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

Signs of perfect compost

Pile of manureMark dug deep into the motherlode of horse manure for our most recent two loads.  When I opened the tailgate of the truck, I was awestruck --- I'd never seen such amazing compost.  Most of it was pure black and able to hold so much water that a shovelful was as much as I could handle.  (No pitchforks full of manure for me!)

Mark reported seeing one writhing clump of worms while loading up the truck, but I mostly Sow bug in compostsaw masses of sowbugs (aka roly polies) and a few big red centipedes.  We're both convinced that a high percentage of this amazing compost is probably worm castings, but the layer that Mark dug Monday had finished decomposing to the point that the worms moved out and the sowbugs moved in.  Sowbugs and centipedes in your compost are a sign that compost is cooled down and done, ready to go on the garden.  My mouth waters just looking at it!

Our chicken waterer gets day old chicks off to a safe and healthy 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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I love compost. I've just recently gotten into 'extreme composting' in order to seriously amend our soils here. I was introduced to the concept of extreme composting through a fellow in Illinois (now a good friend after visiting/talking with him online and in person) via Extreme Composting thread on Homesteadingtoday. I've blogged a little about my efforts during the last couple of months. When building a pile with 100 tons of material, I try to properly balance the carbon:nitrogen ratio but not in an exacting way. Basically, if it's a good mix, it won't stink. Plus, these piles will be composting for about a year (or more).
Comment by dp Thu May 6 07:50:38 2010
Wow!! That's an amazing compost setup. I started drooling and I think made Mark feel a little miffed. "You can't tell if his compost is as good as ours just from the pictures," he complained, to which I responded that I was mostly just impressed by his ability to come up with so much free organic matter. We're trying to find sources, but it takes a lot of time to hunt them down. Someday...
Comment by anna Thu May 6 16:34:53 2010
Anna, his composting endeavors inspired me and gave me a vision of what is possible. There is material readily available from our local sale barn, I just have to haul it home. There are sawmills around here that produce lots of sawdust. Unfortunately, they sell most of it to the Kingsford charcoal plant nearby, but I did find a mill about 10 miles away that will sell me sawdust. They will give me the old, black, partially-rotted down sawdust they've spread on their lot. I haven't started bringing that material home -- there is over a thousand tons of the stuff in my estimation, and they have offered to load it for me. I can haul 10-12 tons per trip with my truck (which I bought for hauling composting materials). There's a lot of work, time, and fuel involved, but my goal is to spread 4-6 inches of compost on our gardens next spring and to make enough to spread thickly on our other fields. Then, I want to repeat that in following years. Through the sawmill, I found out about a horse farm that has a huge pile of stall cleanings with lots of sawdust that will load my truck just to get rid of it. I've hauled two loads from them -- they're 18 miles away. As my composting endeavor grows, I'm sure that other opportunities will present themselves. Keep looking and asking, and you will discover more opportunities and sources for composting material in your area.
Comment by dp Thu May 6 20:30:13 2010
We got a few loads of wood chips from a utility crew a few years ago --- I think we could become a regular stop for them if we found a way to make it easier for their large trucks to get to our property. I like your sawmill idea too! We'll become better scavengers!
Comment by anna Thu May 6 20:47:20 2010

Hey! I also got inspired by his mode of composting but something I didn't understand was how he keeps all of his kitchen scraps until fall. Somehow I got from the book that he is drying it and then storing it in large bags but I'm having trouble seeing how that is possible to do without ending up with lots of small critters trying to get into the bags to eat up the scraps. How are you holding onto your kitchen scraps and such until fall? Thanks!

Comment by Jenny Fri Jul 9 02:24:04 2010
I haven't tried saving the kitchen scraps until fall --- honestly, I can't see why it's necessary, given how much more yard waste there is than kitchen waste. Our compost pile is a little different than Solomon's at the moment since it's in our chicken pasture. We throw all of the waste in a pile, they eat everything they like (including all the kitchen waste), and leave some high nitrogen poop behind. Then, when I move them to the next paddock, I mound the compost back up (since they've inevitably scratched it out of a pile.) I can't tell you how well my method works yet, though!
Comment by anna Fri Jul 9 07:58:24 2010
Thanks for your reply! I have appreciated reading through some of your other blogs on compost here and want to try to do an outdoor pile this fall. Appreciate all the ideas I can get.
Comment by Jenny Sun Jul 11 15:30:25 2010

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