brush again, for good measure.  Clean as a… well, not a whistle, but you get the idea.

I also use vinegar and water mixed in a spray bottle to clean the mirror with a lint-free cloth.  And to clean the floor. And to spray down the shower walls.

How do you clean your bathroom?

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Five Things No One Tells You About Chickens

Over the last five years I’ve learned a few things about keeping chickens in the back yard.  And while, for the most part, chickens are really fun and the positives far outweigh the negatives, it’s not all roses.  No, they are not noisy.  No they don’t stink.  But there are a few lessons we have learned about the urban homestead’s favorite creature feature:

  1. cactus poppyDon’t name them.  Chickens are so far down on the food-chain that they are pretty much dinner for everything except insects.  Naming them is just setting yourself up for heart-break.  We named our first five chicks.  But the tears when Daisy was killed by a fox were enough to cure us of this.  The next two rounds of chicks were nameless.  While we still knew them as “the red one” or “the big one,” it kinda kept our feelings a bit more protected.  And we were able to eat the ones without names when the time came.
  2. Every one will ask if you need a rooster to get eggs.  I’m not really sure why this is a question?  If there is no rooster, the eggs will never become chicks.  Eggs are not baby chickens.  Eggs are just eggs.  At some point you will find yourself, once again, explaining that eggs are basically like a tasty chicken period that happens daily.  Yum, right?
  3. Baby chicks are messy.  Very, very messy.  Our first chicks were raised in a box in our office.  They were so cute.  When they finally moved outside, the office was completely covered in a very thick layer of dust.  It was awful.  The next chicks got the luxury of a heat lamp in the garage instead.
  4. Chickens dig deep holes.  Like, to China.  We used to let them free-range through the whole back yard.  Our yard is small, but they never ate all the grass.  They pooped everywhere, but we could hose off the patio.  The real bummer were these gigantic, deep holes.  They use them for dust baths.  Later, we moved the coop to one area of the yard.  The hens still free-range, within their area, and they’ve eaten all the grass back there and dig to their hearts’ content.  And we are no longer breaking ankles in the giant holes.  Bonus: the kids can now roll a ball in the remaining grass, poo-free.
  5. You will be spoiled by the eggs.  If, for some reason you need to buy eggs from the store, you will scowl at their sickly, yellow insides and scoff at their bland taste.  They literally pale in comparison to your awesome, dark-yolked, delicious, home-grown eggs.

So while others continue to extol the merits of the back yard flock, don’t come to me saying you weren’t warned.  ;)

Categories: Chickens, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 23 Comments

Deep Litter Method for the Lazy Chicken Keeper

When we first researched keeping chickens, my only hesitation was the idea of having to clean a coop weekly.  I used to have a parakeet, and I hated changing his newspaper tray, and I hated cleaning my hamster’s cage too.  I was dreading having to clean a coop.  I envisioned this, happening weekly (by the way, she was cleaning a coop inherited when she moved to the property for the first time).  Then, I ran across something describing the deep litter method, and I knew I had found the solution.

We clean our chicken coop (specifically the hen-house) twice a year.  And no more.

And the coop does not smell.  In fact, when we participated in the Denver Botanic Gardens/Denver Urban Homesteading Chicken Coop tour, everyone remarked on how our coop did not smell.  I didn’t clean it before the tour, because I wanted to show what the method off and let people see what it looked like to have chickens in real life.

What we learned was that we were, at that time, the only chicken keepers on the tour using this method.  Every other owner had told the tourists that they cleaned their coops weekly.  We were surprised by this and actually started making a joke of it, calling ourselves the lazy chicken owners on the tour.  People laughed and that’s how I actually came to the name, the Lazy Homesteader.  ;)

Here is how the method works in case you are like me; allergic to hard work involving poop.

Clean your coop one fall day and then put down a layer of dried leaves or pine shavings or some other kind of litter (not straw – it’ll stink to high heaven).  Then you let the chickens poop on it.  Then when it’s thoroughly covered over in poop…

Put down more shavings or leaves. I just throw it in – I don’t spread it nicely or anything.  I’m not touching that crap.  ;)  The chickens will dig through it and spread it around anyway.

