Sunday, April 10, 2016

Chicken composter, part deux

Five-gallon buckets of win.
About 8 weeks ago I mentioned a new experiment I was about to undertake: the Chicken Composter. The idea, in short, was to let the chickens do the continuous mixing that is a requirement of a hot* compost pile.  You add carbon and moisture, they add nitrogen and energy.  The result, in theory, is a coop floor with lots of good compost beneath it. Everybody wins.

I can now testify that it works.  This was the weekend I was supposed to finish filling up the lovely and gracious Rogue's new raised beds.  And because I had not purchased a dumptruck full of topsoil or anything equivalent, I had planned to spend some time digging around the south pond** to acquire enough dirt to top them off. Then I remembered the chicken house.

Much to the hens' annoyance, I was able to pull enough awesome compost from their floor to finish Rogues' beds, the area around the cuke ladder, the oregano bed, and even the 2'x2' raised beds that are currently half-planted with garlic.  And that was just scraping the top 6" aside and talking the next 12" in a 30 square foot area.  There's plenty more where that came from, but for the first time in a long time, I don't have a single bed that could use more compost at the moment.

I have a few 'holes' around the raised beds that will get filled with compost for companion plants, and once the garlic is done I'll be deep-composting 100+ square feet of beds for the tomatoes and peppers.  I have no worries about where that will come from.  I still have a traditional pile and a compost cage.  But for now, the hens are prioritized to receive as much rottable carbon as I can generate.

The only potential downside - and we shall learn its effects very quickly I'm sure - is to what extent weed seeds survived the process.  Since I was heavy on shredded paper and leaves, I don't expect too much trouble.  But sometimes, creation baffles exceeds our expectations.

* That's the one everyone teaches, probably because it's fast.  It's also too much work for me in the volumes my garden demands, so I work very hard to find easier solutions.
** which is not a pond and never really was.  There's a dam there, and water, but in the wettest seasons the water is 30' across and a foot or two deep.  In drier times, the dirt is 30' across and who knows how deep. I was prepared to find out.


  1. Okay... so... Is your chicken hutch dirt floored? And how deep anywhile? I can't remember, off hand, if mine is wood or concrete, but I do believe it is one of those, the flooring. Yeah, the original owners, who built and ran this zone from 1880 when it was built until seven years before I moved in, so... from 1880 to 2004? Something like that... anyway, they, when they did something, did it well. Most of the outhouses are built better than some houses.

    Anyway, I'm not sure if that would work for me or not. I'm trying to imagine. I suppose the compost could come up, maybe, a foot for me, but no more. I'm just trying to imagine. Even if I don't garden, I wouldn't mind putting the compost out, spreading it as it comes due in various areas, just to enrich the soil. I'm letting a farmer use the land, only for growing things. He is saying it isn't working well. I just want to improve the soil, and if the chickens would do more of the work, I think I actually could do my part.

    I still want to see your program run a bit longer. I have this impulsive rejection based on chicken health and cleanliness. Of course, a farm, ranch, hen house... well... they are messy. And I r, sort of, gentrified beyond my previous more agrarian roots... still... paint me red and call me skeptical... and red. :p

  2. Is your chicken hutch dirt floored?

    Yes, it is. I have 12-18" of stuff on top of it, depending upon where the chickens moves it to. They have taken to digging around all the edges and piling all the stuff up in the middle of the coop.

    On the chicken health, that was one thing that I had considered as well. In practice, them walking around on a bed of shredded paper and kitchen scraps is not much different than them walking around on hay that I clean out every few months. It's just that in the former case all their crap gets composted rather quickly once the process is going.

    It's rather funny, I made a big pile of leaves and manure about the same time I started this, just to have a control group* to compare it against. The results are not even close.

    *science, FTW

  3. Any worry about too much N with all the chicken poop?

    1. Always a little. But other than kitchen scraps (which the chickens take care of) I added nothing with N in it. No clippings, no greens, just lots of shredded paper and dry leaves and a bit of old hay. So it should balance out. Maybe. I hope.

  4. Excellent.

    I am trying to think of the best way to imitate you.