Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘composting

Fiery Sky

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The horses were heavily harassed by biting flies yesterday, which made my session of scooping manure a lively affair. The biggest hazard, beyond unpredictable flailing hooves as they fling a leg out in response to a bite, is the nasty snap of their tails. They could take an eye out with that whipping action. At the very least, it stings when they get you.

I’ve noticed they will frequently align themselves to purposely have their heads in the wash of someone else’s tail for added fly management. There is no doubt they are thicker skinned than we are. I wouldn’t be able to endure the beating.

I worked well past the dinner hour last night, after a full shift at the day-job, to create added open space in the compost area for my approaching week-long absence from home. The effort now should pay off when I return, so I won’t come home to a disaster of overflowing piles.

Manure management is one of those jobs that is made easy by frequent attention. Let it go for a day or two between scooping and it can become an exponentially more significant project.

Last night, I opened up a gate to a section of pasture that still has long grass, to allow the herd a brief session of grazing. The first thing three of them did was pee. The second thing they took turns doing was laying down and rolling around.

When I looked their direction to see they finally got around to seriously grazing, the setting sun was illuminating the clouds to create the impression of a great conflagration. Photo Op!

One last day at the day-job today before vacation. I hope to try mowing the yard tonight and maybe doing a little laundry so I can pack clean clothes for the bike trip.

If I pack warm clothes and rain gear, maybe I won’t need them. We all know that if I don’t pack those things, it would guarantee that the week would turn out cold and wet.

If we see fiery clouds in the evenings during the bike trip, I hope it will mean, “sailor’s delight.”

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Written by johnwhays

June 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

Growing Accustomed

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I had a moment over the weekend when I became aware of just how much comfort I am developing with many of the things that were beyond my sphere of exposure just a few years ago. That’s not entirely a surprise. I expected to get the hang of things in time. But, there is relief in being able to notice the progress.

I changed the oil and replaced the mower blades on the lawn tractor on Saturday. Detaching and sliding out the mower deck has become so simple and routine for me that I laughed to myself over the change of perspective about the task.

When we got the horses, I didn’t have any experience caring for a horse. It was a daunting feeling to be responsible for their well-being when knowing so little about them. I’ve grown a lot more comfortable reading their general health in the ensuing years.

I have been composting the horse manure long enough now that I am getting much better at recognizing progress, both when it’s happening, and when it’s not. It was interesting yesterday to discover that I needed to add water to piles I was turning, even though we had been receiving rain showers throughout the preceding 18 hours.

IMG_iP1340eThe micro organisms that generate intense heat while breaking down the manure, do an amazing job of drying out the material at the same time. If I neglect to turn the pile often enough, the composting process doesn’t transpire nearly as efficiently as it otherwise would.

Luckily, I’ve grown accustomed to having manure management be a significant part of my contribution here.

What can I say? I’m good at shoveling it.

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2016 at 6:00 am

White Flakes

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DSCN4079eLadies and gentlemen, let the record state, we have snow. Ready, or not, the white flakes of winter have made their first appearance here. You can hardly see them in the image, but I had to take the picture anyway. It’s the official portrait recording proof of the occasion.

Maybe if you squint a little bit and shake your head back and forth while looking at it.

Not really. I just wanted to see if I could get you to do that.

I came home from work with the full intention of building the last of four slow-feeder hay boxes for the stalls in the barn, for Legacy’s “apartment,” but the weather had degraded early enough that Cyndie moved the herd indoors before I even arrived. He’ll eat his hay out of an open tub for the time being.

I got the night off, which was quite all right with me. I wasn’t that interested in venturing out into the cold and wet blowing mess, preferring instead, to climb under a blanket and take in one of the rented movies that came in the mail.

We had a good laugh over “Life of Crime,” with Mos Def and John Hawkes, among other notable names in the cast. It was a fun distraction from anything that matters, like …the cost increases for medical insurance, or when the chimney repair company will be able to fix it so we can burn fires in the fireplace again.

When the movie was over, we put on outdoor gear that hasn’t been worn for over half a year and went down to the barn to check on the tenants. My headlamp revealed some snow was finding a way to accumulate on the leaves and grass. The horses seemed happy to be out of the elements and a lot closer to dry than they were when they came in, hours before.

I was able to watch the three chestnuts navigating the new hay boxes, while Cyndie worked around them to clean their bedroom floors. It’s nice to see them be able to eat with their heads down, in the natural position of grazing, as opposed to the old system that involved racks that held the hay up high.

DSCN4081eI dumped the wheelbarrow of manure and wood shavings, with the thought that this was the beginning of the season where we collect significantly greater volumes to be composted. After just a few loads already this season, the space set aside for this purpose looks like it will never be enough for the whole winter. That is, unless they don’t need to come inside overnight very many times.

I’m thinking El Niño may help keep the horses outside a lot this winter. If that happens, we have plenty of compost space to support our operation for another year.

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Written by johnwhays

October 29, 2015 at 6:00 am

Already Behind

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I recently bought a compost thermometer with an 18 inch probe to check the temperature in the center of my composting manure piles. My first test had me worried that the device was broken when the needle moved the wrong direction. I moved the probe to another spot and started to get a positive reading, so it wasn’t a total bust. I just needed to find a true hotspot in the pile.

A couple of days later I discovered why the needle moved the wrong direction. Not only was that spot not warm from actively composting, it was still snow-packed! With daytime temperatures in the 60s (F) lately, I allowed myself to be fooled about how much melting had occurred.

