Composting 101: Let Your Chickens Do The Work

Composting really shouldn’t be that difficult. So why is it that so many gardeners – even very skilled gardeners – give up on making their own compost, and instead turn to commercial solutions to provide compost for their gardens?

Well, now that I’ve been working on my own compost heap (I have a large, defined heap – about 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall at this point) for the last year, I can tell you that one major reason that so many home composters give up is that turning compost is a huge pain. Keeping it turned is physically demanding but it’s also just hard to accomplish because the mechanics of it are awkward.

Or at least they were for me until I quit doing it a couple of months ago after I read this article in which one gardener explains that she used to be a failure at making compost but that she has now found the secret to making it without ever lifting her pitchfork to turn it.

What’s here secret, you may wonder? Well, instead of HER turning the compost, now she just lets her chickens do it.

And ever since I discovered this smart chicken-keeping-garden-hack, that’s how I do it too. Here’s Essie, our Rhode Island Red pullet, on top of our compost heap, turning the top layer.

Here are some other good resources on how chickens can help with composting:

From the HenCam blog

From a permaculture project site.

As the first blogger to which I linked notes, letting your chickens handle composting duties means that you will harvest compost two or three times a year instead of every two or three weeks like some super-composters are able to achieve, so it’s not a method for the impatient, but if you can be patient, follow the basic formula and let your chickens have at it, you’ll end up with high quality compost.

Oh, and one more thing about letting your chickens turn your compost for you; it’s highly entertaining to watch six fat hens scratch and peck and dig and cluck all over a large compost heap, slurping up worms and trying to find apple peels. It’s much more entertaining than digging in that same pile with a pitchfork yourself.

Behold! The Armenian Cucumber!

Check out the Armenian Cucumber that my little brother Robert and his wife Nicole just harvested from their Middle Tennessee garden this week. Wowza! I’m definitely planting these next year.


Making this photo even better than it already is is the fact that this single, enormous, Armenian cucumber is thus far the only item that Robert & Nicole’s garden has produced this summer. I’d say that if you’re only going to get one thing from a garden, you could do a lot worse.

Backyard Farm in Progress – Weekend of July 27 2014

Jon replacing the top beam on the swingset.


Moses takes a nap.


Birdie’s on the hunt for worms.


Rosie sometimes looks like she’s wider than she is tall.


My little potted fig tree. I’m pruning it into a single stem tree and away from the three-trunked bushy shape it’s been trying to grow. It’s doing quite nicely, and producing figs already this year.



From this direction, our house looks like it’s sitting in a field of flowers at the moment.


I can’t remember the name of this annual plant that’s done well for me this year. I got two versions of it back in May – a dark purple leafed one and this preppy pink ‘n’ green one. I need to figure out what it is so I can try to overwinter it. (I keep wanting to call it “Eleuthera,” but it turns out that’s an island in the Bahamas where my 18 year old daughter J went for vacation last year…But it’s definitely a word close to that.)



The Teenager trims the hedges.


The 4 year old helps collect eggs from the nest box.


It’s a good thing we like tomatoes around here. We’re loaded down with them. I like these nice, medium sized ones the best; I’ve been eating them like apples lately, straight off the vine.


I Like Y’all Too

Backyard Farmer 101 on FacebookWhen I launched Backyard Farmer 101 in March of this year, I started with just the BYF101 Facebook page – before going live with the actual blog – and as of this last week in July, the BYF101 Facebook page is getting pretty close to 1k likes. Today, the count stands at 911 thumbs up; that’s pretty neat, I think.

If you’re following BYF101 on Facebook already, thanks!. If not, I hope maybe you will consider joining all of us who are already over there. I post quite a bit of stuff there that never makes it to the blog. And thanks to all, for making BYF101‘s first few months so very fun for me. I’m really loving blogging again, which is …fantastic :-)


So Much Vine, So Few Melons

As a beginner veggie gardener, I am puzzled by my melon situation. Or rather, by my LACK of melons situation. As you can see by the photo below, I have plenty of cantaloupe vine growing, and maybe you can even see the healthy-looking yellow flowers on the vine indicating -as far as I know – that there should be melons developing on the vine.

photo 1

But the weird thing is that the vine keeps growing and the flowers keep flowering but no melons seem to be developing. Nothing is dying back. It’s like the whole point of the plant is to produce these yellow flowers rather than to produce fruit. I am baffled.

Off to consult The Google…

An Outdoor Room From Two Directions

I can’t believe how much time all of us are spending in this area of our front porch now that I finally cleared it out and showed it a little love. Before, nobody ever sat on this side of our porch. Now, while the public facing front is still where we all tend to sit as a group, this side “room” is where one or two of us tend to gather to read or talk quietly or work or have a snack. The dog even seems to like this remade side porch sitting area better than he ever did before (and it’s not just because there’s a rug there; there was one there previously and he never wanted to spend any time on it.)

The space just seems to have good sitting karma or something. It’s definitely my favorite workspace in or outside of our house at the moment. Here it is from two perspectives.