Repeat until spring comes.  Note that I mainly just put litter down right under the roosts.  If it’s very rainy or snowy, we put their food and water inside the house (usually we keep them in the run) and we don’t want them to throw litter in the food and water.

Finally, on a nice day, when you feel like doing it, bring the wheel barrow over to the coop, scrape it all out, and dump the decomposed poop/leaves/shavings mixture into your compost bin.  It’ll be mostly all composted anyway.  Then clean out the coop and put down a fresh layer of shavings or leaves (if you have any more).

You are basically composting in the bottom of the hen-house.  And as you learned a couple weeks ago, compost generates heat, perfect for helping your flock stay warm during the winter.

And I can totally handle cleaning only twice a year.

Categories: Chickens, Compost, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 31 Comments

UH Basic Training: Chicken Keeping 101

Everyone in the household is seemingly well again, so urban homestead boot camp is back in session!

After a garden, when someone mentions “urban homestead” many people think of chickens.  To me, chickens are a bit of the country right here in the city.  They aren’t particularly noisy, they don’t take up much space, and it doesn’t cost much to feed them (ever heard the expression “chicken feed?”).

I have an awful lot to say about backyard chicken keeping.  Enough probably to fill a book.  It’s fun and the eggs are well worth the effort you put in.  In order to keep this post from becoming a novel, here are the down and dirty basics of urban chickens.  I am, of course, not an expert.  We’ve had chickens for five years now.  We’ve encountered a few problems and we’re continually learning as we go.  But if you’re looking at getting birds for the first time, here are some basic guidelines.

The Rules

First off, are chickens allowed where you live?  Check your city ordinances.  There are usually stipulations on the number of birds, the size of area required for them and in some municipalities, there may be a permitting process.  You can sometime skirt your HOA if they only stipulate the number of “pets” allowed and not what kinds.

Last month, The Crunchy Chicken had a guest post about what to do if your neighbors or HOA is not on board with your backyard flock.

Getting your neighbors on board is pretty important.  Luckily, it’s a pretty easy thing to do as well.  All of our neighbors love our hens.  The kids especially.  And the promise of fresh eggs are a great way to build some good will between neighbors.

You might be surprised where chickens actually are allowed.  Highlands Ranch, here in Colorado, for example is chock-full of HOAs, and they totally allow chickens.  So check it out.

This link has lots of city codes listed, but not every city.  A Google search will help if it doesn’t have your city.

The Birds

For most backyard flocks, you’ll want only female chickens.  Roosters are loud and crow all day, making it tough to stay on your neighbors’ good sides.  Plus they’re generally not very friendly.  Despite the fact that everyone wants to ask you how you plan to get eggs without a rooster, you don’t need one.  Without a rooster, all your eggs will be unfertilized and you’ll get to skip the 4:00 AM wake up calls (and at 11:33, and at 3:28, and at 6PM).

You can start your flock by getting chicks, started pullets, or hens.  Chicks are the least expensive, but you will need to raise them indoors under a heat lamp until they have grown all their feathers and can move outside, which will take a few months.  Pullets are female chickens that are less than a year old.  They will cost you more than chicks but you’ll get eggs sooner, since most chickens begin laying around six months old.  Or you can buy grown hens that are already laying.  They will be the most expensive since someone else has fed and housed them for a year with little benefit of getting eggs.  You probably don’t want to buy hens that over two years old if you want many eggs though.  Their peak laying years are the first two (from age 1-3 years).

You can order chicks in the mail or buy individuals at a feed store or from a local farmer.  There is only one site that I know of that will ship chicks in quantities less than 28.  We bought our chicks locally, so I can’t say how they do this.

Pullets and hens can also be bought from local farms, sometimes on craigslist, or at markets or poultry swaps.  Chickens are social, so you’ll probably want at least three or four.

There are lots of breeds of chickens.  If your climate is cold in the winter, you will want a heavy breed that can keep its self warm.  Bantams are miniature chickens and their eggs are about half the size of regular chicken eggs.

