When you google grow your own food, the first images you see are lush raised garden beds, aesthetically designed and decorated by colorful veggies.
What these images don’t tell you is the amount of work required prior to planting those delicious lettuce heads. I am here to tell you all about the shitty part of growing your own food.
Step 1: Collect shit. Literally. Particularly chicken and horse shit.
The best way to get chicken poop is the raise your own chickens. Having 3 chickens is enough to produce decent amount of eggs for breakfast and manure for that compost bin. But if you were going to have chickens, why stop at just 3? We have 6 chickens, which provide us an ample amount of delicious eggs to feed 3 adults and some more. When we do have extra eggs, they are given away to friends and neighbors.
Alright, collecting chicken manure to create good soil is not a walk in the park. First, build or a buy a chicken coop. I was going to ask E to build our own, but a friend was moving to New Zealand and needed someone to take his coop and hens off his hands. Although the coop was not what I had envisioned and the hens were grown, not cute little chicks, having a whole backyard chicken setup for $150 saves us a lot of energy, time, and money. Thus, we jumped at the chance. Our immediate reward? A day after their arrival, the ladies gifted us 5 eggs.
The inherited coop looks like this one made by Carolina Coops:
Next, you need a compost bin. We purposely placed our open compost bin a few feet away from the chicken for many reasons. One, I can easily dump our inedible food scraps into the bin while sorting out edible scraps for the chickens. Two, E can conveniently clean out the coop by removal poop ridden hay into the compost bin. Chicken poop adds so many deliciousness to the compost bin! Finally, when we let out the hens for their free roaming time, they can access the worms, grubs, and insects buried inside the compost bin.
The last step of collecting that good soil from the compost bin requires a tossing the hay into the bin a few times. We’re able to collect the compost from the bin to use in our microfarm every 6 weeks or so.
To get horse manure takes a bit more ingenuity. We are lucky in that we live in a town that used to bask in its farming glory; these days, much of large scale farming is gone. However, small farms are still around. On his way to visit a friend, E found a horse farm; he offered to take the horse manure off their hands. The owner was happy to get rid of the poop and we were happy to secure free fertilizer for our veggies. All we needed was a shovel and a good truck.
Now that we have ample supply of chicken and horse manure, there is still the business of securing more compost before rototilling the soil. In the effort the encourage residents to recycle their green waste, many cities offer free compost services. Our town has a prolific source of healthy compost for free. For FREE. All E has to do is drive his truck into the lot, pay the clerk $5 and the workers load his truck bed with compost.
All in all, the spreading of chicken and horse manure, compost from the city, and rototilling takes up about 7-8 hours of work for our 2500 square feet microfarm. E’s hard work pays off in the end because our tomatoes always thrive. Last season, we harvested about 300 pounds of heirloom tomatoes. That was without the benefit of chicken poop as fertilizer!
So, there you have it: the very shitty part of growing our own food.
Next time, I will discuss the refreshing part of gardening: irrigation!