Only the main core of the pile really stays warm in the winter, and even that can go cold if the composting process stalls. Plenty of the accumulating pile on the fringes is mixed with snow when it gets picked up, or the entire pile gets periodically covered with new fallen snow.

DSCN2956eWhen the spring thaw begins, the visible snow is the first to go. It takes a lot longer to melt piles of snow and ice. I somehow was lulled into the assumption that our low amount of snow cover would mean a complete thaw would happen almost immediately.

The transition from winter to spring is a frustrating one for me. In some ways it seems to take a long time, but in other ways it happens faster than I can react. I noticed yesterday that the landscape pond beside our deck was more water than ice. I need to buy a new in-line filter for the water we pump up to a little waterfall.

DSCN2958eWhile walking Delilah, we came across evidence that moles have already begun their activity of tunneling in the lawn. I meant to buy some stinky deterrent to drive them off into the woods and out of our yard. Haven’t done that yet.

Even though we are drying out nicely, there is still a lot of soil moisture, which will be good when it comes to getting our hayfield to grow, but it means we can’t drive around on any of our machines without making deep impressions in the soft earth.

I would like to clean out the winter accumulation of manure in the paddocks, sooner than later, but that is a huge project and it is inviting a muddy battle to drive around pulling a heavy trailer this soon after the melt.

On top of these concerns is the always possible threat that we could yet receive a significant wallop of a winter storm. The example I repeatedly refer to now is the 18 inches we received on May 2nd in 2013. So even though I feel like I am already behind in being prepared for spring, the possibility for additional doses of winter weather still has a high potential to occur for another 6-weeks or so.

It’s crazy-making. Luckily, we have a trip to visit the Morales’ in Guatemala very soon. That ought to take my mind off the concern of lingering snow events for a while.

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Written by johnwhays

March 17, 2015 at 6:00 am

Unsanitary Landfill

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I laughed at myself yesterday, thinking about my unorthodox methods. When I lived in the suburbs, I would collect fallen leaves and spread them all around our lot as ground cover, while all my neighbors were collecting theirs and bagging them to be thrown away. Now I am using composting manure to fill low spots, without waiting for it to become dirt.

One area I am working on is just outside the back door of the barn. Last year when we were creating the paddocks, we had water piped from the barn to a Ritchie waterer for the horses. Excavators dug a very deep trench to get below the frost line, and it exited the barn by that door. I think we are going to be needing to add fill over that trench for a few years as the dirt they filled it with continues to settle.

DSCN2087eThis spring, after the snow melted away, the ground had dropped down so much that the first step out of the back door had become a real doozy. I have slowly been filling that trench with the dirt and manure that was raked into piles in the paddock at the end of winter. I got the idea to use that for fill from the fact that the piles ended up being more dirt than manure. Still, I am putting poop on the yard as fill. How unsanitary is that?

The last few rain events interrupted the composting process on my main pile, by getting everything too wet. I’m using the oldest portion at the end of the pile anyway. It can dry out where I spread it to fill the depression caused by the trench.

DSCN2092eYou might be able to discern how I have segmented the pile to create sections with differing stages of composting. I think it would work, if I had a roof over it to control the moisture.

Not gonna happen. Not for a while, anyway. I’ve still got a woodshed to rebuild before I embark on any other roof constructing projects.

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Written by johnwhays

July 10, 2014 at 6:00 am

Shitty Education

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In the time since our horses arrived late last September, we have been stockpiling manure in one primary location. Based on information Cyndie gathered, we roughed out a spot that we guessed would be large enough. That was about as far as we went in terms of a plan of action for manure management.

In my naiveté, I thought we could start piling at the back of the clearing we designated, and just keep dumping new loads toward the front. If it timed out right, we could access the pile from the back to remove old composted manure for use as tree food and fertilizer for Cyndie’s plants. I planned to scoop the front of the pile with the loader on our tractor, to stir and aerate the material, moving the composting manure back and making new space for fresh loads to be dumped in front again.

The more informed method involves an area divided into 3 separate sections. This allows the first pile to become fully composted and ready for use, the middle one to be in process of breaking down, and the last one for dumping fresh manure.

My system didn’t work the way I imagined because our method of dumping full-wheelbarrows ended up filling the designated space all the way to the front in a very short amount of time. Instead of dumping somewhere beyond our designated space, I chose to go up. I created a ramp and we just kept adding fresh manure on top of the previous batches already beginning to break down.

That has led to a pile with layers in varying stages of decomposition. It is obvious our pile shrinks over time, depending on how much new manure is being added, but the two key elements to accelerating the breakdown are the optimal amount of air and moisture, and our pile hasn’t been getting the correct amount of either. Our location is not covered, so I figured we would suffer from too much wetness, but the process of decomposition uses up moisture and will cause dry spots that interrupt decomposition if not stirred.

IMG_iP0594eYesterday afternoon, after I got home from the day-job, I cut deep into the back of our manure pile for the first time. I wanted to move some material from the pile that was already composting, down to the new location I created by the labyrinth. The impetus for that was our desire to give our newly transplanted tree at the center of the labyrinth a dose of horse manure fertilizer.

Even though the tree is showing signs of new buds along its trunk, there is no indication that the buds at the ends of the branches have any life in them whatsoever. It is really testing my patience.

IMG_iP0600eSo, I was able to cut into the main manure pile and get educated about what is going on down below, and I got enough cinder blocks stacked to create the start of a satellite pile where I will be better able to control the rate of composting.

Best of all, it will be conveniently located near the garden of plants that help define the form of our labyrinth path.

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Written by johnwhays

May 21, 2014 at 6:00 am