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Chore Change

November 11, 2013

The chores don’t really stop here, they just change.  You trade one task for another.  I’m not doing much in the garden these days except harvesting, and sheet mulching, but I am now building and tending a fire each day and splitting a little wood too.  The beef cows are still grazing with twenty-four hour moves, but I have started putting Jane in at night.  So that means I have barn cleaning activities to add to the chore list, whereas if I left her out at night she would be depositing her manure and urine in the pasture.  Trade-offs.

for the garden

for the garden

Our gardens of annual vegetables are fairly large, and we need to move some of that fertility Jane provides from the pasture to the garden.  The chickens take up some of the slack, but the cow manure is my manure of choice for garden compost in most cases.  The effects of cow in the garden seem to have longer lasting effects than chicken, most likely due to their digestive tract being one big microbe factory.  By feeding the cows good minerals, you can boost the re-mineralization of the soil in a two-step process.



Stable cleanings & house compost by the bucket

Stable cleanings & house compost by the bucket

Each morning after I am done milking and processing the milk, I clean the barn.  Judging the number of cow pies I find each morning leads me to believe Jane leaves me a good-sized cow pie about every hour and a half during the night.  By the time I am done picking her stall, I have a seven good-sized cow pies and lots of soiled or urine soaked straw.  Just enough for a wheelbarrow load.

I am finding that the sheet mulching in late fall/early winter time frame is working wonders on my garden soil.  By adding a thin layer of sheet mulch in the fall, I am skipping a round of tillage that I used to do when I religiously planted a fall cover crop, the sheet mulch protects the soil from the pounding rain, provides an insulating blanket and food for soil critters, and is pretty much broken down by spring when I do want to till for planting.  I’m seeing too in the spring that I don’t have that lag time of waiting for the green manure cover crops to break down.  The garden magic has been happening all winter with the bedding straw and manure sheet mulch.  Usually once a week I take a load to the hens for their enjoyment, the rest goes to the garden unless there is soiled hay in the bedding.  Loads with a significant amount of hay go to the stacked compost rows reserved for the pasture.

Livestock always need daily care of some sort, and sometimes the chores are time-consuming or physically taxing.    By taking care of Jane’s nightly manure every day, I can take what could be a big job, (like our feeding shed deep bedding) and break that into manageable bits.  It feels good to transition to a different work load by degrees, the changes are subtle and a welcome change of pace.  I miss summer, but I am looking forward to spring already and somewhere in between are winter type chores and maybe a little rest?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2013 4:26 pm

    You should have organized it so you go downhill with the full load, and uphill with the empty :). I have learned the hard way that I just don’t seem to be the right sort of person fro green manure crops – I never seem to get them turned under in time, and like you, I never find they break down enough. I’ve been sheet mulching for a couple of years now, and it seems to work better for me. Maybe it’s a PNW thing, since our ground doesn’t freeze for months on end, only to thaw dramatically in the spring…

    • November 11, 2013 5:21 pm

      SSF, I know 😦 We’re kind of backed into a corner really, unless I pile the compost on the county road 😉 Just trying to make use of the old buildings and their spacing. Luckily the compost piles, greenhouses and gardens are all up on the flat and pretty close to each other.

      When our house was built you needed and wanted to be by the road, now I wish we had a long driveway 😦 Hermit here!

      My other problem with the green manure is it can get away from you in hurry in the PNW, pretty soon it’s too tall, and the ground doesn’t dry out. I like the biomass a cover crop affords, but I would need to either make the gardens smaller and fallow more, or open up more ground. At this point, it makes sense to me to meld the livestock needs and our needs instead of just the garden needs or cowtowing to the PC ideas of soil building. I laugh when folks complain about mud season in the spring – they should try October – April.

  2. November 11, 2013 4:27 pm

    As always, enjoyed the post! How close to spring planting do you stop adding the sheet mulch to your garden in order to give it time to compost completely? I’m also already looking forward to spring, but hope to use some of the downtime this winter to catch up on some books I’ve been collecting over the spring and summer.

    • November 11, 2013 5:14 pm

      Craig, I try to stop at least 90 days before planting, otherwise it just isn’t broken down enough to incorporate, and I believe it’s 120 days for organic standards…not sure exactly. But if it’s too fresh it’s not going to be of benefit the current season anyway.

      First seed catalog came the other day – just like holiday marketing, Xmas stuff in the stores before Halloween these days 😦 Still looking forward to spring though!

  3. November 11, 2013 7:37 pm

    Your stamp of approval of composting in place is just what I needed to hear. I’ve kinda felt left behind since I don’t have an interest in growing green manures.

