Thursday, June 9, 2011

Compost: Or How i Learned to Love Maggots

I mentioned before that the compost followed naturally from the chickens.  I had all that poop after all, it seemed a shame to throw it away when people were selling it on craigslist!  It helped that my mom and her Fake Husband had been composting for a few years now, so I had a resource to consult.

When I talk to people about our growing farm situation i get a lot of questions about compost. What is it? how do you do it? is it hard? does it smell bad? etc..

The fast answers would be: "Its decomposed junk." "You pretty much put a bunch of stuff in a pile or bin and turn it occasionally so air can get through it and that's it" "It could be i guess, i did it the lazy way so no." and "yes, at first"

There are literally thousands of resources on composting available and most of them will tell you that you need equal parts "brown" and "green" to make compost work.  Brown being dried stuff (leaves, straw, or in some cases, news paper) and green being wetter stuff (produce left overs, overly brown bananas etc).  Some fancy resources will include manure in their ratios (usually 20% manure, 40% green, 40% brown) and they will all be careful to remind you that you should only use manure from a herbivore: cow or chicken.  My mom's Fake Husband will tell you that it really doesn't matter.  Just chuck it in the bin. Overall you just want the thing to have the dampness of a wet, wrung out sponge.

Mine looks like this:

Visible and identifiable: Straw, banana peel, egg shells, paper, celery.

You can Google all of this information pretty easily if you ever wanted to start composting yourself, but you will find lots and lots of different opinions.  Hardcore people opt for the "big pile of stuff" concept.  Which is essentially making a big pile of compostable material.  This is easily the cheapest way to do that.  Except the smell is going to be much greater, you'll have to "turn it" with a shovel/pitchfork, and the worst: it will attract rodents.  Now, that doesn't bother some people. they have a big enough property to just leave it out there and the smell doesn't get back to them.  And they are big tough guys who don't mind taking a pitchfork to a pile of decomposing gross and stirring it around. The ones who don't mind the rodents are, in my opinion, nutty. But they feel that the concept of a decomposing mouse in their compost isn't the grossest thing ever.  I think it is.  To each his own.

Mines green but whatever.
I took the lazy way out.  I bought a commercial composter.  Now that one i just linked is the exact same as mine, except i bought it at Costco for $97.  I think it was mislabled because even the Costco website is selling it for more! run to the East Side Costco! RUN! Before they catch their mistake!

The benefit to mine is that the smell stays mostly enclosed (mostly. i have chicken poop in mine so there is only so much that can be done!). Its on a tumbler so i don't have to pitchfork anything, i just spin it.  That is easier said than done BY THE WAY! it gets pretty heavy when its gets more gross stuff in it.  And its locked and elevated, so no rodents. YAY!

Ok so what does this compost situation look like on a daily basis, you might be wondering.  Well, whenever we prep veggies, or cut up fruit for the kids, or skin a potato, or crack eggs or make coffee etc we just keep the stuff we would have normally thrown out in a plastic container under the sink.  (They do have counter top composters which are nicer looking.  i like this "simplify" one but i'd also take this one with no complaints.  If you need my address just text me for it, i'll let you send it to me.) then when i go out to the coop i use a kitty litter scoop to scoop out all the poop (its my coop poop scoop) i put it all in a bucket.  I also change the straw in the nesting boxes every other day, since they like to roost on the edge of it and poop in it.

Here it is freshly cleaned:
All that straw goes into the compost too.  This minimizes my need for news paper because it acts as my "brown".

Anywho, all those things (kitchen bucket, poop and straw) get tossed into the composter and spun around a few times.  Then i walk away and dont think about it again until the next day.

Although i am a little interested in my compost.  I always stare at it before i put my new stuff in and then again after its been spun a bit.  Like i am expecting it to turn into dirt instantly.  That doesn't really happen.  But when staring at my compost one day i noticed that one of the egg shells looked like it was waving at me.  Actually... it all sorta seemed to be...squirming.... Then i looked at the this little white thing on the lid and realized: Oh no.  Maggots.

