Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘compost

Not Simple

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We really didn’t plan for this. I picture gardening as digging up some dirt and dropping in some seeds. Cyndie mentioned wanting to grow some of our own food. I’m not one to quickly volunteer for a huge project that only grows more laborious with time, but I was willing to support Cyndie in having a garden.

She suggested the slope and I agreed to create terracing to facilitate. From there, things have slowly evolved to include our simultaneous lumberjacking project to remove marked trees from beneath our preferred mature oaks. There is no longer anything simple about this modest little produce garden.

Yesterday, I finally felled the last, most difficult, trees from beneath the two oaks nearest our house. Only about 27 left to go throughout the rest of our woods.

We are wrestling with placing tree trunks that are almost too heavy to manage in place of creosote-soaked fence posts as the wall in the first terrace. The fact that none of them are as straight as first glance implies throws a real complicating challenge into my attempts to make reality merge with our fantasy of perfect results.

For her part, Cyndie is keeping the pressure on to complete this first terrace with her early planning and execution of starting plants indoors and testing soils.

The first peek of a sprout was from one of her lettuce seeds. I’ve never seen what a lettuce plant looks like when it goes to seed.

We now have data on the nitrogen, phosphorous, potash, and acidity levels in the clay-dominant soil on the slope, as well as in three different locations where we have stores of composted manure. Our hope is to combine the best of each to build a premium growing environment in this first terrace.

Seeing how involved this has become is a classic revelation of why I am not quick to jump on board with every idea that pops up. Sure, I’d love to have fresh food from a garden of our own, but can we get there by just digging up some dirt and throwing in a few seeds?

I guess it’s not that simple.

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Written by johnwhays

May 3, 2020 at 10:06 am

Slow Progress

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Yesterday, despite mighty intentions to tackle many tasks, I lowered my expectations to match my level of energy. To start, I decided to complete the prior day’s effort to shape up the old manure compost area. The chickens were thrilled to see me.

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It was low-hanging fruit, so to speak.

I had intended to do some chainsaw tasks that I’ve been saving for when I wasn’t home alone, but a power tool with a sharp blade was more than I wanted to be managing this day. In fact, the leaning pine tree stump I was going to trim back suddenly offered an alternative solution of being pushed back upright with a hydraulic jack.

Some spur-of-the-moment ideas don’t always pan out. The extra effort toward that side-project was only successful in avoiding doing something else. I think it is going to take the come-along winch to ultimately accomplish that task, but we decided to save it for another time.

From there, we headed across the field to try digging in the footbridge. That was another project which morphed into an adaptation somewhere between the ideal I had in my mind and the reality of what could be easily accomplished in a short amount of time with tools we could carry.

It ended up a perfect example of “good enough.”

That is a pretty good description of my whole day yesterday. It is something for which I have no complaints.

Slow progress is better than no progress at all.

Still healthy, 97.2°, and happily sheltering at home for the weekend with an amazing chef and companion. No complaints whatsoever, indeed.

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Written by johnwhays

April 19, 2020 at 9:34 am

Digging Projects

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Since much of my yesterday was spent tethered to the day-job email account I didn’t dig into any large outdoor projects, but I did get a chance to do a little digging. There are remains of two old manure piles that have essentially been flattened by chicken activity that I have wanted to toss together into one big pile. When I start turning dirt, chickens come running to take advantage of the opportunity for their worming purposes, so it needed to be a project that didn’t involve the presence of a certain canine.

Now that Cyndie is home to entertain Delilah, I nabbed my chance to revisit my old days of turning composting manure piles, much to the chicken’s delight.

The three breeds have distinctly noticeable differences in behaviors. The two Australorps are impressively bold about getting as close as possible to my every pitchfork turn, eager to get first-dibs, accepting my tapping them out of the way so I have room to take the next scoop. The yellow Buff Orpingtons recognize the advantage the black Australorps have and try to emulate them, but they aren’t as confident about getting so close to the business end of my pitchfork and spend most of their time in retreat.

