When most folks think of composting and more specifically, manure, they turn their noses up. “Gross,” they say. Not me. Having seven horses on the farm means lots of manure, which in turn means lots of organic material for the garden.
How can you compost without farm animals?
- Commercial compost bins. A simple Google search on “compost bins” will return a number of options to suit almost every budget and size constraints. I don’t have direct experience with any of these, as any non-meat kitchen waste typically goes to our chickens.
- Build your own compost bin out of recycled materials. Again, a search on “do it yourself compost bins” will yield many results on Google.
Once you have a bin, you’re ready. Yes, you can compost in a pile on the ground, but trust me, that gets messy after a while. There are also some considerations. It’s not just about having the bin and tossing stuff into it. You need to know what you can compost, and what you can’t. You need to know where to put the bin as well.
What to put in the bin?
You’ll want a nice, even mixture of green and brown stuff. Green stuff, which is high in nitrogen and activates the heating process, includes grass clippings, young weeds (BEFORE they go to seed), chicken manure, fruit and vegetables scraps, coffee grounds, and tea leaves or bags (just remove the staple). Brown stuff, which is high in carbon and serves as the “fiber”, includes fall leaves, sawdust, cardboard, and old straw/hay. Other items that can be composted include paper towels, torn up cotton clothing egg shells, and hair (but, use these items in moderation). You can add braches, twigs and hedge clippings, but they take longer to break down, you may want a separate area for those. NEVER compost meat or meat scraps, bones, fish or fish bones, plastic or synthetic fibers, pet or human feces (except for manure of herbivorous animals), glossy paper, or cat litter.
Air, water, and temperature are the final ingredients. As your compost bin or pile starts to grow, you’ll want to ensure it gets proper air by turning it. How do you know when to turn it? If it starts to smell, it’s time to turn it (turning on a regular basis, such as every week or two will help).
Depending on the weather and your bin, you can let Mother Nature add the water or add your own. The important thing is to not add too much, you don’t want a slushy mess. You want a pile that should be about as damp as a sponge that has been wrung out. How do you manage temperature? First, you can track the temperature simply by sticking your hand inside the pile. It should be warm and/or hot. If it is the same temperature as the outside temperature, you need to add more high-nitrogen items (ie: green stuff).
If you manage your compost bin well, you’ll eventually have good compost that’s ready for the garden! How do you know it’s ready? When your compost is dark brown, crumbly, and has an earthy odor, it’s ready to use.
The results of composting are immense and long-lasting! My garden gets better each year with rich compost added. From last year’s garden, I prepared a meal of Chicken & Herb Hotchpotch with a Peach and Blackberry Clafouti dessert. I enjoyed it so much, and both were so easy to prepare, I thought I’d share the recipes:[box style=”yellow, rounded” ]
Chicken and Herb Hotchpotch (serves 4)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Potatoes, cut into ¼” slices (I just used enough to cover the bottom and top of casserole, probably about 4 large potatoes)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
Diced bacon (original recipe called for 1 cup, I used a lot more than that because I had it on hand and I really like bacon) – according to your tastes
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup sliced carrots, sliced
2/3 cup beer
2 tbsp melted butter
Salt and pepper
Arrange a layer of sliced potatoes in the bottom of a wide, greased casserole. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the thyme, rosemary and bay leaves.
Top with the chicken, then sprinkle with bacon, onion, and carrots. Season well and arrange the remaining potato slices on top, overlapping a bit.
Pour the beer over, brush potatoes with melted butter, and cover with a lid. Bake in a preheated oven (300˚F) for about 2 hours, removing the lid for the last 30 minutes to let the potatoes brown. Serve hot.
My kids loved this dish, both saying it and eating it![/box] [box style=”yellow, rounded” ]
Peach and Blackberry Clafouti (serves 8)
1 tsp butter
1 cup blackberries, rinsed and drained
2 cups sliced peaches (I used canned peaches from last summer)
½ cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 ¼ cup milk
½ tsp vanilla
pinch of salt (I didn’t use the salt)
Pour the peach and blackberries into a buttered 2-quart baking dish. Whisk the remaining ingredients in a bowl to form a light, thin batter. Pour of the peach and blackberries and place in a preheated oven (350˚F) for 45 minutes or until browned and puffed around the edges and the center is set. Allow to cool to warm or room temperature before serving.
This was especially good served with vanilla ice cream![/box]
Although Stacy De Smet grew up on a dairy farm in south-central Pennsylvania, she never anticipated becoming a farmer herself, but that's exactly what happened when she and her family moved to a small farm in Taft, TN, in November of 2005. Over the years they have turned Misty Ridge Stables into a thriving family farm. In addition to boarding horses and running a local CSA, they also offer classes in canning, gardening and many other farm related topics.