Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Howling Hill.
Howling Hill is a very small homestead. Honestly, I’m not sure it can be considered a homestead because the only animals we have are our cats Harley and Francesca. However, Wolf and I endeavor to have a farm of vegetables and small livestock. We’re leaning toward goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, and pigs. I know pigs are not “small livestock” but we eat a fair amount of pork. We don’t eat beef so getting a cow or two just for cheese seems a little … too much. And horses, as beautiful as they are, are just to big and expensive. I can’t imagine Wolf and I will have a lot of time to ride horses if we’re caring for our farm of livestock.
Despite not having a homestead, we embrace homesteading’s values: reduce, reuse, recycle. Our mindset regarding what’s important has radically changed the way we think, the way we buy, they way we eat, what and how we throw out, and the way we view politics, religion, and society.
Howling Hill is a one acre lot heavily wooded with trees, predominately pines. There is not a lot of sun on our patch of Earth. I’ve talked about wanting to cut down trees on my own blog many times but I’m reluctant to for a couple reasons. First, the expense. It’ll be about $1000 to cut down the trees I want down. Because the majority of those trees are pines I don’t know what we’d do with the wood. Pine is not good to burn because it’s a soft, wet wood. Second, I don’t want to put a ton of money into Howling Hill because Wolf and I won’t live here forever. We’ll stay in the town we live in but not on this plot. Because HH is on a hill (hence the name) most of the lot is unbuildable.* We never thought of Howling Hill as our dream place merely as a stepping stone to our dream place.
That said, we still learn as much as we can about homesteading, animal care, reducing and reusing, etc. And one of the things we put a lot of time learning about is composting because that is one component of homesteading anyone can participate in no matter how small or large the plot of land you live on is.
One of the first posts I wrote on Howling Hill was about composting. Wolf built compost piles at my request. — I’d show you a picture of them today but it’s a little snowy out there right now thus you can’t see anything. — The compost is predominately food scraps from our dinner table. We don’t put any meat or meat products into the compost because that will attract the wrong sort of critters, though surprisingly I don’t see many critters out there to begin with. Because the compost is behind some fir trees it doesn’t get a lot of sun. The food begins to pile up, I’d say with an average height of two feet. I don’t fluff the pile too much because I don’t want to release too much of the heat the compost creates but I do fluff on occasion.
The best way to fluff your compost pile I’ve found is to get some chickens. Wolf and I were amazed at how rich the compost was when the Chicken Ladies did their thing. It was obvious their bodily waste increased the temperature of the pile while they simultaneously aerated the fruit and vegetable matter while hunting for yummy bugs.** Because the compost has never broken down the way it should — I think it’s never really gotten hot enough — we’ve not been able to use it on our garden which really sucks. However, now that we know the chickens are fab compost-maintainers we’ll put them to work. Next year we plan on fencing in part of the yard, including the compost pile, so we can keep the Ladies alive and well fed while making them work for us by aerating the compost. Then we’ll be able to use it for our garden come fall 2009.
Composting is easy and low cost. It cuts down on the amount of trash in a landfill. You can go out and buy one of those composters but I don’t think you want petroleum based chemicals mixed in with your compost. Besides, why spend over $200 when you don’t have to? You don’t have to build something like Wolf did though I’m sure he’d be flattered if you did =). At our last home (in the suburbs) we just had a pile in the corner of the yard of fruits, vegetables, and grass clippings. There wasn’t any wood surrounding the pile and though it became the neighborhood dog magnet it composted just fine.
One note too keep in mind is this: don’t make your compost pile too big. Wolf and I made this mistake. If the pile is too deep it takes too long to breakdown. Fluffing is good but you don’t want to do it too often. Throw some manure (horse or chicken works best) onto the pile every now and again to heat up the pile and to allow the feces and urine chemicals to do their breakdown thing too.
I’m not going to say composting is “fun and easy” because it’s not particularly fun though it is easy. But it’s a good way to create free fertilizer for your garden and to cut down on the amount you throw away. It feeds the local bird population and possibly the local dog and cat population to as the pile often attracts rodents. Chipmunks and mice seem to love running around the pile picking out what they can. The cats see the pile as their friend. I’ve never seen bears hanging around the pile, nor have I found evidence they do, though that may be our bears here in New Hampshire. If I were you I’d know my local animal population before creating a compost pile because you don’t want to attract animals who will destroy your pile, yard, garden, etc.
Don’t put the pile too close to the house because of the rodents and get some worms to throw in there if you don’t have any.*** It’s better if you have it in a semi-shady area as direct sun isn’t good. This is why our pile is behind fir trees. Certainly it get partial sun during the day but not direct sun all day. Adding water every now and again is also good because it you don’t want it to get too dry but don’t make it too moist either. I don’t think I’ve ever put water on the pile but the Northeast is fairly wet so that’s why I haven’t. If you’re in a dry climate some moisture every now and again is a good idea.
Overall composting is a great way to participate in homesteading if you’re like us and can’t have the farm you dream of.
*Don’t you love making up words?
**Not yummy to me, yummy to them.
***Wanna send me some worms come spring? If so email me and I’ll send you my address.