The Coop

Your birds need about two square feet apiece inside their hen-house.  It needs to have a roost and they’ll want a place to lay their eggs. The size, shape and style of your house and coop are limitless.  Check out some of these ideas for small backyard coops.

Coops are easy to build yourself if you are the handy type, or small ones can be bought locally or online for a few hundred dollars.  We built our coop ourselves and over the last five years have made only some minor modifications.  (Though I admit I have a few more in mind for this coming year).  I’ve seen people convert dog houses, old sheds and abandoned campers into chicken coops.

The original construction of our coop looked like this:  Coop Construction!

The main things to keep in mind are a place to rest, a place to nest, a place to get shelter and a way to keep predators out.  Many people advise using hardware cloth to keep raccoons out.  We have been successful with simply using chicken wire, which is much less expensive.  Although we’ve had chickens killed by foxes and raccoons, it was never due to a breach in the security of the coop, only due to the negligence of the chicken owners (we forgot to close the coop at night).

A chicken tractor is like a mini coop on wheels with a run attached that can be used to let your hens graze or catch bugs and then moved to a new spot so that they don’t eat the grass down to the dirt.  A great idea if you have the room for it.  Check out some neat ones here.

The Food

Chicken are omnivores.  I always sort of chuckle when I read “vegetarian fed hens” on a carton of eggs.  Now that’s good in commercial eggs, so that you know those poor birds weren’t fed other chickens.  But your chickens will certainly not be vegetarians.  They will eat bugs and worms, and I’ve heard they can catch and kill a mouse.

For the bulk of their diet, however, you’ll want to feed them something.  You can make your own food for them using a mix of grains and seeds.  A quick Google search will lend you many guides and recipes.  Depending on your resources this might be less expensive than buying pre-made food.  For some it is expensive if you’re in a big city far from where the grains are grown, and so it is easier to buy the bagged stuff.

Pre-made choices include conventional, organic, medicated, pellets, crumbles, mash and if you’re lucky, whole grain.  Most backyard flocks don’t need medicated feed, even for chicks.  These feeds are made for large, commercial flocks, where chickens are kept in too-close quarters and make each other sick.  There is no need to dose your flock with antibiotics out of the gate with only three or four or twelve birds.

Pellets, crumbles and mash are different forms of the same feed.  The ingredients in the feed are ground up and then pressed into shape before being packaged.  The shapes are self descriptive.  These are a matter of personal preference since chickens will eat all three.  It comes down to what you prefer and how much the birds waste.  My birds have always flung feed out of the feeder, but if the feed is pellets, they still get eaten off of the ground.  All of these feeds are susceptible to moisture.  If they get wet, they will pretty much disintegrate.  So store it where it will stay dry, and keep a cover on your feeder if it is outdoors.

Conventional chicken feed is the least expensive but carries the risk of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and GMO ingredients.  Since here in the US, they don’t label those things on human food, they certainly won’t on chicken food.  If you want to avoid these (remember, your chicken is making eggs with that food, and you will eat the eggs), you should buy organic.  It can be more expensive than conventional feed, unless you can find a local source.  We have found a local farm co-op that offers us organic, whole grain layer feed for 43 cents/pound.

Your chickens are great garden disposals as well.  They love to eat greens, weeds, kitchen scraps.  I’ve often joked that they are like miniature pigs.  The only things I have not seen our hens devour are potato peels and mushrooms.  Otherwise, they will pick clean a ham bone as quickly as they will hork down mushy strawberries.  They stick their skinny necks through the fence to attack our Swiss chard on a regular basis, and they practically live in the compost pile during the winter.

They will eat eggs.  And if you cook them scrambled eggs, that’s fine.  They don’t identify an egg smashed flat on the ground as the same as an egg they just laid (they are not the brightest creatures).  But be cautious.  If they get a taste for raw eggs, soon they will be plundering their nests and eating more eggs than you.

Crushed eggshells are a good supplement for them to get calcium in their diet (to make strong shells).  You can also offer crushed oyster shell, whey, other dairy products and leafy greens.  They’ll chow down and thank you.