I Googled FRANTICALLY.  How could this happen to me? That's so gross! i take such good care of my compost (which, translated could also read: "I take such good care of my bin full of rotting crap!" just in case you didn't catch the irony).   The compost people on line had me split between "eh its fine, they'll help break it down faster" and "YOU HORRIBLE COMPOSTING PERSON YOU PUT MEAT IN THERE DIDN'T YOU!? DIDN'T YOU!?!?!?!"  Well i knew i didn't put any meat in there. So i was safe on that front. but I wasn't totally convinced that i hadn't ruined it.  So i called the Fake Husband.

Me: "I HAVE MAGGOTS!! What do i do?"
FH: "Ya, that'll happen.  Don't worry, when your compost heats up they'll all die.  In the mean time they help break it down."

And you know what? That's true.  Not one week later most of my maggots are gone.  I had gotten used to them.  In fact i swear my compost was visibly more broken down when they were in there.  That's probably not true.  But this morning i went to find one to take a picture for you and I found them a bit more difficult to locate.
I said difficult, not impossible:

 Ya I picked him up.  What now.  I'm just THAT hardcore.  Lets chock this up to the list of 200 things i would never have done a month ago but i do all the time now.

While making that list add: cleaning chicken poop, rubbing a chicken's butt with a warm wet towel and asking "is that too cold? too hot?" and tying a wetted cloth diaper to my face so that i can spread the ground up skeletons of dead sea creatures in my coop to prevent mites in my chickens. (That's a real thing)

So, mostly i picked up the maggot to take a picture for you.  I know, you appreciate my sacrifice.  But this isn't the first one i have picked up.  The chickens like to eat them.  So every now and then i go take a few out and bring them to the girls.  This may be why their numbers are dwindling...

I took it in to the girls to see who would go for it.  No surprise Esther ran right over.  Girlfriend loves her maggots.  She's also the most curious (as i told you earlier) and the least likely to think I'm a predator.  She knows where her food comes from.

This is a little blurry because she shook her head a little as soon as she picked it up, but that blur on the side of her mouth is the maggot.  mmmmmmm tastey!

There you have it.  Information about composting and a lot of gross pictures of maggots.  And the knowledge that if you ever eat one of my eggs there is a good chance that digested maggot is involved in there somewhere.  =) But that's true of all free range eggs.

Chickens love bugs.  and i love chickens.  So by the transitive property, i also now love bugs. Wait... that's not right... I TOLERATE bugs. Like Tina Fey (as Sarah Palin) said:  I tolerate the heck out of them.


  1. this post is a godsend, Katie. When we tried before the composter was a long cylinder shaped tube. I can now see, by comparison, how the Costco design is a better product.
    Armed with your composting tips I'm inspired to try again.

  2. i'm wanting to try this compost business...can i accompany you to costco some time? :)

  3. Maggot - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaA maggot is the larva of a fly (order Diptera).

    That said, you have chicken poop, it is hot out, therefore you have flys....therefore you have fly larva (maggots).... go easy on your self.

    I find that most peoples main objection to the composting is the bugs and the smell. The bugs are essential to composting and the smell can't be avoided but can be taken away from the house so it doesn't bother you on a regular basis. After a while the smell changes and is not so bad anyway. Yours with all of its poop may always smell kinda bad.

    One more thing you may find is having to bins is very helpful, As eventually one fills up but is not completely c"cooked" so you need to start another or stop, or throw it in that nasty pile on the ground you talked about. We have one commercial bin and one bin we made out of an old pool filter we ended up with when we had to replace it. We just cut the top off and turn it upside down and lay it in the same hole we just took it out of and wha-la! Composting bin! AND we didn't have to throw that big plastic ball into the landfill! We do have to turn it with a shovel though but that is where Todd (FH) comes in!

  4. City compost manufacturers in india, city compost manufacturers in bangalore, city compost manufacturers in karnataka. VIEW MORE :- Citycompost