Looking In.

photo (3)

And Looking Out.

photo (2)

VIDEO: How To Grow Corn In The Home Garden

How to Grow Corn For Your Home Garden

I was lucky enough to get to eat supper at Jon’s parents’ house tonight. I say lucky because the company was good, and also lucky because Janice’s cooking is delicious. Tonight’s meal included beans and also corn on the cob, both from Ralph and Janice’s huge garden out in the backyard. We also had sliced tomatoes, but for some reason they can’t figure out, all of their tomato plants are dying this year, and so they’ve had to buy most of their tomatoes this summer from Pratt’s in Fountain City, where they’ve both lived their whole lives. (In Fountain City, I mean, not inside Pratt’s store in particular.)

The corn we had tonight was especially tasty, and the corn still out in the garden looks really good this year – extra healthy and straight and tall, so I asked Ralph to take a minute or two to tell me on camera how he and Janice have perfected growing corn in their home garden, since corn seems to me to be sort of an intimidating vegetable to take on in a garden, especially for beginners like myself. It needs so much space, and it can be knocked down so easily, etc, etc.

Here’s my “How to Grow Your Corn Better” chat with my father in law tonight. I apologize in advance for the fact that I was like a stalk of corn swaying in the breeze myself with the way I was waving the camera around as Ralph was talking. Perhaps, however, you can close your eyes to avoid the poor camera work, and just listen to what Ralph has to say.

Wanna Visit My Store?

If you look over there to your left, you;ll see a new link up that reads “Visit My Store,” and if you click on it, you’ll be taken to my brand spankin’ new Amazon store, something I’ve just set up today.

Basically, it’s a running list of real, actual stuff that I use or have used that I actually like and recommend. And I’m pulling it all together in one place – more flea market or bazaar style store than super organized department store style – to share with any of y’all who may be interested. And if Amazon ends up ringing any sales through my blog, I will be credited with a percentage of that sale. I think that with most sales, the average is 4%, which is pretty good, and is one main reason why so many bloggers continue to work with Amazon on their blogs.

I’ve already been having fun this afternoon pulling together the first twenty or so items for my tiny general store, and tonight after the little girls are in bed, I’ll likely get back to it, and add some more items. I’ll let you know any time when my store has been updated significantly with a quick blog post. Right now, though, I have to run over to Jon’s parents’ house for supper with them. On my feet at the moment, I’m wearing this exact pair of Sloggers, which I also have listed for sale in my Stuff I Like store.

They are some comfy shoes, lemme tell ya. I wouldn’t wear them out to dinner at just anybody’s house, because they’re shockingly close to Crocs, but they’re cuter-enough that I’m telling myself they’re acceptable enough for supper at the grandparents’ house…

Meet the BYF101 Flock: Emily the Silver Duckwing Phoenix

Silver Duckwing Phoenix

This is Emily, our Silver Duckwing Phoenix. Emily is small (she probably only weighs 4 pounds), sweet-natured, and very pretty. She hatched on February 1 of this year, and we acquired her from the neighbor with the cool pallet-built henhouse.

When we got Emily, we thought that she was a Dorking chicken, because that’s what the guy who had her told us she was, but after doing some research when we got her home, we realized that we actually had a Phoenix pullet, not a Dorking pullet. The big giveaway was that Dorking chickens all have five toes, not four toes like Emily has (and like almost all other chickens have. the 5 toes thing is pretty much unique to Dorkings as I understand it).

I didn’t really care one way or the other what kind of chicken we had, although maybe someday we might like to have a Dorking. But we are very happy with our little Phoenix hen.

Here’s another look at her.


One of Emily’s eyes doesn’t work as well as the other; it’s sort of blurrier looking than the other one, and she often tilts her head to one side to see better with what I think is her “good” eye. She manages just fine, though.

I don’t think I’d ever want a Duckwing Phoenix rooster around because as gorgeous as they are, their tails must be a huge pain to care for.

See what I mean? (photo courtesy of Feathersite)


That’s a non issue since we aren’t allowed to have roosters of any kind anyway. But for folks who raise Phoenix chickens on purpose rather than accidentally (we fall into the latter camp, with how we acquired Emily), those amazing, ornamental rooster tails are the whole point: Phoenix fanciers want to have them as long and flowy as possible. I think it’s kind of like the poultry equivalent of raising orchids. But as with most ornamental breeds of chicken, the hens aren’t nearly as showy looking as the males. Still, I find Emily quite pretty. She looks sort of like a quail… A quail that acts like a dog that will follow you around the yard.

Emily and our six year old daughter, C are especially fond of one another, and Emily always looks for C to pick her up and hold her. C is the one who named Emily, and the name suits her sweet, calm temperament very well. I always thought that small, flighty-looking ornamental breeds like Emily would have flighty personalities to match but in this case, that’s just not so. Emily is mellow in the extreme, and very good with kids.

Now I can’t wait ’til she starts laying to find out what kind of eggs she produces…

RELATED: Meet Gladys Kravitz, Our Wheaten Marans Hen.