The Work

You know how my site is called The Lazy Homesteader?  Well, it’s because I really don’t like anything that is complicated, hard work, or lots of maintenance.  The main work in caring for chickens, I’ve found, is making sure they have fresh water everyday.  They need it replenished often in hot weather and they need the ice chipped off in the cold.  So every day, they need water.  That I can do, if Rick is helping me.  ;)

Their feeder holds enough food for a few days, so I just check it when I’m giving them water to make sure it’s not empty yet.  And I collect eggs.

Your hens will eventually molt.  This is when  they lose and regrow feathers and take a break from laying, and typically happens in the winter.  The molt is dependent upon hours of daylight,  so if you want eggs year round, they need a light in their house to trick their bodies during the winter.  We’ve found that they don’t need it to keep warm (admittedly we don’t have ice storms here, so I can’t speak to that), but their feathers and group body heat seems to do the job.  We let them take a natural break from laying and don’t provide a light in the winter.

Cleaning the coop is the other main work of keeping chickens.  We use a deep litter method and only clean a couple of times a year.  We’ve found this doesn’t work that well with straw as the coop bedding.  It is great however with leaves or pine shavings.  During the first chicken coop tour, everyone remarked on how nice our coop was – that it didn’t smell at all.  But then one time we decided to try straw.  The coop stunk within the week.  It was a horrible stinky ammonia smell.  And messy.  They straw went everywhere.  A breeze blew it all over the yard.  It was slippery to walk on.  We switched back to dried leaves and pine shavings.  Later this week, I’ll explain the deep littler method in detail.    Others do use straw and change their hens bedding daily.  Still others use sand.  Find what works for you.

That is basically it.  This week, I’ll cover more chicken keeping things in detail.  This is a big topic, and I know this post is pretty general.  It may be elementary for old hands, but hopefully it answers some of the questions first timers might have.

Categories: Chickens, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

Composting Basics Part II: Hot, Cool, and Greens vs. Browns

If you read yesterday’s urban homestead boot camp post, Composting Basics Part I, you remember that I said I love compost.  Besides what it can do for you (you know turning “trash” into garden treasure, restoring and maintaining soil health, balance soil pH and neutralize chemicals, etc.), I love the way it does it.  I know it’s probably a little weird to love decomposition, but I do.

Yesterday, I told you that there are a lot of choices when it comes to bins, piles, and systems.  Worm bins and Bokashis are pretty specialized and self-contained systems.  I really don’t have much experience with either.   But I have used both a  pile and a bin.

A pile is best for “cool” composting.  It’s great if you aren’t in a rush for your finished compost, and if you don’t want to think much about it.  It doesn’t take a lot to build one.  And a pile probably won’t generate much heat, hence being “cool.”  Plan a year to two years for harvesting.  With this method, you basically just throw your kitchen scraps, yard waste and what-have-you into a big pile, and let it do its thing.  You can help it along by turning/stirring/forking it a couple of times a year, and by chopping up the browns you put into it.  Some people use a chipper or run over their browns with their lawn mowers before adding them to their piles.

You can cool compost in a bin too.  A bin will speed things up for you a bit more.  You will get more heat with a bin, and more heat means faster decomposition.

Right now, our family is “hot” composting.  A hot compost bin decomposes things very fast.  One pallet bin gave us over 80 gallons of finished compost in about 8 months last year.  For hot compost, you layer in your organic waste, give it a good soaking with the hose, and cover it (we use thick black plastic).  As it rots it generates heat, cooking the organic waste.  The heat actually comes from micro-organisms digesting everything. It can get hot enough to kill weed seeds.

The key here is you don’t want it to get too hot.  You want it to rot quickly and kill the bad stuff, but you don’t want to  kill off the good guys.  So you need to rotate it.  Or maybe aerate it is a good word.  Two bins make this nice as you can flip it from one bin to the other.  Sometimes, during the summer, we open it up, put out the half-finished compost, let the chickens scratch through it for a day or two and then scoop it all back in, water and cover again.  If you have a tumbler, there’s no need to use a pitch fork at all, just spin it.

