The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Scrounging for humus

Decaying stump dirt at the base of an old stumpEvery morning this week, I've woken up to a light coating of snow on the ground.  The snow cover gently melts off by lunchtime, meaning that the soil in the floodplain has been too wet to drive on since Tuesday.  As a result, we couldn't haul in loads of manure from our neighbor to fertilize the onion beds I need to plant this week.  What could I do?

The obvious solution is chicken manure, but onions like soil high in organic matter and chicken manure melts into the ground almost like chemical fertilizers.  Clearly, I needed humus.  But I wasn't keen on the idea of carrying heavy five gallon buckets a third of a mile from the parking area to the garden.

Stump with dried up turkey tail fungi on it.As I stood peering around me with furrowed brow, I noticed Lucy digging frantically around a tree stump.  Four years ago, we cut down young forest in the mule garden, but we left the stumps in place since I refused to let Mark buy dynamite and blow them out.  We've been mowing and working around them ever since.

I'd forgotten about the stumps, but Lucy hadn't.  She was hard at work rooting out a shrew at one stump's base.  If I'd been in a comic strip, a light would have gone off above my head at that moment.  "Lucy digs for shrews, shrews love earthworms, earthworms love compost, and I want compost..."

I pushed Lucy aside, and ran my fingers through the rich stump dirt that had been sitting right in front of my face.  Over the last four years, turkey tail fungi had colonized the stumps and broken the cellulose down into compost.  By digging around at the soil line, I quickly came up with four beautiful bucket-loads of the soft, fluffy compost.  Thanks, Lucy!

Preparing for your own spring chickens?  Check out our homemade chicken waterer, great for getting chicks off to a strong start.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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