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Posts Tagged ‘Composting’

American Chinchilla Rabbit

The days are getting shorter.  The nights are slowly cooling down.  I’m loving it.  In fact, I’m taking my morning coffee out to the front porch about 5:30 a.m. and enjoying the early morning cooler temperatures.  Autumn is my favorite time of year and here in Georgia we have long, very long autumns. It’s one of my favorite things about living here.

Fall is also the time of year we start looking ahead to next year.  We review what went well, what went poorly and what didn’t go at all. It’s the season in which we breed our goats, our cows and our rabbits.

Rabbits love this time of year, too.  From September through May they are in their element.  They thrive in cool and cold weather.  Their coats take on a warm, soft extra layer and their hormones kick into overdrive.  We begin our breeding program the first week of September. That’s sort of my unofficial start of autumn.

Rabbits hate summer. They don’t do well in the heat.  We try and keep them in shady locations where they can get any breezes that might blow and we put plastic jugs of ice in their crates to help keep their body temperatures down.  Despite those extra efforts, over the years we’ve lost some good rabbits and even entire litters of babies to heat stroke. So we rarely have any litters from late May till we breed again in September.

Sure, it impacts our profits, but Our Edible Suburb is about much more than profits. Animal welfare is one of our priorities, too. Each of our does will have a maximum of three litters a year. This way they remain healthier, are less stressed and we prolong both their breeding lives and their lives in general.

Besides, meat is only one of the reasons we raise rabbits. Their by-product is as important to our operation as is their meat. Rabbits produce copious quantities of the finest manure on earth.  It is high in nitrogen and trace minerals, but is not ‘hot’ like chicken manure so it doesn’t have to be composted.  When it IS composted it is the richest, most nutritious garden food you can imagine.  You can kick it up further by using it to feed red wiggler compost worms and let the worms convert it, or at least some of it, into worm castings.  Talk about a feast for your soil!

Even in the dead of winter, the middle of the pile is toasty warm and the wigglers will keep working. We keep our compost pile going year round, so that in the spring we can add a nice thick layer of the stuff to our raised beds.  Even the most inexperienced gardener can have success by using composted rabbit manure.

If you start in the fall, one or two rabbits will give you enough manure for a couple of raised beds by the time spring rolls around.  Unless you’re looking for pedigreed rabbits for showing, you can get a pair of rabbits very cheaply at your local small animal auction, from a local breeder, or even off of Craigslist.

If you’re planning to breed, mature bunnies will cost a bit more, but will pay for themselves in just a few months in either meat, manure or both. Since most does will produce 6 to 8 offspring in a litter that are ready to be processed by 12 weeks, it won’t take long to have your freezer full of nutritious protein, or have your compost heap filled to capacity.

We started with about 12 rabbits. We had a mixed bag of young and mature.  We grew out some of the young males for the table and kept all the young does along with a couple unrelated mature males.  That first winter we had rabbits everywhere. There were weeks we had multiple days with two or more litters arriving.  It was work, but it was also fun.  That next spring we had our best garden ever.

If you have a small space, or are not interested in meat, you could consider some of the dwarf rabbit varieties.  Some of them are really cute, make great pets and can be wonderful with

Dwarf Rabbits

children.  Despite their tiny size, they do a great job in the manure department.

Fall is upon us. If you’ve been thinking about adding rabbits to your farm or garden, now’s the time to get started. If you’ve got questions, please feel free to send them our way. We’d love to hear from you.

For those of you already raising rabbits, we’d like to hear from you, too. When did you get started and why? What has your experience been? Don’t be shy now.  You’re among friends.

 

 

 

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It’s garden season here in the burb.  Not that you’d know it by looking at our garden.  Every day, I say, “Must work in the garden tonight”.  Every night, I find another chore to do.  Yikes.  I need to go back and watch “Multiplicity” again and see how Michael Keaton did it, because I need more of me.  Well, at my girth, not more of ME, but more copies of a leaner me. Well, you know what I mean.

Our sun room is loaded with tomatoes and peppers that need to go out, but they must wait a couple more weeks, in the unlikely event of one more frost.  I have bags and bags of seeds begging to be unleashed into the earth.  Unfortunately, the garden beds and containers are unprepared for their arrival.  In other words, I’m BEHIND.  Oh, that the Keebler elves would do me a kindness by sneaking in and take care of that for me one night.  Perhaps they could even leave behind some of those little cookies with the yummy fudge stripes on one side; that would be nice. Sorry, got side tracked.

