As you might imagine, one of the problems with running an ever-increasing number of raised beds is finding an ever-increasing amount of organic matter to fill them with. Now, a brand new 2'x2'x1' bed is not so bad - that's about 4 5-gallon buckets of stuff, or a couple wheelbarrow loads. My chickens can produce that with ease.
But the Lovely and Gracious Rogue's newest bed is a different matter altogether, damanding more than 60 cubic feet to fill. That would probably take the hens all winter*, even assuming I had that volume of leaves and paper shred for them to work with. Plus we have another bed in the planning stage that will be dedicated to flowers.**
And that's in addition to the mundane topping off of all the other beds. Those 40 pounds of potatoes or 50 pounds of tomatoes are not made out of sunshine alone. If you take a lot out of the beds, you've got to put a lot back in.
The chicken composter and the compost cage are obvious ways to address that issue. And I have talked with a neighbor who has horses about hauling away some of his spare. But the problem there is that horses are famous for leaving seeds in their manure. This leads to a weedy fate I try to avoid if possible, which is why it has not proceeded past talk.
But I made an awesome discovery today that will cover this year and next, and maybe the year after that. I have a different neighbor who runs steer in my north field about 9 months a year***. And that neighbor also occasionally drops a round bale on the edge of the woods. In fact, it turns out that he drops bales in the same place year after year, and the cattle stand around it and eat and crap and stomp. So when I checked it out today I found a couple hundred cubic feet of rotted manure, mixed with straw that had been chopped by many hooves and lay open to weather for months and years. There's probably 30 wagon loads all told, certainly enough to cover all of my foreseeable needs, even if it never gets added to.
So my mom dropped me a note to ask what I did this day-after-Christmas. I told her I spent the morning shoveling shit and could not have been happier about it. Most people would think that weird. But she's a gardener, so she understood.
* they are back on eggs as well. We got 5 today between 8 hens.
** and not just pretty annuals. I'll be sneaking in a couple of medicinal herbs/flowers like feverfew and Kansas snakeroot (purple coneflower) that, in addition to looking pretty, grow a marketable product.
*** All I do up there is fish the pond, which has some monster crappies in it.