Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Man Y'all Need to Meet


I would like to introduce a very good friend of mine, Forerunner.


I've put this off long enough.

It snowed....... again.


My work outside is buried so, here goes......

I have long been an extremist, taking normal activities to their absolute most ridiculous extreme for no other reason than to amuse myself with what can be done by one man if effort is applied...... and, composting is no exception.

I had no long-term ambitions when I started my first pile in the late 90s, (after a few years dormancy since my youth) other than to make fertile soil to feed my family. Well, as usual, opportunities have since come knocking and I've turned none of them away. Things got out of hand....

This isn't my first pile, and I didn't build it just with that pitchfork.....
but I don't have a picture of my first.

Here is a dated pile, taken a month before the power company came to take their poles....yes, we are completely off-grid.

Here is a picture of what was the biggest pile for a couple years.

Here's another shot of that pile as it grew.

Here's another pile built from our own stall cleanings.

....and here is an up and coming compost engineer standing on the new, main pile as it grows.

The focus of this thread is going to be on sources of material and how one man can make extensive use of what the world throws away.

Obviously, if this catches on, such waste material will regain its long lost sense of value, and I say it can't happen soon enough.

Between the yard waste, farm waste, kitchen/restaurant waste, sale barns, food processing plants, sawmills, animal shelters, barber shops, stone cutting facilities, municipal sewage disposal, etc. there is ample, mineral and nutrient-rich material being wasted to at least keep ME up nights...

Following will be a rather haphazard narration, illustrated, of how I've made use of what is readily available. I have tried to get others interested, and they are, but they like to watch me, rather than take up the pitchfork, themselves. The day will come, I am sure, but until then, I gather.....

Feel free to comment. I'm going to make installments to this thread over the course of the next week or so.


Having been somewhat of a woodsman all my life, and cutting my share of firewood, cleaning up maple groves to facilitate more enjoyable syruping, clearing township roads of brush, etc. it naturally fit that I procure a wood chipper. We made extensive use of the outfit pictured below, and used the chips for bedding, mulch, paths around the house, and, of course, for compost base.

After years of working so hard for wood chips (work which I enjoyed, but others did out of a sense of duty, more or less) imagine my surprise when my father told me about Canton's municipal yard waste dump.

Tree services, private individuals, city parks, street sweeper, etc. all dump material here year 'round. They were either spreading it out to moulder, then shoving it over the hill.... or burning it.

Here's a shot of the grass clipping and leaf piles that were everywhere.....

There were stump grindings, piles of someone's wet hay, spoiled straw, excess garden produce, corn stalks, etc. etc. etc.  It didn't take long for me to start making regular trips, 15 miles one way, with tractor and wagon.

Now, obviously, my initial efforts at the yard waste dump were rather labor intensive. I had the big tractor, and only one wagon short enough to facilitate loading by hand. My backhoe is old, and I hate driving it long distances, so a change was in order.......


It's funny to me now, after years of being in the demolition and excavating business..... I've made some major investments in my time, but this little 3010 Deere, with loader, weighing in at $ten grand, has been the most valuable yet. We bought it late last summer, and I'm sure I've put 5000 miles on it already.

Having procured the loader tractor, the next step was to get away from running gear wagons and build something with serious weight hauling capacity and durability. I went out to the scrap yard and looked around.

An old single axle semi tractor tentatively raised it's hand, so I drug it up to the shop and started doing surgery.

After removing some key extra pieces, I cut and bent the frame together in front and moved the project inside.

A strong hitch is crucial.

I built two of these. Here is the finished frame on the second one.
It burned in the fire shortly after I built the hoist and box for it....  

I had built a steel dump box for one of my running gears, and used oak planks for the runners. Here I'm replacing the oak with some 7 inch steel beams in preparation to put that box on my heavy trailer.

The backhoe comes in handy for tweaking otherwise uncooperative chunks of heavy steel for welding.

I couldn't be happier with the finished dump trailer.  It will haul ten tons with ease. I've had 13 tons on that single axle.  What amazes me is that the 3010 handles that dump wagon AND a regular running gear dump wagon behind it. I regularly haul 16-18 tons.

My larger tractor, a 4630 Deere, does a far better job of pulling long, steep hills, but it drinks more diesel, too......

After making multiple trips to the Canton yard waste dump, still with a pitchfork or two for loading..... the city workers began to take notice.

They didn't seem to object to my frequent withdrawals.

I asked one of them, early on, whether or not it would be OK for me to bring my backhoe in and hire a semi or two to make some real progress.

The man promptly handed me the phone number of Canton's public works superintendent. I tried calling him once, and got no answer.

As I was already in process getting my loader tractor bought and delivered, I wasn't terribly concerned.

A few weeks later, I had the loader, and two dump wagons, and was loading away when the fellow who comes in with the Cat loader to push things around a couple times a week rolled over and opened his window. He asked, with a wry smile, "What the hell are you doin' with all this stuff ?" I told him I was making compost, and he got a look....