    I’m new to your blog and look forward to your musings each day. You’ve brought me to tears on occasion. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. November 11, 2013 8:12 pm

    So what do you do when you don’t have a cow? I was actually hoping to start my cover crops this year because I am finally getting it- it’s all about the soil. So I want/need to build soil, but I don’t have much in the way of helpful lived stock- only 5 hens. And if cover crops have a way of getting away from you in the PNW, which is where I live, then how do I build soil? The compost is not making fast enough.

    • November 11, 2013 10:21 pm

      Paula, the bigger share of my sheet mulch is straw, the brown is the soil builder (say the cake, and the manure is the frosting), I am buying straw for bedding so you could do the same, or grow something in a bed just for growing biomass, say like cereal rye, or sudan grass. I would vote for the rye myself, because the key to soil building with carbon is the that the plant should reach physiological maturity before it can feed the soil. With rye you could plant it now for next year’s garden building. Rye is able to grow 7′ tall, it sits there all winter, and then takes off, sets seed and then dries down. You have your seed for the next cover crop (or rye bread), and a good amount of straw to use for your other garden needs or to bed your chickens with. My dozen hens provide more than enough ready-to-use hen composted bedding for garden needs. They are deep bedded so I can keep them safe and gather every bit of their manure. It is doable, you just got to think outside the box. Animals playing an integral part of sustaining cropland is how it used to be, we are just in small sliver of time where animals have been eschewed for agrarian use. Set aside for pets or considered unworthy and useless.

  5. Catherine permalink
    November 12, 2013 4:41 am

    Another enjoyable post. I don’t think that people who don’t farm or garden truly “get” what goes into being successful at it. Also don’t think they understand that we enjoy what we do. Pity.

    We are not in a position to have any yard animals, but I am always looking for places or people to get some of their “gold” from them for our gardens.

    Enjoy the day.

  6. November 12, 2013 5:27 am

    Hello from Ireland. Another great post. I have read so many posts here that I so thoroughly agree with. Apologies that I am only getting around to commenting now.
    I do green manures, dung from the barn or winter crops in the veg garden, depending on what crop is going in next. The potatoes get lots of dung.
    I love your cow pat photo, (I love so many of your photos). Cow pats are such an underrated contribution.
    I love that you express this whole life so eloquently and with such wonderful photos. Inspirational. Thank you.

  7. November 12, 2013 8:43 am

    I have been taking pictures of cow manure recently. Glad I’m not the only weird one in the bunch.

  8. Bev permalink
    November 12, 2013 9:39 am

    What you are saying about the soil is so true. We used to put a cover crop in our small orchard. Red clover and buckwheat. We had two hives and the bees loved it when in bloom. We get many questions about what do you do about garden pests. We very seldom have any. Healthy soil is the key. After saying that, we had a couple of tomato worms this summer. Chickens love them.

  9. wondering permalink
    November 12, 2013 1:53 pm

    I’ve been doing sheet mulching on my garden, but I’m finding that my garden takes a long time to dry in the spring (Vancouver Island). Too much mulch? My soil is very clay (I’m working on it), so it’s a big part of the problem too.

    Any suggestions? No way can I keep up with green manure cover crop, for all the reasons mentioned above.

    • November 12, 2013 3:35 pm

      wondering, maybe…you could plant directly into it, or pull it aside a bit before you want to till, that will give the soil time to warm up and dry. We have the same type of weather here too, we are on the rainy side of the Cascades and get close to 3 times the rain Portland gets. Me, I’m of the clean tillage type of gardener, with straight rows, others prefer the no-till mulch method.

      • wondering permalink
        November 13, 2013 4:34 pm

        Thanks! I’ll take any advice I can get. 🙂

  10. November 19, 2013 6:08 am

    When you say “sheet mulch”, is this just laying the straw/manure from Jane directly on your garden? I was going to try this, but I thought I had to compost it first, no?

    Our ground will eventually freeze for the winter here, but if I can use what I have before it does, that would be great news! I just scrapped up a bounty of poop and trampled hay from the concrete pad in the barnyard. The beef cattle have been brought up for the winter and their “donations” are abundant. Right now, while its still warm, I’m scraping and piling.

    What do you mean you give some sheet mulch to the chickens? How? To eat?

    Thank you!

    • November 19, 2013 6:40 am

      COF, yes, but thinly, it’s mostly soiled straw and a few fresh poops. I stop applying in January so it is broken down enough for spring planting. I use composted manure too, later in the year or for side dressing during the growing season. So I use a little of both methods. I have a lot of root crops in the garden over winter so I can’t be putting fresh manure there, so only parts of the gardens get the sheet mulch each year.

      I dump a wheelbarrow load from Jane in the chicken greenhouse each week, because I am building deep bedding in there for them. There are enzymes in the cow manure that benefit the chickens, so since I can’t let them out, I bring the goodies to them.

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