One of the things I’m excited about this year is our compost.  People who actually know what they’re doing, say that one sure sign of good compost and earth is the presence of worms.  If that is the case, then we are in luck this year.

First, as previously recorded here, after our worm bed box was flooded last year, B tossed the soggy contents into a compost pile we have in the garden.  Somehow, a few of the little wigglers lived.  The survivors tackled the rabbit manure with vigor and have turned it into something spectacular.  And, Boy Howdy, have they reproduced.  It is so much fun just to go out to the compost pile and turn over a fork full of it and watch the worms dance.  Am I a cheap date, or what?  I can’t wait to get some tomatoes into that compost.

Hold on, there’s more.

Out at the farm, we have a compost heap made up mostly, of mule waste, with a little side dressing of donkey and cow manure.  It has been steadily growing, and shrinking, for months.  On Saturday, I stuck a manure fork into it and turned it over to see how the compost was doing. Oh my gosh, it was like all my compost Christmases came at once.  First, the stuff is black and rich and smells like earth instead of, well, instead of what it smelled like when it was first produced.

What really painted my wagon though, was the number and size of compost worms.  They were everywhere and they were huge!  These are not night crawlers, these are compost worms.  They found our heap and said, “Oh, baby, we’re home.”  That pile of, well, you know, is to worms what Cracker Barrel is to a fat man. They have buffeted themselves into obesity.  The compost is ready.  And I have snacks for the chickens, too, not to mention a tasty trap for some unwitting bluegill in Lake Acworth a little later this spring.

Yep, we have the best compost ever.  It should translate into the best garden ever. Well it should if I ever manage to get my buttocks into the garden and get it ready, that is.  And I’m on it.  I really am.  Just as soon as I finish looking for those fudge cookies.

 

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Farming has many by-products; eggs, milk, meat, etc.  But the largest by-product of all, must be manure.  Chickens, for example, appear to produce twice their body weight daily with the stuff.  Ok, that’s an exaggeration, we all know it’s three times, but work with me here.

The pigs are very efficient, turning every possible food scrap into usable meat or fertilizer. They are amazing recycling machines.  Our cows do what everyone knows cows do. Our rabbits produce the most amazing fertilizer of all.  And or mules and donkeys produces mountains and acres of the stuff. Even the fish are nutrient factories. It is indescribable.

So, what do you do with all that waste?  Where do you put it? How do you dispose of it?

First, it is not waste.  It is a miracle in progress.  As we pile up the poo, a variety of bacteria start to work in the middle and on the edges of the stack.  They break down the manure and gradually turn it into compost. It is a wonder to behold.

We have zero leftovers at our house.  Food that is turning or leftover goes to the chickens and pigs.  They make great use of it.  Greens and garden produce that is excess goes to rabbits, goats, cows, chickens, donkeys and mules.  They turn it into manure and the bacteria turn the manure into food for next years plants. The fish waste goes into aquaponics grow beds where the useful bacteria converts the waste into plant food and the gravel turns dirty water into clean.

We had one group of leftovers that didn’t fit into the cycle; coffee grounds and tea bags.  The answer to that conundrum was worms.  We save the coffee filters with leftover coffee and we save our used tea bags.  Every three or four days I take them out and put them in our worm bin.  The little red wigglers living in the tub, turn the grounds into nutrient rich castings and compost.  It’s a huge win.

I have heard that worms are a great option for dealing with dog waste as well.  This spring, I intend to test that hypothesis.

By March, my worm colony should be large enough to divide it into three sections. One will stay with the coffee and tea, one will be transplanted to the manure pile at the farm and one will be put in a tub with dog manure to see how that goes.  I’ve heard that worms can turn dog piles into outstanding fertilizer for flowers and trees.  We’ll find out.

Creation is phenomenal in its intricacies and interdependence.  When managed properly, nature cleans up after itself and feeds the next generation.  All the fertilizer and compost will grow next year’s veggies and fruits, which will feed the animals who will produce food for us, for the bacteria and for the worms and the cycle goes on.  I see order in the universe, the very fingerprints of God.

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…but certainly one of the most useful.  I’m talking about Mother Nature’s own miracle grow.  Yes, you guessed it….rabbit manure.  The stuff is magic.  It is natural, organic, great for fruit, vegetables, flowers and even pastures.  It can be applied composted or uncomposted.  We used it partially composted.  Oh, when partially composted, it also makes great food for worms, if you are into vermicompost.

