After Sunday morning walking tour visit to our friends over at Revive the Roots, our 10 year old son wanted to get outside and do some farm work.
With the ground finally unfrozen, we decided to give compost sifting a try. With the help of my father, we had built a simple custom compost sifter sized to our wheelbarrow. We'd used it in a few limited tests last year, but hadn't really broken it in.
We worked on an area that was near our original compost pile, which we built almost 2 years ago to the day. We talked about that back in our blog post Run Muck Revisited.
Most of the compost we sifted was not from the pile, although we did test a bit of that compost, which was very fine and sifted rather easily.
The bulk of the compost we sifted today was just from the run itself. We are constantly adding carbon in the form of fall leaves, coop cleanouts, hay, straw, and even cardboard. The chickens enjoy scratching through the run litter and it helps absorb manure and uneaten food scraps.
The amount of incredible compost created in this manner is amazing to see. We just pull a little bit of the newer material off the top and dig in.
In many spots, a full shovel depth down is all rich, deep compost. In most other areas of our property (where we don't have chickens composting) you'll hit clay 6 inches down or less.
The sifter is very basic, made with scrap lumber and 1/4 inch hardware cloth. It's a very manual process and requires working in fairly small quantities.
You throw a couple of shovels of compost on the screen, and shake, tap, and rub the compost until all the fine compost falls through into the wheelbarrow, and any materials that aren't fully broken down (such as small sticks or rocks) gets removed.
Rocks get tossed over the fence into the wood, any little bits of plastic or glass would be picked out and disposed of (we found literally none), and slower breaking down pieces like bits of wood are returned to the system to further decompose.
As you can see from the picture above, the final compost is beautifully fine and so rich. Despite it being a fairly damp part of year, the sifter worked fairly well, and we quickly produced a decent amount of final product.
We started spreading the compost on part of the yard where we'll plant a mix of grass and clover in a few weeks when the weather warms up. Our yard is typical shady New England forest soil, which means it's fairly thin and fairly acidic. When we plant grass, we'll put down a good amount of lime, and I expect we'll put compost down about 2 inches deep to give the whole system a massive amount of nutrition.
The idea is to replant the entire property little at a time, in a patchwork approach that will leave most of the yard available for the kids to run around and for us to enjoy, but to eventually give us an entirely new "lawn", which will have things like clover and other plants that feed the pollinators.
We got through a good amount of compost in less than two hours of sifting and dumping, plus picking off other small projects (raking a few leaves, working with the active compost, restocking feeders, etc.
The amazing thing is, though, the compost we moved today represents only a tiny portion of the finished compost available in the system. And the finished compost makes up only a small portion of the total compost in the system, so we're making a crazy amount of compost.
This is going to keep us busy, for sure, but the amount and the quality of the compost we're producing is truly transformative. Not bad considering it's really a bi-product of a system designed to divert waste and feed chickens!