So exactly what do you put in your compost bin?

“The greens” vs. “the browns.”  General advice is that for cool composting you need a 40/60 mix of the two, with more browns.  For hot composting, the ratio is even greater, closer to a 5 to 1 ratio or more of browns to greens. But what are they?

Greens include:

  • fruits and vegetables, whole, pieces, peelings and scraps 
  • moldy food
  • chicken, rabbit, goat poop and other manure from herbivores
  • alfalfa pellets
  • coffee grounds and used tea leaves
  • green leaves or grass clippings
  • hair
  • weeds (if they have mature seeds, make sure they are hot composted, otherwise not)
  • algae and water from fish tanks
  • urine

Browns include:

  • egg shells
  • dried leaves and grass clippings
  • straw
  • wood chips
  • saw dust
  • dryer lint
  • paper, including shredded paper, newspaper, tissue and paper towels
  • cardboard
  • coffee filters and tea bags
  • cotton fabric or string, wool
  • cotton balls and swabs (the kind with cardboard sticks)
  • any plant with woody stalks or stems, including corn cobs
  • nut shells
  • end of season plants

The greens provide nitrogen and the browns give carbon.  The only things I don’t compost are dog/cat poop, human feces, and bones.  All of them can be composted but they can make your pile smelly and attract animals to your pile.

The problem a lot of people have is that the ratios are talking about weight, not volume.  The browns are generally dry and weigh a lot less than the soggy wet greens, so you need a lot more of them.  I have to admit that I don’t really pay close attention to the exact ratios.  I tend to think of the greens as “wet” and the browns as “dry.”  Sort of like the browns are a sponge and the greens are the stuff I’m using to get the sponge wet with.  It’s totally simplistic, but it works somehow.  Even with the hot composting, I just think “Is there enough?  I better put more.”

There are all sorts of cute counter top containers for compost.  I keep a big stainless steel bowl on my counter to catch all of our kitchen scraps, our greens.  I used to use a porcelain one, but it got ruined, so stick with stainless steel.  When it is full or before bedtime, we take the bowl out to the pile.  I cover the bowl with a plate in the summer if fruit flies are a problem.

Most people don’t have a problem coming up with enough greens.  Browns can be tougher.  It helps to keep a source of browns nearby.  Yard waste is perfect.  We beg leaves off the neighbors in the fall.  In the summer, instead of putting grass clippings in as a green, we [have our neighbor who collects his] spread them around the chicken area.  The hens use them as littler and for a couple of weeks until they are completely dry.  Then we rake them up and toss them in the pile.  Dried leaves, straw, dead plants, wood shavings and shredded paper all work.  Usually, as long as you keep plastic out of it, the bathroom trash is all compost-able.

In addition to your greens and browns, you pile will need air and water.  Keep your pile moist – like a wrung out sponge, or chocolate cake.  We cover ours to keep the moisture in during the summer.  And we turn it and mix it.  It gets quite hot in the middle, so we move the middle to the outside edges and the edges in to the center to cook.  Then we water it some more and cover it back up.  Some people add soil or finished compost to their pile.  If your soil is healthy, it has all kinds of good micro organisms that help with decomposing your pile.  It’s sort of like adding yogurt to hot milk to make more yogurt.

What about the smell?  As long as you aren’t adding milk, meat or carnivore poop to your pile/bin, your compost should not smell foul at all.  If your pile has any odor other than a good soil smell, you probably need to turn it, add browns, or both.  Sometimes our bin gets an ammonia smell.  This usually happens after we’ve added the contents of the chicken coop to the pile and it’s had a chance to get going.  Chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen.  Adding in more browns and mixing it up, getting the inside to the outside and vice-versa, takes care of it.

When your compost is done, it should look like great soil.  No big bits or pieces of anything, light and fluffy, not soggy at all.  The compost shown above still has bits of egg shell and wood shavings (the browns take the longest to decompose) but I would put it in my garden like this anyway.

Happy composting!

Categories: Compost, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,437 other followers

%d bloggers like this: