Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays’ take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘compost

Getting Orange

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Things are growing more orange around here. Yesterday at breakfast, Cyndie called me to come look at the difference in color of our eggs, compared to the ones purchased at the grocery store. Looks like the free-range diet of our three chickens is producing deep color in the yolks, seen on the right, below.

We spent the Labor Day holiday doing a lot of work, for a day off. Starting with a couple of hours cleaning out the compost area, using the loader bucket on the diesel tractor. There’s now plenty of room to store a winter’s worth of manure, just in case winter gets around to showing up.

Then we split up and Cyndie used the power trimmer in the labyrinth, while I entered a race against time to get the hayfield mowed before it rained.

Looking back toward the horses, I spotted another splash of orange color erupting from the green of our tree line.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like September.

At the end of a long day’s effort, we put our tools away and headed for the house under the drops of a perfect late-summer rain shower.

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Written by johnwhays

September 5, 2017 at 6:00 am

Part Way

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I made it part way through doing a thorough job of re-leveling the gazebo frame when my patience for the project ran out and I resorted to doing a less-than-perfect, but good enough wrap up to call it done. Funny how the perspective changes when the limited hours in a day are slipping away and the cost/benefit assessment provides a justification for aborting a plan.

Only time will tell whether or not it was a worthy choice. In the short-term, we are well satisfied with our progress. The shaded platform is ready for use.

With that done, we did turn our attention to using the loader bucket to remove a significant portion of the oldest composting manure. These were piles that had gone cold due to no longer actively composting. Interestingly, of the three piles we tended to, two of them retained a lot of moisture and one was surprisingly dry.

The dry one proved to be suitable for rodent housing and it appeared we disturbed a momma mouse in the process of giving birth. While Cyndie was at the pile discovering that, I had driven off with a full bucket and spotted a large mouse scrambling to and fro on the mechanisms of the loader arms.

It was a little like trying to drive a car with a bee flying around you. It was pure luck that I didn’t bash into the side of the barn while backing up as I focused on trying to get the dang critter to jump off the bucket and not run up toward my position.

He skittered over to an opening at the end of one of the loader arms, so I lifted the bucket high to slide the mouse out, but I don’t know if it is actually open all the way through. I never saw where he came out, or maybe he’s still in there.

It’s the kind of mini-drama that we are growing accustomed to, and as a result, we tend to just shrug these encounters off and carry on with the task at hand.

All manner of creatures can be found taking advantage of the spaces we create. They probably see our occasional intrusions on their luxurious accommodations in a similar way we look at hazardous weather. It happens. You clean up after it and get on with life.

Mowing the fields dislodges a lot of crawling and slithering things. Last time out, the prevalent sighting was a leaping creature. Several large, long-legged frogs were disturbed by the big wheels and high RPM roar of the tractor. I’m pleased to be able to say I didn’t witness any unfortunate encounters with the whirring blades of the brush cutter.

There are still plenty of other compost piles for the rodents to take up residence. Better there than in our house. Inside, they have to deal with a storm called Pequenita. When that happens, we have to deal with watching where we place our feet in the morning.

It’s such a glamorous life we lead.

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Written by johnwhays

August 5, 2017 at 9:39 am

Final Step

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It starts out as luscious green grass. The horses eat it and their bodies process it. They spread it on the ground for me to scoop up and shape into big piles. In the piles, microorganisms take action and the temperature climbs to around 160° (F). Eventually, things settle down and the pile cools.

At that point, it’s ready for use feeding growing things which puts that luscious green back where it came from at the start. The final step is loading some bags for sharing our wealth with others.

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My project yesterday was a little more involved than usual after the chickens showed up to offer assistance. Their version of helping seems to always involve getting as much in the way as they possibly can. I tried negotiating with them, but it seems as though they don’t understand English.

Compost work was interrupted by lunch, after which our attention shifted to the north pasture. With Cyndie assisting, we pulled the posts with a chain and the loader bucket of the diesel tractor, which cleared the way for me to mow the overgrown field.

Well, not exactly. The evergreen trees in that field have gotten so big, the tractor doesn’t fit between many of them anymore. It becomes a maze of weaving around groups of trees that are often too close together to provide easy weaving.

It was certainly more trouble than I could manage, in terms of getting the field to look decently mowed. I did achieve a wonderful version of the ‘bad haircut.’

The night ended with a small setback, as the chickens made their way into the tree over the compost piles again before we could entice them to the coop. It seems as though the training for that may not have a final step, but will be a repeating exercise for some time to come.

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Written by johnwhays

July 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

Dust Bathing

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While I was busy sprucing up the property, the chickens were sprucing up themselves with a rousing dust bath yesterday afternoon. Apparently, two of them had simultaneous interest in the exact same spot of sandy ground. If it hadn’t been for their two different colors, I wouldn’t have been able to tell where one left off and the other started.

The three of them were pretty cute in their companionship earlier in the day when I was turning the piles of compost. They would climb up on the pile I was working on, startling a little bit each time I tossed another scoop on the heap. Not intending to alarm them, I would switch to a different pile to work, after which they would migrate over to help me on that pile.