We are offering it @ $2 for a 10 lb bag as an introductory price.  It is available for purchase on the store page, or email us and pay for it when you come to pick it up.  Limit 50 lbs per customer for initial purchase.

 

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Mornin’ Y’all.  What a beautiful morning it is here in the burb.  The photo is pirated.  We have no trees here, and it’s overcast.  But I wanted to create a mood.  Today started about 66 degrees, some clouds, a bit of humidity and a gentle breeze.  It was a glorious start to the day for doing chores.

After such a difficult spring with the seeds and seedlings, the garden is coming along well.  A few of the tomato plants still look deformed, but most are healthy and some are already heavy with fruit.  After a brief battle with blossom end rot, everything is under control.  We have harvested some broccoli, squash and zucchini and enjoyed them for supper last night.  The strawberries are about finished.  Brittan will harvest the last batch today.  I’m thinking we’ll need to plant more next spring.

We have bush beans and wax beans appearing among the blossoms, as well as the occasional pepper.  The squash and melons are loaded with blossoms.  I am taking that as a good sign.  All in all, the garden is in good shape.

The rabbits are so much fun in the morning.  They get quite excited when I come down to clean the cages, because that means….breakfast.

After nearly a year of trial and error, we are finally creating compost in quantity.  I am very pleased with it.  We have traditional enclosed compost bins (HOA rules), rabbit manure compost piles and worm compost.  We are up to three small worm colonies.  They aren’t producing a great deal yet, but the quality is quite amazing.  I have learned that the worms don’t like fresh food.  But once the scraps begin to decay a bit, the little wigglers are all over them.  They are especially fond of rotting fruit like apples, pears and mangoes.

The chickens may go out to the farm early.  They are growing, eating and, well, crapping at herculean rates.  It’s about time to get them out of the basement and on to some pasture.

Speaking of chickens.  Two weeks ago, Brittan was so terrified of them, she wouldn’t even pick up one of the day old chicks.  This photo that I snapped on Sunday afternoon suggests the fear has waned. Click on it and see what I mean.

As for the sheep, I need to get in the shower, get ready for work and go check on them on my way.  They are a welcome addition.  They make me laugh every day.  6 weeks ago, I thought I hated stinky, stupid sheep.  Now I’m totally addicted.

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Talking ‘Dirty’

Hidden from view, from our awareness is a dark underworld teeming with life and activity. It is an exotic place, filled with beauty and wonder (I’ve included some pictures).  And we’re killing it!

I’m speaking of soil, common dirt.  We view it as an inanimate object, but the entire circle of life is revolving under our very feet.  I doubt we could disrespect it more.  Each time we sear it with chemical fertilizers or insecticides or pesticides, we are also commiting a kind of microscopic genocide.

I’m not suggesting a moral equivalent to Bosnia or Rawanda, but I am calling attention to the fact that we should pay closer attention to the bigger picture of soil managegement and not merely ‘weed control’.

In our nuclear, instant gratification obsessessed world, we want results now, so we blast our gardens and yards with chemicals to make our desired plants grow faster and the undesired ones die more quicly.  But at what cost? Topsoil and humus are disappearing and a staggering rate.  And not just in the corn and wheat belts.

Consider for a moment a slower approach that uses compost and mulch to feed the soil which will feed the microbes which will feed the plants which feed us (not to mention the fauna we also eat).

We might not be able to influence the commercial agricultural world right away, but the millions of us who live in the suburbs and on hobby farms can begin changing the earth one flower (vegetable) bed at a time.  By paying attention and optimizing the systems God established at creation, we can have TWO beautiful worlds; one filled with color and flavor we can see, and an invisible, but grateful one below.

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Like everything else in nature, composting seems to take a long winter’s nap.

This is our first full year composting (we had a small pile last year, but weren’t serious) and we are learning a great deal.  We continue add to our compost bins, but I don’t see much activity.  This winter has been remarkably cold by Georgia standards and the cool air seems to have kept the matter from getting hot enough to decay.

Also, the worm composting has been somewhat slower than I expected.  Not a problem, just not what I thought it would be.  The worms are thriving and multiplying.  My guess is that as the population reaches an optimal level we will see better results.  Eventually, I suspect we will have to start another bin.

The bad news from all of this is, it looks like this year we will have to buy some supplemental compost material.  By next year, I am hoping to be self sufficient with it.

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