Posted in 1 Garden, 3 Chickens

Composting Made Efficient and Beautiful

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Composting isn’t glamorous, of course, but it can be made as efficient and convenient as possible – and even pretty.

First, efficiency.  If it’s not efficient, we might slack or feel irritated.  Must avoid that.  We decided to design the chicken area with the compost bins nearby, all a short, easy walk from the kitchen door, since both the chickens and compost bins receive scraps from the kitchen.    

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Beauty is also important.  Since I’m becoming fussy about things in my visual space, especially near our main sitting area (a good thing, I think, part of consciousness of what serves us), I generally want everything visible to be of natural materials, mostly plants and stone.  Then, when artificial elements are necessary, I try to keep them out of sight, hidden or disguised, as far away as is still convenient, and if they have to be seen, then in colors that blend.

Materials also matter – very much.  In choosing what we purchase (or don’t – because we’re recycling) and where we place each item (for increased harmony or disharmony), we create our future.  And, unlike most “activist” activities, we get to make these decisions for the future without group organizing, meetings, promoting, or money.  We do this work of changing the future all by ourselves, on our own time, working by inspiration, day by day, creatively – It’s the best.  And so, when we realized we could make this happen mostly with materials we’d been salvaging and storing for years, we dove into this new project with gusto.

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Space – sometimes difficult in the city (and I’m on 1/10th acre).  The reason this design hadn’t come together for years was because I’d always thought I didn’t have room for chickens, and composting wasn’t that exciting, and my half-assed composting process was working “well enough” (not really, but I told myself that).  (Good reason to consult with others – to discover what we might be overlooking!)

One day, realizing my frustration of wanting chickens I didn’t think I could have and acknowledging that I really did need to upgrade the compost situation, I walked outside the fence and realized that I’d made the parking area larger than it actually needed to be, and that poorly-used space could be the solution!  My partner and I measured closely and recovered a 20-foot long space, 9 feet wide at the far end, tapering to 4 feet at the near end where the existing gate to the yard would be removed, making the narrow space feel wide.  (The gate would be relocated from the side to the near end of the 20-foot area, easy access to and from parking.)

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The new chicken coop (See “Every Garden Needs Chickens”) is now at the west end of this space, farthest from the house.  The other elements here were located according to priorities of function – and, of course, beauty, because feeding the soul is essential and pretty simple.

And I’m not talking expensive beauty, of course.  I’m talking color and relationship, mostly, and a little “intuitive feng shui,” I call it.

Nearly everything here is found and recycled, some so old that anyone else would have tossed the pieces into the landfill long ago, but I selected and kept them because I saw they still had functional possibilities – and were in colors that work for me.  (I never throw anything away (to recycle or trash) until I’ve tried to think of every potential use it might have.  Some might call this unnecessary or even neurotic, but I enjoy it and feel that it’s simply respecting the life force in everything.  Then, later, it saves me money and time.  I feel my way is appropriately and responsibly adaptive to our current culture, overflowing with material goods yet impoverished in so many ways.

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Notice that we designed this space around sitting and watching the chickens!  Yes, chickens are wonderfully entertaining, and sitting there for a bit each morning gives us a good opportunity to become familiar with these living beings for which we’re taken responsibility.  And so we sit and watch them a lot, morning and afternoon, learning their personalities, learning about their relationships with each other and with their space, and we’ll probably notice if anything’s ever not well with them.

Left of the chairs is an old, but rain-protective trashcan filled with straw for their house and coop floors (the rest is outside the fence).  Note that the straw will be kept dry, as mold is dangerous for chickens.  On top of the straw storage is an old basket for the cat to hide in while watching the chickens with us.  Above the basket on the fence is a shelf for a higher watching post for the cat and easier access for her to the roof of the coop.

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In front of the enclosure on the right is another rain-protective trashcan (hidden behind the black compost bin) with the birds’ feed in it, a blue trash bucket (here because it fits, is convenient to the street where most trash on the property unfortunately originates, and the blue plastic is hidden from the patio), and a white bucket bucket of dirt (also hidden from the patio) to cover certain compost items for fly repression.

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Next to these items is a commercial compost bin, obviously plastic (not the beautiful wooden item we’ve designed on paper) – which we inherited and had stored for two years.  This day, we decided to use it, rather than build our more-beautiful design because we really felt like putting together a new bin, were tired of building after the weeks spent on the coop, and didn’t have all the materials needed.  So, we decided to try this thing since we had it.

We placed the bin on an unused sheet of corrugated steel, sloped so we can capture the garden-nutricious fluid that leaks out the bottom into a repurposed plastic planting tray (with a pie tin toward the back to capture any juice that might otherwise be missed coming off the back corner where the tray is too short).

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The space in front of the bin is large enough to do most compost tasks, and we can make more space easily by moving the chairs when we need to bring in the wheelbarrow.

Right of the bin used to be a used, plastic “Worm Factory,” which we also inherited, but shortly after I originally posted the blog, I remembered it was very heat sensitive, so I moved it to the shade of the apricot tree on the other side of the fence and covered it with a wet gunny sack.  With a thermometer inside, I’ve watched the temperature stay around 70 degrees and notice that the worms seem to be thriving on the coffee grounds, kitchen scraps that the chickens don’t care for, and newspapers – “highest and best” use turning them into good growing soil.

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The wood piles contain scraps of lumber for construction projects or outdoor fires, limbs for indoor fires and garden stakes, and smaller pieces for kindling and mulch – and other pieces for bug-habitat in the chicken coop!

“Highest and best use” is always the rule – and there are so many ways to use and reuse things, it’s fun to think about all the possibilities, organize toward those possibilities, and then one day find that you’ve turned that “resource pile” into a chicken coop or something else valuable, saving a trip to the lumber store and saving serious money.

Above the steel wood shelf is a plastic planter in a color similar to the  terra cotta color in the floral-patterned chair cushions.  I’m giving it a try, since it adds life – in the form of baby lettuce and cilantro – which I’ve dedicated to the birds.

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The hollyhock (in the green vase above the chairs) was broken accidentally when I was weeding near the street, so I put the top in the vase, and it’s been blooming now for five days.  It also seems a perfect addition to a space devoted to recycling things to create more life.

It satisfies another “rule” – to make things pretty.  We feel better when we see beauty, even the simplest.

And since all life is sacred, even compost and recycling centers deserve flowers.

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Artist, author, and speaker.

5 thoughts on “Composting Made Efficient and Beautiful

  1. Just changed the paragraph about the worm bin and removed the photo, as I realized (shortly after posting) that worms are very heat sensitive (should have remembered in the first place). The bin is now on a bench under the apricot tree on the other side of the fence, with a wet gunny sack draped over the bin for a “swamp cooler” effect. A thermometer inside tells me the temp stays around 70 degrees – very good – and the worms, when I peek, seem to be thriving on the coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, and newspapers – a far higher use to turn them into rich soil than hauling them across the country to turn them into more “news.” ;} Lovely day, feeling not quite fall-like, but close.

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