Category Archives: Compost

Backyard Permaculture!

Digging the first swale in 2006.

2007.  First year’s garden after our Permaculture design implementation began.

The garden in August of 2013.

It now includes ducks, chickens, honeybee hives, annual and perennial food crops, 20 fruit trees, berries, grapes, fruit-bearing shrubs, medicinal herbs, dye and cordage plants, 3000 gallons of rainwater catchment, a rainwater-fed pond-to-garden system, a greywater-fed garden (left of the pathway), prolific backyard composting operation and an operating greenhouse built with 95% recycled materials.  All on a 6000 square foot lot with a 1200 square foot house and a five minute walk to downtown.   Urban Permaculture! 

Letters from the Kids

These letters just came in the mail from the first graders who visited us last month. Excuse their spelling errors. It is their thoughts that really count.

We had two hours together. They fed snails and worms to the ducks, checked the temperature of the compost piles, examined our rainwater-fed duck pond and fed the fish in it, harvested Calendula flowers, explored the greenhouse made of recycled redwood and salvaged stained glass, collected warm chicken eggs, heard a Mockingbird do a variety of other birds’ calls, decorated easter eggs with berries and flowers, and ate lunch in the garden.

Dear Suzanne, 
I lovd the ducks and I also lovd feeding the ducks and also lovd the chickins. I also lovd holding the snales and worms. I also lovd wen we were picking the flawers. And I also lovd macking the Easter eggs and I also lovd finding eggs. That was fun wen we wer living (leaving) at the last moment a chickin lade a egg. Thank you it was a funn day.
Love, Tierra

Dear Suzanne, 
 I liked the ducks because I like the noise they made. I liked the chickens noises and thair soft fethers and i also liked the stinky-stinky-stinky composts. It was enteresting checing the dugrees and the hot hot mud by mud i meen soiol (soil). And I alsow liked painting the eggs. Thank yuo for inviting us to your farm. 
 Sincerely, Alex 

 Dear Suzanne, 
 I liked feeding the ducks. I also liked peting the chickens. I also liked harvesting the flowers. I liked the smell of the farm. I also liked hearing the sound of the birds. I also liked decorating the Easter Eggs. I also liked collecting the chicken eggs. I also liked going in the greenhouse. 
 Love, Devi 

Dear Suzanne, 
 I loved wen wee fed the ducks snails. I liked peting the chicen. I like how you dye peices of cloth it looks reale cool. I also liked wen wee dyeed Easter eggs. And I thingk that it is cool the way you get water in the duck pool. And I thingk it was reely fun! Thank you a lot! 
Sincerely, Zoe

This boy had a really hard time settling into the visit here. He wouldn’t touch anything or participate until the very end when I led him into the greenhouse to meet a worm. I left him there and he stayed for a long time emerging happy and with a new friend in his hand.

Dear Suzanne, 
I lovd making frinds with a worm. Gathering flowers and decorating eggs was fantastic. I loved the greenhouse. The colored glass and the special wood and the plants made it really beautful. I loved your garden. 
Thank you. 

THIS is why I work with kids here at the ol’ homestead.

Hot and Steamy…. Compost

So, I head down to Bovine Bakery a couple of times a week for a little treat or a loaf of organic bread. I pick up two or three five-gallon buckets of kitchen waste each time. The buckets contains fruit and veggie scrapes, egg shells and lots of coffee grounds. I layer the contents of the buckets with used straw and shavings and grass and weeds from the chicken and duck coops as well as the contents of our pet rabbit’s litter box.

First kitchen scraps, then weeds/grass/straw/shavings/bunny box. Each layer gets watered in with duck pond water to get that “wrung out sponge” moisture level all those composting books talk about. Within 24 hours it heats up. The goal is to keep it hot for as long a possible. That kills any seeds or pathogens that may be lurking. Doug Gosling at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center sets a goal of 140-160 degrees for their giant compost piles. I’m lucky to to get my compost that hot. Usually it’s between 120 and 130 degrees.

I’ve got two separate composters and as each one fills I empty the older one into some open bottomed packing crates until I need the finished compost for the garden. Since it’s cooled off by then the worms automatically move in. I never imported any they just showed up to work. They finish off the composting process, contribute worm castings to the finished product and provide a great source of protein for the ducks! Win, win, win….

The Problem is the Solution

The Permaculture Principle “The Problem is the Solution” rings true.

Bill Mollison once said, “You don’t have a snail problem. You have a duck deficiency”. We’ll we have certainly found that to be true around here. With our four backyard ducks our garden is completely snail-free. On our front porch can be found a bucket labeled, “SNAIL DEPOSITORY”. Our neighbors bring their snails to us and our ducks can’t get enough of them. The ducks turn all that good protein into big nutritious eggs year-round. And, our neighbors don’t have to put out toxic pesticides to solve their snail problems.

I post our need for snails on our neighborhood Yahoo Group list and the snails just arrive. I do ask that they come from pesticide-free gardens. Snails are dropped off at all hours of the day and night. I check the bucket daily and the ducks know it by sight when it’s heading their way. We just call, “duckies!” and all four girls come running up the pathway. It makes us laugh every time. Everybody’s happy.

Another example of this principle comes from our much loved BOVINE BAKERY just downtown. Their tag line is “Bringing fresh, organic, handmade pastries and strong, organic coffee to Petaluma and Pt. Reyes Station“. They have a abundance of kitchen scraps (fruits, vegetables, eggshells and coffee grounds) they don’t want to put in the landfill. We use it to beef up the volume of our compost. Whew! It’s working too. We have been making some beautiful, hot compost around here. Another win-win.