Chickens Compost Quickly Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Compost is black gold! It is the favorite of the vegetable garden community. So much so that people will spend countless hours and a lot of back work getting it on. These efforts seem justified for an end product that will build the structure of your soil, add accessible nutrients for your vegetables, and (as a top dressing) protect your garden from drought and winter washout.

To do this, gardeners spend hours gathering raw materials, often turning the heavy compost in the making with pitchforks, and monitoring humidity and temperature so they can adjust the pile as needed.

There are many ways to make compost, however, and not all of them require as much labor. If you’re excited about the benefits of compost for your garden but are looking for an easier way to go, read on to find some lazy ways to get you to the same goal. Long ago we gave up starting compost beakers, turning compost heaps every week, and carefully formulating brown-green materials. Here on our farm we now employ:

  • Fast chicken composting
  • Super slow bed composting
  • Lazy Garden Composting

Fast chicken composting

This has to be the easiest way to make compost. It’s the fastest too! Make a compost bin right in your chicken yard (or near their coop if they are free range). The result is perfect compost within about 2 months from spring to autumn. These compost heaps get hot enough inside to kill weed seeds!

Since our chickens live in a large, fenced-in pasture area, we simply cordoned off two of the corners with a few bales of straw to create triangular composting areas with bales of straw on one side and fences on the other two. Kitchen waste and rotten garden vegetables go into the chicken composter. Tinned tomato and apple peels also go in. Dying plants at the end of the harvest are added. The chickens eat some of the vegetable matter. They keep mixing the rest, creating a perfect environment for worms and beetles to help them with the composting process.

The additional insect life from composting is also a bonus feed for the chickens. If you have been growing vegetables for a very long time, you will find that you are very good at breeding insects too. We often plant beans one at a time and grow the older plants as soon as bean beetle larvae colonize them. The plants and beetles go straight to the chicken composter. Rotten hay and old straw are nice additions to carbon too.

Keep two chicken compost bins in action so you can fill one full, and let the chickens do their thing for the next two months while you fill the second bin. When you empty the first container of nice compost for your garden, just start a new pile in the same place. In the fall, break up any crumbling straw bales and use them as the bottom layer of a new pile.

super slow bedding composter

Use animal litter to make wonderful composting in a wonderful way. Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Super slow bed composting

This method takes two years and requires a little more work as the piles have to be rotated a few times. But it’s still a lot less work than traditional methods. Since animal manure is used in these piles, they also get hot enough to kill weed seeds. This is good because both hay and straw end up in the piles and seeds are often mixed in.

We raise chickens, guineas and sheep and have developed this composting method to recycle the used litter. The same method should work fine if you have other birds or mammals. The birds sleep in a stable at night, where we use a deep bed system made from pine shavings. During the winter and during the spring lamb, the sheep are housed in an open barn with a deep layer of straw. We will have to remove quite a few partially decomposed dirty beds by the end of winter.

My husband made compost bins out of four salvaged wooden pallets lined with chicken wire. He placed them directly on the ground (so the worms could find the compost) and tied them together with heavy-duty zip ties. A number of these containers extend in a line between the two animal houses.

Every spring we fling the barn and put the dirty bedding in a large round wire bin next to the pallet bins. This lets in a lot of air and rain. In the summer, the contents compost to less than half of their original size. My husband then puts everything in the first pallet container. In the spring, the wire container is filled again and the first pallet container is transferred to the second pallet container. With every rotation he mixes in soybean meal or bone meal to speed up the composting process. In the fall, Bin 2 goes to Bin 3, Bin 1 to Bin 2, and the large wire bin is converted to Bin 1. In the third spring, container 3 can be used directly in the garden as a nice black compost.

This method takes a long time, but requires minimal effort. When you have animals, you have to do something with their dirty bedding. You can also make rotten compost.

Straw bale composter

Make a straw bale compost pile right in your yard. Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Straw bale composting

As a slow and cool composting method, this process does not kill weed seeds. But it makes compost in a year with little work. Just be careful when planting materials with seeds. Make a square or rectangle out of bales of straw. Put them two bales per side and build them two bales high. A long piece of slotted PVC pipe placed vertically in the middle of the stack lets air into the middle, making it compost faster.

For more information on what to add to the pile, where to put it, and how to care for it, see my previous post on Building Your Garden in Winter. This is a great composting method that you can place right in your vegetable garden for quick disposal of harvested plants. If your garden is near your kitchen, like mine, this is a wonderful place to take away kitchen scraps too.

Sprinkle a cup of soybean meal over each pile of material you add on top of the pile. Once your compost bin is full, just let it sit for a year and it will be completely composted.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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Originally published: 05/21/2021 9:26:00 AM