Wednesday, March 10, 2010

celebrating compost

Yesterday we dug into the grandfather manure pile and found the gardener's version of gold. I've been told this morning that I either need a vacation or a stiff drink for celebrating this, and I laughed, but to be honest, it's one of the little miracles of living on a farm that I hope I never stop celebrating.

Since January I've been making small compost piles around the perimeter of my pastures, with the intention of composting some of our stall waste right where it's needed, so that when when it's mature, I can simply drag it out across the field. Unlike with chemical fertilizers, horses can graze immediately on composted fields.

It's an experiment, so we'll see how it works out. Yesterday I shifted from pile making to pile seeding. I'm going to cover each small pile with a nice layer of mature compost and then let nature do its thing.

Meanwhile, I've started saving for a composting system made by the o2 company, which will significantly reduce the time it takes to get from stall waste to mature compost. I can move the portable bins around to where I need them, and run the aerating fan with a small solar panel. The company also has a page on their site which talks about using mature compost as stall bedding, which would make the bedding issue a closed circle at some point - no need to buy more!  I can't quite picture it, but apparently there are more than a few horse farms doing this with good results. For the horse sensitive to the usual bedding materials, I can imagine compost being a very benign alternative.

Aside from the obvious benefits of composting, which include turning a waste material into something valuable, protecting the groundwater, and possibly reducing expenses overall, I confess there seems something almost magical about the process, and that has its own appeal.

One of the most constant, never-ending chores on a horse farm has to do with mucking and managing manure. Horses are designed to graze nearly 24 hours a day, and as we toss hay and maintain pasture to keep that possible for horses not able to range as they do in the wild, it's not lost on most of us that what goes in one end comes out the other.

Two years ago I transformed the daily chore into something pleasurable when I started using my wheelbarrow loads to create the labyrinth path. Once done, I moved on to the woodland path. Now I'm making these small piles, thinking of them as alchemical mounds, which will transform to gardening gold.

Even the equines are excited about it. I'm noticing they helpfully drop the manure close to the piles, and yesterday, as I was working on one small pile in the back field, the pony came over and backed up, leaving me more raw material for my alchemy lab.


the7msn said...

Back in my days at the horse rescue, I discovered the O2 company and Peter Moon - he was incredibly helpful. We never got the grant to purchase a composting system, but had we, theirs was definitely the best.

billie said...

Great to hear that you know of the company and give them a thumbs up - thanks for letting me know.

I've spoken with one of the staff at length and have the phone numbers of several horse farms relatively local to me who have offered to let me come look at their composting systems. We will start with the most basic of their designs, due to cost, but I hope one day we can build one of the top-down models. So tidy and efficient.

jme said...

we're looking to install an o2 system here at the farm too! i do worry that we'll generate more than we can use, but we are surrounded by farms so i'm hoping we'll be able to donate it to a good cause. who wouldn't love some nice fresh compost? :-)

billie said...

j, how exciting to hear! another great endorsement for this company - between you and Linda, I'm sold.

ponymaid said...

Billie, we donkeys are proud to do our bit in the quest for perfect compost. As suppliers of raw material, we are second to none.

billie said...

Sheaffer, the donkeys supply in such nice, tidy, small piles - easily gathered with one quick swipe of the muck rake. Much appreciated when the other four equines are always two swipes and require much more muscle to lift and dump. :)

Dougie Donk said...

Having know someone who bedded their laminitic pony on Irish peat, I can see that compost would work as an alternative bedding.
Only problem I can forsee is that, like peat, good compost is so dark that you won't easily see the wet bits.
Will be keen to hear how this works in reality, so do keep us posted.

billie said...

My thoughts exactly wrt the wet bits!

There is actually a book that addresses using compost as stall bedding - it's titled The Perfect Stall and I aim to read it soon.