This month’s Urban Farm Handbook Challenge theme is soil building. As I mentioned, I jumped on the bandwagon a little late (hey, there were still two days left in February!), but this is something I’ve been thinking about anyhow, so it was actually perfect timing.
Soil Challenge #1: Plan for Compost
The first part of the challenge was straight up composting. In the past I have always been pretty lax about composting. I think I mentioned that our city has an urban food scraps composting program, so we do that. Other than that we do a lot of “throwing soiled chicken bedding in a pile and ignoring it”. This is the current state of said pile:
Note that this is not so much a compost pile as a pile of chicken…well, you get the idea. There are other issues with this pile as well. The location, while out of the way, is a pain in the patootie to get to, since it’s uphill (and up-terracing) from the chicken coop. You do not want to be wrestling a bunch of this stuff up the hill in our crappy plastic wheelbarrow when it’s raining, which it does a lot of in the Pacific Northwest. It’s also become a location where we end up throwing a lot of green waste before we have a chance to take it to our local green waste disposal area, as can be seen here. Note the remarkably still green Christmas tree, considering that I took this this morning.
Another problem with it being on the hill is that as it actually turns to compost, the rain washes most of the good stuff immediately washes back down the hill to the chicken coop, which you can see in the corner of the above photo and in the photo below. Not great.
Putting together an actual composting bin seems like it would solve a lot of these problems, but many of the ones out there seem to be too small or too expensive. Urban farm challenge to the rescue! They suggested constructing a bin out of wooden pallets, which many people are offering for cheap or free on craigslist. I have an email in to one of these people and hopefully by this weekend I will have my very own two-bin composting system in place and a better place to throw the chicken droppings and all those leaves (although that means we’ll actually have to get around to raking…no plan is perfect.)
Soil Building Challenge #2: Buy fertilizer in bulk or make it from scratch.
I have a confession: I didn’t realize that fertilizer was different from compost. My husband has always been more of the gardener in the family, so I am learning a lot of this stuff as I go. I know about soil amendments as they relate to viticulture, but not so much with the home gardening. Nevertheless, I was really excited that the UFH people posted a recipe for making your own fertilizer designed for soil here in the PNW. I’m not sure if I’m ambitious enough to make that much fertilizer on my own yet, but we’ll see how I feel when I get to the feed store.
Soil Building Challenge #3: Build a Worm Bin
This is the part of the challenge that was really kismet. My sister had a tray-style worm compost system set up that she had to take apart when she moved into her current apartment a few months ago. A few days ago I asked her if she was using it and she offered to bring it over and help me set it up. She’s bringing it over today and I am picking up half a pound of red wrigglers this afternoon. More on that later!