Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What compost pile?

Between the dog, the goats, chickens and the worms, there isn't much leftover to keep a compost pile. We do have various piles of chicken and goat bedding in stages of composting which are certainly compost piles so what I'm really referring to today are the food scraps that come out of the house, and how very little leave these premises due to our living composters.

The dog eats well around here. She gets first dibs on most table scraps. Chana pre-cleans most plates. She gets the kids leftover PB sandwiches, egg and meat leftovers. She'll eat vegetables as long as they've been cooked in butter, meat stock, or garnished with cheese or butter. If I deem something too rich or fatty for the dog, the chickens get it. Or in the case of bacon trimmings and fat, the chickadees get it.

I've been promising a post on dog food for a while. Before we ate meat, I use to make a vegetarian dog food loaf made of rice, grains, lentils, vegetables and some flavorings, like ketchup and a little soy sauce. Now I make chicken, duck and turkey stock on a regular basis, so I take the vegetables and little bits of meat left, add rice and mix that together for dog food. When I cook eggs for the family, I make extra for the dog.  Chana gets so many scraps now that dry dog food just fills in the gaps when she hasn't gotten enough scraps. I know a lot of people don't feed their dogs table scraps or human food for various reasons. I think that as long as we are cooking real food from scratch, then her diet is healthier than one consisting solely of stale dehydrated dog food made from leftovers unfit for human consumption. The drawback to her diet is that she probably gets more salt and fat than she needs. This summer the vet approved of her diet but did say she could loose some weight, so I've been more conscious of dolling out the meat scraps and leftovers over a couple days rather than feeding larger quantities at once. She is in good shape this winter.

The chickens average a gallon bucket of scraps a day. This includes bread scraps, dinner scraps the dog didn't get, smashed egg shells, old milk and cheese, and all the vegetable scraps that don't get saved for stock. The only thing the chickens don't get are poultry leftovers. They don't care much for onion peels or citrus rinds. Two items I haven't figured out what to do with, since I read somewhere that onion peels make stock bitter. I've done a bit of cleaning with leftover lemons and such. I'd say onion peels and citrus rinds are about the only food items that do get tossed into existing compost piles. Unfortunately, they don't break down very well and often show up on the hillsides or in the driveway. I don't feed any animals food that is rotten or very moldy. Limp, a little slimmy, a few spots of mold, the chickens seem to be fine with that.

The ducks are pickier than the chickens. I usually just give the ducks greens, fruit, like old grapes, and uncooked freezer burned salmon. The ducks get a lot less scraps than the chickens.

The goats get vegetable scraps only. No dairy, no meat, nothing cooked, nothing spoiled or moldy. The goats get the nicest vegetable scraps, and they are the pickiest, as they should be. Some scraps the goats enjoy are anything leafy green like beet greens, radish, turnip tops, root vegetables, beets, carrots, turnips and rutabagas preferably cut up, ends or shredded. Although we have been tossing in whole turnips and rutabagas and they gnaw on them. The goats get the pulp from juicing vegetables in the juicer. The goats eat all our leftover banana peels and some other fruit scraps, like apple cores. Occasionally the goats get stale tortilla chips or raisins as treats.

 The compost worms are the most neglected of our living composters. I just give them fruit and vegetable scraps, although I've read you can give them occassional coffee grounds, tea bags and even paper. They don't like citrus or onions. I always give them the melon rinds and squash rinds. They prefer softer fruits and vegetables although eventually the firmer vegetables will soften and get eaten as well.

This leaves not a whole lot left to make it worth keeping an extra bucket around for a food compost pile. We should get better about saving our coffee grinds for the garden. I go through fazes of keeping a coffee ground bucket. When I'm lazy citrus rinds and onion peels go in the garbage, otherwise they make it outside into some pile. I haven't figured out what to do with chicken and turkey bones after I've already made stock with them. The dog digs them up if I bury them.

I've gotten better about not wasting food. I've started cooking broccoli stems up in stirfries. Saving carrot, celery stems and thyme sprigs for stock. When we kill birds, we save the feet and sometimes hearts and necks for stock. Everything we don't use goes into the compost pile. The dog doesn't seem to like raw bird intestines. The fox does though. We have a nice looking fox that enjoys our compost pile. Fortunately it has never gone after one of our live birds. We may regret this at some point. In the summer we dig holes in the garden for the bird scraps. I figure some blood and feathers in the compost pile is better than buying blood and bone meal from who knows where.

I prefer to return our efforts into the land, whether it is limp salad greens going into eggs which then turns into poop for the garden, or dead animals going back into the ground which then provides nutrients for the garden. It makes sense to keep our scraps here, and bring in less extra processed feeds for the animals. I enjoy my morning ritual of tossing banana peels out the front door to the does below. There is always something to be said for diversity in a diet.


donna said...

Our animals get most of our scraps too. I think our dogs would starve it all they had to eat was dry dog food. Sometimes when I put it into their bowl, our oldest dog will just look at me as if to say "Is that all you got?" Enjoy your day and God bless.

R. Lyons said...

You mentioned not knowing what to do with citrus peels: make candy!


(link is not my blog - stumbled across the recipe the other day and your post reminded me of it)

My husband and I live in the same region of AK as you do - contemplating keeping animals when we're able to move onto our land this summer...nice to see a blog from someone that will have the same weather issues!

Emily said...

R. Lyons, great suggestion. I do like candied citrus peel. Although we eat soooo much citrus this time of year- that would be a lot of candied peel. I've also cleaned with leftover squeezed lemons and made tea with dried oranges. I should have a pile for citrus - the never composting but at least not in a landfill- citrus pile.

Jasmine said...


My friend Jenny Schlo told me about you (and your sunflower garden) this summer, and how you would be an inspiration to me and how we should meet sometime. And I know Tricia, who has told me about her sister-in-law's goats. And I knew you had a blog out there somewheres; but I never put the three together till I randomly found you commenting on some homesteady place somewhere on the web. :-) Gotta love fairbanks.

So, hi! And we should totally meet in person sometime in the next year.

BUT. What brought me out of lurk-dom to actually comment and introduce myself is the onion skin dilemma.
Onion skin makes my absolute favorite warm amber colored dye on wool. I haven't been active with the dyeing though I have grand intentions of eventually, so I'd have to ask my mom about the mordant...


Emily said...

Jasmine, thanks for commenting. Sounds like we should meet in real life. I'll check out your blog. Dye is totally what I should be doing with all my onion skins. I have a box of onions that rotted on the front porch right now, that were intended for the compost pile. I just bought a bunch of natural white wool roving. I've been wanting to play around with plant dying it. thanks for the tip, emily