Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gardening and Composting Challenges with Altitude (and chickens!)

Gardening at 9,000 feet in elevation is not even exactly considered gardening; it should really be called trial and error.  But, after a couple of decades I'm learning a couple of things, like always plant stuff that deer don't like, never waste your money on annuals (we've just got too short of a season), and reuse everything I possibly can, including seeds.  The seed thing has come from necessity; the plants that do well up here do very well and therefore tend to take over the garden with seeds if I am not careful to collect them.
I do not do much to prepare my very hearty perennial garden for winter as you can see by the picture.  I try to cover it with a good layer of mulch if there is one available, but I do not pay for mulch, because many of them have ingredients in them that I don't like and it is a product that is usually readily available if you wait for the right time.  I wish I hadn't had to lose my trees, but now I sure have plenty of free mulch, thanks to road and bridge.  Back to winter preparation, I have read that it is good to leave the plants standing for the winter because it gives bugs and such places to winter over and it also avoids premature pruning.  One of the main reasons I do it is to avoid my beautiful perennial garden becoming one very large cat litter box over the winter months-eeeewwww!!!!  If the large poky plants stay in it, the cats stay out of it, works for me.

So, early Spring, like last weekend (for us this is early), I use my spiffy new pruning shears from my great Mom and prune everything down to the ground and rake it all out.  This year I am composting everything so I tried something new.  I put all of the large clippings into the trash bin and used our weed whacker to break them down into smaller pieces so that they would compost faster.  Again, this is one of the biggest composting tips to come across, the smaller the pieces to go into your composting bin, the faster you will have compost.  This is a little difficult to do, and I went through quite a bit of whacky string, but I got the job done as you can see.

Now, the object of the composting game will be to see if I can beat the chickens.  A year ago when I started composting, we didn't have chickens, so it was a great way of using up our kitchen scraps, which of course now go directly to the chickens.  Well, the chickens discovered the compost bin and its tiny morsels of year old food a few weeks ago and must have worked together as a team to get the very large wood block off of the cover and have absolutely cleaned out the entire bin!  I guess I don't have to worry about stirring it!  The good news is, is that the stuff that the chickens have kicked out is quite black and nice looking, so at least I know I was on the right track, I just need to start over on a new chicken free track!

Obviously instead of composting with food scraps I will be composting with chicken manure, which means I will have to be very careful that my compost pile does not get too hot in the summer months and cause a fire.  That is when I will be very thankful for our high altitude and cool temperatures.  So, I will be mixing manures plant scraps,  a beer or two (shh, don't tell the big guy) and a little of the mulch from our beautiful trees that the county cut down for good luck (shh, don't tell the county).  I wrote a post on composting (pre-chickens) that has a great breakdown of things that can and can't go into your compost bin here.  I had to laugh when I saw the pictures because the bin was so full, and now the chickens have dug through and emptied the entire thing!  Oh well, this way I will rake up what they cleaned out, use it on my gardens and start fresh this year; that is what you are supposed to do with a compost bin, right?  Pop back to the other post, it's worth just looking at the pictures to see what the chickens have done, it will give you a chuckle for the day!

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