The Wyandottes have always been the more timid of the three, and have figured out there are plenty of worms to be found in the scoopfuls getting tossed onto the new pile, so they spend their energy on the back end of the process.

The constant presence of the hens is both entertaining and annoying. I could do the job twice as fast if they weren’t so in the way, but it wouldn’t be near as much fun.

After I had tired of the exertion, I stepped back to just stand and watch them. In no time, I found myself surrounded by the flock as if they wanted to come thank me for the treats I had unearthed for them.

Today, there is more digging in store. I want to dig in the new footbridge so the ends are at ground level to accommodate the primary purpose of being able to drive the lawn tractor across the ravine with ease.

After that, a much larger dig is awaiting up by the house. Cyndie wants to plant a produce garden on a slope that will require terracing. I thought I was just going to be putting in some short retaining walls but the project now threatens to involve critter proofing with buried hardware cloth and perimeter fencing.

I fear the possibility of more digging than I’m interested in, but I expect visions of a future with home-grown produce might help me to overcome that lack of interest. Plus, such a garden will provide a place to use all that composted soil I’ve been piling up.

Can you dig that?

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Weekend Alone

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Cyndie is out of town with her parents this holiday weekend, so I am the sole pet guardian. Was this supposed to be easier after we no longer had horses? A certain high-energy dog has shown no problem filling in the space. The invisible protective border we need to maintain between her jaws and our flock of free-ranging chickens complicates my including Delilah as a companion for many of my projects around the property.

I let her tag along when venturing to the far side of our land with a wheelbarrow (we haven’t replaced the ATV trailer yet) to fetch some black dirt from a pile left over from the first year we moved here and had fence work done. I have been mixing dirt with composted manure to fill some holes in the yard. One was started by burrowing rodents and the other by spinning wheels of the New Holland tractor, both voids then expanded by rainstorm flowing runoff.

I need to leave Delilah behind when collecting compost because that task is a chicken magnet. They love helping when worms and other crawly critters might be involved.

Heading deep into the western woods is far enough from chicken territory that I’m comfortable hitching Delilah’s leash to the wheelbarrow, half hoping she might consider helping to pull in the desired direction. We hauled more pavers to the ever-expanding length of our trail that is messy mud.

Originally, I laid it out with a wider spread, but after walking on it and navigating the ATV on the trail, I’ve changed to more of a single file pattern. Simple stepping stones is all that’s needed in keeping up out of the sloppy muck.

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Do you see how nicely the moss adorns blocks that have been there a while?

All these small projects were diversions from mowing grass, hoping that waiting a day might allow a small fraction of drying to occur. That is despite my knowing from experience that it takes more than two days for the slow flow of excess groundwater to trickle down and out of here.

The sun can be shining bright for two days after a spell of rain and that’s when the low areas will be at their wettest. If we are lucky enough to have two more dry days, the footing starts to firm up again. Too bad that won’t be the case this week.

Delilah will be stuck in the kennel again. I gotta mow today.

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Written by johnwhays

May 26, 2019 at 8:28 am

Gettin’ Green

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With a little rearranging in the garage, I moved the ATV and snowplow to the back and brought the lawn tractor to the front. It’s a definitive sign of the change of season. I also got the back yard mowed, which brought out a whole lot of green in our landscape.

Probably in large part, because it chewed up the leaves from last fall that were still covering the bulk of the back hill, because we never got around to raking them before the snow arrived.

From there, we headed down to the labyrinth, where Cyndie pulled weeds and I reassembled the fallen blocks around our compost and wood chip locations.

Now, we need to replenish the wood chips, and there are plenty of branches waiting to be chipped. A short distance to the right from the view in that photo, there was a collection of branches from two years ago, when we hired professionals to trim dead wood from our trees.

It was a big reward to finally start pulling the debris out, because every time I have passed those trees since the day it was cut, I’ve wanted to have the job done.

I probably got through about half of what needs to be pulled out and stacked for processing, but it’s a good start.

I look forward to transforming that pile of branches into a filled wood chip station, which Cyndie can then use to dress up the landscape around her labyrinth plants.

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Written by johnwhays

May 6, 2019 at 6:00 am

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