Garden Bed Composting

“Buzz, buzz, buzz!” My ears perk up at the annoying sound, and my eyes that would much prefer to stay shut, blink open knowing that soon the chickens will be singing their egg song and waking up a small portion of suburbia. I immediately grab whatever mobile device is close at hand and check my email and Facebook–my brain’s daily breakfast. Once my brain has been fed and I’ve realized all that’s on my to-do list for the day, I drag myself out of bed, hoping that I can accomplish something—anything–from my to-do list.

Garden Bed Composting - Stone Family Farmstead

This article was written in early 2014 when we still lived on our .18 of an acre urban homestead.
It appeared first in From Scratch Magazine’s February/March 2014 issue.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a lazy homesteader. I’m also the one whose idea all of this was, so by virtue of being the “brain” of this .18 of an acre homestead, it is my job to make my body follow my brain right into my homesteading duties. Every. Single. Day. My husband works very hard each day as a carpenter at a nearby airport (and on weekends if I need him to build any chicken coops, rabbit hutches, or animal runs); and the kids….well, they are kids (15 and 22yo) and could care less about homesteading at this point in their plugged-in lives. It’s pretty much up to me to each day to keep things running smoothly, which for this lazy homesteader with so many other hobbies and interests can be a difficult task.

This makes it necessary for me to find ways to cut corners without losing quality—and if I can increase the quality of what I’m doing in less time, I have found a new habit and a fabulous way to keep one part of my postage-stamp-of-a-homestead running like a well-oiled machine. One of the ways I increase quality and decrease time spent is to compost directly into my garden. I learned to do this quite by accident, and let me tell you, “me + garden composting” is truly a match made in heaven.

compost piles - Stone Family Farmstead

This accidental habit happened because of my inability to handle our compost piles. You see, we have a couple of those compost bins that come as a really long rolled up rectangle that you screw together with plastic screws—sort of a “choose your size” type deal. Because it is my habit to think that bigger is better, we screwed them together on the last holes, which made them about 3 feet in diameter—plenty of room to fit plenty of composting material! Great right? I thought so until I filled them both up completely and couldn’t remove the screws! My poor compost is still trapped in those bins. (On the bright side, I should have some lovely black gold once I wrestle it out of those rectangles.)

I had to come up with a Plan B, and by golly, I like Plan B way better than Plan A because it is much easier and cuts out the middle steps from compost material collection to garden.

This method works best when there are multiple garden plots on your property. I have four—one for herbs and three for vegetables– so there is always an empty plot that has just been cleared out and is ready for its nutrients to be replenished. Because they are all raised beds, they often need their volume replenished as well, which is a fabulous use of all of the chicken and rabbit poop, shavings, hay, and leftover uneaten veggies that I collect from our rabbit hutch and chicken coop throughout the week.

i dump compost right into my garden bed - Stone Family Farmstead

Each day when I clean out the rabbit hutch tray and refresh the chicken coop, I scoop all the poop and soiled shavings with a dustpan into an 18 gallon plastic blue container. Once it’s full, I carry it over to the composting garden, each day moving from one dumping site in the garden to another, until the garden is evenly filled. I go ahead and add small kitchen scraps if I will be composting this garden for more than a couple of months. I keep adding material to it, for 2-4 weeks before I will be planting in it. The reason for this is because I want to give the chicken poop and any rabbit urine time to completely compost (otherwise it will burn the tender plant leaves), as well as any kitchen scraps that need time to break down. I don’t get scientific about it at all—that’s just not me—rather I just add what I need to and let it compost right in the raised bed.

chickens are great composters - Stone Family Farmstead

As if this wasn’t easy enough, I don’t even turn my compost—my chickens do that for me! Lucy and Ethel not only make my composting job extremely simple and save me tons of time, but they save me money on feed. They remove unwanted grubs from my garden bed that would be harmful to my seedlings, as well as unwanted seeds that might otherwise sprout in my garden, stealing all those lovely nutrients from my growing vegetables. Grubs, worms, and leftover food items (saving those that are toxic to chickens—see list below) provide a great source of nutritional content, not to mention hours of pecking fun for our feathered friends.

Lucy and Ethel doing the composting - Stone Family Farmstead

Because I use my chickens as composting partners on a regular basis, I make sure that I avoid adding the following items to my compost bed:

• Chocolate
• Onions
• Avocado and pits
• Uncooked potato (especially green)
• Tomato plants
• Stone fruit pits
• Foods high in salt
• Apple seeds
• Alcohol (or foods that contain it)
• Dried beans (uncooked)
• Caffeinated drinks
• Food you wouldn’t eat (moldy or rotten food, etc.)

working chickens - Stone Family Farmstead

Using compost in my garden has revolutionized the volume of produce I receive from my planting efforts, and composting directly into my garden has done the same for my gardening efforts. It has saved me so much work, time, money, and has given my chickens a place to forage for the nutrition they wouldn’t otherwise receive from their daily laying mash. The nutrition they receive transfers to nutritious meals for our family, and with all of the other benefits of using this method, this method is a huge “win” in my gardening notebook!

Garden Bed Composting - Stone Family Farmstead

Shared at: Good Morning Mondays, Homemade Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Monday, The Art of Homemaking Mondays, Hey Momma Link Party, MisAdventures Monday, Maple Hill Hop, Tuesdays with a Twist, Tuesday Garden Party, Homesteading Blog Hop, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop, Weekend Blog Hop, Awesome Life Friday, From the Farm, Front Porch Friday

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Kristi Stone

Kristi Stone

Honestly? I'm the author of this blog...sometimes. My family and I live in Sunny Southern California on a one acre hobby farm where we are working diligently to one day produce our dairy, eggs, and produce. That takes A LOT of work, so if you don't hear from me as soon as you'd like, give me a shout out in the comments and I'll chat back as soon as I can between the garden, goat kids, chickens, husband, human kids, and playing with my grandboy, Kieran. And in the mean time, if you'd like to see more frequently what goes on at our farm, please feel free to join my Facebook group (see the right column) where I am more active. I'd love to get to know you! 🙂
Kristi Stone

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  1. Fantastic system! Whether it’s because you consider yourself lazy (but really, how could you be?), or not, this works so well! Love how the girls are doing their part. Thanks for joining us on The Maple Hill Hop!

    • Thanks! Ha ha, yeah, I’m far less lazy than I was at our old homestead, that’s for sure! It really does work well for me–not perfect–but it’s a good happy medium.

  2. Great system!! I’ve tried composting at least 3 times and they’ve been big ol’ stinky fails. I’m too lazy/forgetful, I think. Thanks so much for linking up with #heymomma!!

    • Thanks Casey! Honestly, I need to do everything I do in the simplest, most effective way or I forget to do them. My composting system works, it just takes a lot longer than the scientific methods of layering and heating the pile and all that. Works for me!

  3. I love how this works easily into your garden system – I don’t have chickens, though, shoot. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing with us at the TGP!

    • Thanks Jami! What I described in this article is my old garden system. I still do something similar with a huge pile that the chickens scratch in, but it’s a lot messier. :-/ The reason for this, though, is because I have planted both of my present gardens and don’t want the girls scratching around in it. Once Todd builds the sides of garden #3, I’ll probably start doing this again to prep for a spring garden for 2016. It’s a slower process than a compost bin method, but it works for me.

  4. Love this idea, Im terrible with our bins too and they always get too full or wet! ill be trying this out for sure

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