Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘compost

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

Garden Progress

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Cyndie’s new garden is progressing nicely. We received a wonderfully timed rain shower last night, after giving the plants a final serving of composted manure fertilizer. With the robust effort Cyndie put in to protect the new plantings from marauding animals, the garden should now have everything necessary to thrive.

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After my last wheelbarrow load had been delivered to her, I headed into the paddock to do a little clean up in the narrow end closest to the garden. In no time, Legacy arrived to closely supervise. He always wants to nibble on the wooden handles of the wheelbarrow, which I strictly forbid.

IMG_iP3203eCHI repeatedly adjust the position so the handles point to where I am standing, meaning he would have to go through me to get to them. If I wander at all, he will step in for a bite. After he figured out I wasn’t going to let that happen, he turned his attention to Cyndie in the garden, on the other side of the driveway.

As I worked, the other three horses arrived to share in the excitement. Cayenne stood so close to me that we almost bumped noses a couple of times. I called over to Cyndie to show off my crew, hanging with me while I toiled away.

I didn’t know she was taking pictures until we got inside and she shared them.

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Written by johnwhays

April 21, 2016 at 6:00 am

Not Hot

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IMG_iP1135eThis is one of the not hot compost piles in our paddock. Not much in the way of decomposition happening there. Maybe that will change this weekend when the mega-melt of February is expected to arrive.

The frozen compost piles aren’t hot, but the temperature of the air will be. Add a chance for some rain in the mix and our lawn may become visible by the end of the weekend.

Mud season!

I suppose I ought to think about getting the garden tractor tuned up and ready for battle.

This early warmup in interesting, but warmth at this time of year is a fickle thing. One moment it feels all summery and promising, and a day later we could be socked in by a foot or two of heavy, wet snow. Do. Not. Remove. Winter. Accessories. From. Your. Vehicles.

The odds of needing them stays high through the first week in May around here. I’m inclined to wait until June before finally choosing to store them someplace safe, where I will never remember to look the following November when I am desperate to scrape frost off a windshield again.

IMG_iP1138eThis past Monday, the horses were enjoying the last hour of our increasingly longer daylight while I was tending to the frozen  manure pile closest to the barn. I have a sense that they are going to enjoy a warm spell, despite the messy footing it promises to provide.

With their coats still winter-thick, I expect it may feel downright hot to them.

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Written by johnwhays

February 18, 2016 at 7:00 am