Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Caffeinate Your Compost

There's nothing like that first cup of morning coffee to us caffeine addicted souls.  When I was recently deprived of my daily jolt of joe to perform some routine medical testing, I realized how much I look forward to that steamy, nectar of the Gods.  I guess you could say I like coffee.  

After sleep walking my way through some fasting lab work, I couldn't get to the nearest coffee shop fast enough.  Ummmm... Hot, Ummmm... Creamy, Ummmm... Sweet.  Now, I can move forward with my day.  

I somehow imagine my garden microbes under go the same transformation when I feed them coffee grounds.  Can you hear them?  "Ummm... Nitrogen, Ummm... Phosphorus, Ummmm... Potassium.  That slightly acidic PH really excites us, and those micronutrients are so yummy."   

Do you feed coffee grounds to your plants?  Do you compost them?  If you're a gardener and you're not taking advantage of everything coffee grounds have to offer, you're missing out.

So, you say you don't have a good source for spent coffee grounds?  Maybe you drink your coffee at the office, or you hit up your local coffee shop.  Aha, there it is, the local coffee shop.  Think of all the coffee grounds they produce.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to have some of those coffee grounds to use in the garden?

Have I got a deal for you!  

I've recently become involved in a program that strives to keep nutrient rich coffee grounds out of the landfill and puts them into the hands of gardeners.  The program is called Ground to Ground.  The idea of the program is to create a network of businesses who are willing to save their coffee grounds and allow gardeners like you and me to pick them up for use in our landscapes.

One of the first businesses to join the program was the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at 4100 Red River.  The store manager, Jessica Anello, is an avid supporter of the program.  On my husband's first visit to her store, he garnered six - 5 gallon buckets of coffee grounds.  That's a lot of coffee grounds folks.  Aren't they wonderful? 

It takes a lot of compost to supply my vegetable and ornamental beds, and this is where my husband, Richard, makes the magic happen.  Five separate compost bins hold yard and household wastes at various stages of decomposition.

Our compost pile has been slow and inactive due to the dry weather and a large influx of fall leaves.  Adding coffee grounds to the compost pile provides the additional moisture and nitrogen that the pile needs to heat up.

Coffee grounds, paper filters and tea bags are all welcome additions to my compost pile.

An active compost pile with temperatures of 135 - 160 degrees is optimal for killing pathogens and weed seeds.  This steam tells me that the coffee grounds are really helping to heat things up.

The compost bins were built with our tractor in mind.  The width of the bin allows the tractor bucket to fit in nicely to turn the pile, or move compost from one bin to another.  The simple beams that keep the compost neatly in the bin can be removed.  Look at the interesting layers.  It's definitely time to mix things up.

Removing composting material from bin three and placing it in bin one is an effective way to mix the pile.  Easy peasy!

Compost is a valuable soil amendment in the garden.  Because of it's value, finished compost is often referred to as black gold.  This wheel barrow is headed straight for the asparagus bed, which has been cleaned and prepped for the spring harvest.

I hope you'll consider visiting the businesses that are now supplying post-use coffee grounds to consumers.  The list and map are on the Ground to Ground page of the Compost Coalition's web site.  We are striving to add new businesses all the time, so continue to check the list for a store near you.  

So, how about it?  Give your microbes a little jolt of Joe!  They'll thank you for it!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fart Eggs

Just when I think I've heard everything, something new to me comes along!  Have you ever heard of a fart egg?

A fart egg, also known as a wind egg, is a small egg that is typically laid by a young hen (also called a pullet).  These eggs usually do not contain a yolk and were often thought to be laid by roosters in olden times.  With pullets, the thinking is that the egg is a misfire of the young chicken's reproductive system, however, fart eggs can also occur in older hens when a small amount of reproductive material breaks away and is packaged up accidentally as an egg.

One of our hens recently laid a tiny egg about the size of a bantam egg.  It's really very cute, but since I don't own any bantam (small-sized) chickens, I immediately suspected one of my young pullets.  Below you can see the fart egg on the left, a double-yolker in the middle, and normal sized egg on the right.

My youngest hens were 19 weeks old at the time the suspected fart egg was laid.  Laying age varies, but in my experience 24 weeks is about average.  Hens typically begin by laying a smallish egg and as they reach maturity the egg size grows.  In the egg carton shown below, you can see that egg size can greatly vary in a mixed flock. 

So, which chicken laid this tiny egg?  I think September, a plucky, little Iowa Blue, was the layer of the diminutive egg.  I apologize for not being able to come up with a better picture of September, but she is a fast and somewhat shy girl.  I went out to the chicken coop with the expressed purpose of taking her photo and came away with 20 blurry shots.  Luckily, I found this photo where I accidentally captured her among her cohorts, Martha (left) and Speedy G (barely in the photo to the right).

The question still remains, is this a fart egg?  The answer is inconclusive, though, I think not.  We cracked two of the tiny eggs open and they both contained yolks.  Normally, fart eggs do not contain yolks, so these may just be really small eggs from a chicken who is maturing quickly.  To give you an idea of size, September's two small eggs can be seen in the bowl below with a normal-sized egg.

Another phenomenon, which is new to us, is the double yolk egg.  Our Americauna, Snowflake, has laid a number of these double yolk eggs.  Double-yolkers can occur in young hens whose reproductive systems are not quite synchronized.  Ovulation occurs too quickly causing two eggs to become encased in one shell.  Snowflake started laying double-yolkers at 7 months and she has been doing so off and on for about a month now.

Here's breakfast in the making; two tiny eggs, one double-yolker, and one normal-sized egg.  Scrambled together, I'm grateful as usual that my girls can provide me with such a wonderful bounty.