After a few hours of compost management, I pulled out the Grizzly with our towable grader/rake and did some laps in the round pen to disrupt the uninvited weedy grasses that love taking root in the sand. Maybe the chickens will take a liking to the newly raked sand over there.

Finally, I cranked up the lawn tractor to mow the yard and all the nooks and crannies from the house to the road.

I feel ready to return to the day-job. The next big task demanding attention is the labyrinth. With Cyndie reduced to one working arm, that garden has been mostly neglected. It is something I can probably do after work one of these nights, if I have any energy for the project. The grass and weeds have gotten tall and thick, so it won’t be a quick and easy job.

When that is completed, I need to get after the north pasture, where Cyndie has already removed the fence webbing. I want to pull the T-posts that remain standing and then knock down the shoulder-high growth with our brush cutter. That will be an adventure in mowing what you can’t see.

Sure hope the chickens stay out of that field.

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Working Through

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Some chores don’t wait for nice weather, so we ventured out into the constant drizzle on Sunday to open space in our compost area, despite the inconvenience. Cyndie had moved the horses indoors out of the wet on Saturday night, which resulted in soiled wood shavings in their stalls at a time when we didn’t have space in the compost area.

Luckily, there is a spot next to the barn where we’ve been using composted manure and old hay to fill in a drop in the landscape. The area had been a too convenient runway for water drainage that was problematic. Bringing it back to level with the surrounding area will spread and slow water flowing from above.

Out came the Grizzly, after putting air in the leaky front tire, and the metal grate trailer for an increasingly muddier series of loads from the compost area. Very similar to working on moving innumerable bales of hay, as time goes by, the loads seemed to get heavier and heavier and I started to move slower and slower. Cyndie pushed back against my increasing moments of pause, with a goal of getting the job done as quickly as possible so she could get in out of the cold and wet.

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When she proclaimed we were down to just two loads remaining, I corrected her with the estimation of four loads. After I tried to take out a small load to assure my estimation would win, she suggested we could toss some of the last bits into the woods around the compost area, leading to an outcome of three loads completing the task. It was declared a tie.

We were wet, it was muddy, but we had worked through the nasty weather to accomplish a necessary chore. We now have open space for composting again.

And not a moment too soon.

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Written by johnwhays

May 23, 2017 at 6:00 am

Chicks Exploring

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I have no idea whether the raccoon Delilah alerted us to outside our sunroom in broad daylight yesterday afternoon had anything to do with the new presence of our 8-week-old chicks roaming the property. It was certainly a surprising and uncharacteristic sighting.

Daily, our chicks have expanded their excursions from the coop, and yesterday achieved milestones that gave me great satisfaction. Cyndie found them marching along the edge of the woods toward the compost area where they quickly unleashed their best chicken behavior on the piles.

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Later, after running with Delilah to follow the scent of the raccoon, we moved behind the barn to check on the birds. When they spotted us, they scooted from the paddock over toward the coop. The paddock is the other spot I hoped the chickens would frequent. My two primary goals realized in the same day. Huzzah!

While I am grateful that Delilah is attentive enough to call out the presence of a raccoon threat in our yard, I’m not yet convinced her concern for the chicks is as altruistic as we would wish. While Cyndie was cleaning the barn, Delilah held an uncomfortably intense focus on the compost area.

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Written by johnwhays

May 22, 2017 at 6:00 am

Adding Oxygen

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A sure sign of spring being in full swing is when we finally start dealing with the piles of manure that accumulate in the paddocks over winter. Yesterday, I dug into one of the two big ones.

IMG_iP1374eWe generally build up the piles in the paddock and then ignore them. As a result, they don’t make stellar progress in breaking down. However, over time they do settle noticeably. Seeing them get flat is usually a trigger for me to take action to turn the pile.

Since the pile yesterday had been left untended for weeks, it made for a vivid example of the transition possible when putting in the effort to turn it over, reshape it and add air.

The micro organisms that do the composting will use up all available water and oxygen in the pile. If it isn’t replenished, the process stalls. In the case of this pile, the neglect had foiled things before all the moisture was removed, so it was still wet enough, but it needed some air get the process going again.

In the image you can see the old, dry, flattened portion on the right, and the freshly turned, taller pile I was turning it into on the left.

While I was working, Hunter sauntered over to visit. I acknowledged him, but didn’t stop what I was doing. He didn’t move as I maneuvered the pitch fork to toss the pile without hitting him, but only narrowly missing him. He kept inhaling loudly, absorbing the earthy smells emanating from the newly oxygenated mass.

I breathed heavily, right along with him as I worked. Soon, I noticed his eyes were getting droopy. He was just chilling near me as I toiled away.

It reminded me of the time, years ago, when I was just getting to know the horses. Hunter approached me while I was raking up the winter’s-worth of accumulated manure, and he laid down next to me. I was so shocked by his action that I called Cyndie to check on the situation. She seemed thrilled by his behavior and assured me that it was an indication he was entirely comfortable with my presence and I could simply continue to rake while he rested beside me.

It’s precious knowing he still likes to hang with me like that as I work.

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Written by johnwhays

May 21, 2016 at 6:00 am