He left, and a few minutes later, a pretty important looking Public Works pickup truck pulled in....kinda fancy....

Turns out the driver was second in command....Canton Public Works.

The passenger was that curious loader operator. Turns out the two of them are pretty good friends and the loader man knew his boss/buddy would have a keen interest in what I was doing. He was right. "George", the boss, was a farmer at heart who had never followed his life's passion further than to tend a well-kept garden. When I told him my story, he almost started to cry. He told me that he had been hearing about me for a while now, and thought I was working too hard. We talked a bit about my operation and he expressed a sincere interest in paying a visit. I didn't know until I got home with my load that day that he was serious. He pulled in, city truck and all, right behind me. He was noticeably impressed with the size of my piles, and the deep green of the gardens. We talked about food, and then compost, and then wine, and then watermelons. Then he said he was going to have his crew start bringing me the yard waste in the city trucks because they were running out of room to dispose of it.

Then I just about cried.

So far, they've brought me over 150 dump truck loads.

As humbly as I can admit it, that increased the size of my pile by about 33%.

George retired in December. The city workers assure me that George's boss is as interested in maintaining the relationship as George was, but for other, more practical reasons. Apparently I've done them a tremendous favor, offering them a permanent place to dispose of yard waste...... delightful, but sad in a knowing sort of way.

Several of those city truck drivers are gardeners.....and they don't even compost.

True to George's word, they showed up a few days later.

There's nothing so satisfying as a tidy pile of rotting organic matter.

Notice the watermelons growing on the older pile to the right.
George inherited a pickup load of those when they came ripe. 
He made wine out of them.


I have no problem using all the compost I can manufacture.

My "garden" now encompasses roughly eight acres, here; one and a half up the road a mile and five at Dad's place, 2 miles away.

Slowly but surely, it's all turning black as coal.....

In time, I'll post pictures.....

Being in the composting business, I've enjoyed the opportunity to aid the community in the disposal of certain commodities that would otherwise be costly, if not somewhat wasteful to dispose of by previously accepted means.

Dead livestock has to be at the top of the list.

I honestly don't remember exactly when that started, nor the details of how, but word got out fairly quick, and there is a steady, yet manageable flow of deceased critters that just appear around here, and we incorporate them into the hot piles as fast as they come.

Sometimes it will be half a dozen calves. We've had as many sheep show up with a few goats to boot. There are hog confinement operations around that bring the unlucky pigs. A couple horse traders come up with the occasional cull. Several larger cattle feeders bring us their dead. The local sale barn adds their assortment.

Years back..... oh, yeah.... that's how it began...

The local meat locker was owned by a friend, and I inquired about their offal.

He said he had a small market for the beef and hog waste, but needed a place to go with sheep, goat and deer..... so I told him to bring them out.

They brought me 600 and some odd deer carcasses the first season, and many more the second. Then, being a small operation, he went out of business about 5 years ago. But by then, word had gotten out.

Now we have literally hundreds of dead animals either rotting or finished and spread. My trash pickers round up the bones after the compost is on the field and we dry them in the sun to be ground to bone meal in a heavy old pto powered feed mill. The chickens get all they want for scratch and mineral, and the rest is spread on the fields.

Here is a brief pictorial......

Now that particular dude was processed shortly after an extremely wet time when I was a little rich on nitrogen from the sale barn, and a little short on carbon due to not being able to get to it for the mud.

I buried him in the stall cleanings, anyway, and when carbon was forthcoming a few weeks later, I remixed that portion of the pile.

Any time I come across an animal that has stalled in it's decomposition, I add carbon and remix. Truth is, that doesn't happen often, and when the carbon ratio is right, a 1200 pound cow can go to rather odorless black gold and clean bones in 5-6 months....sometimes less.

I find it advantageous to stock up on carbons, preferably somewhat dry, and thereby always have a surplus for when that unexpected glut of nitrogen shows up. The piles here are almost always odor free. Carbon, i.e. sawdust, straw, wood chips, etc. is the key to that.

Always top the pile with a carbon shell.

That protects the interior from the detrimental effects of sun and wind, keeps the moisture level more stable, and prevents odors and fly/maggot infestations.

I also find the occasional load of used straw bedding or spoiled hay bales piled next to my compost mounds. A few wood workers bring out planer shavings and such. People bring road kills of all kinds, and I pick up road kill, including deer, when traveling between compost pickups.

The bones always make interesting conversation pieces for the occasional neighbor that shows up wanting a few loader buckets of compost placed in his/her truck or trailer.

I never charge for the loading, nor the material.
There have been occasions where a family will find out about my work, and bring the larger family pet in truck or trailer to be more honorably recycled.

The most memorable was the time when a friend of a horse friend called and asked if he could bring over a horse to be disposed of. Of course I accommodated him and he brought it that afternoon.

He had several people with him, one of which was obviously his wife, another whom was obviously his daughter, and obviously the real owner of the horse.

She was in her late teens, rather attractive in an honest sort of way, and noticeably devastated. Never before that day and never since have I done such a delicate job of removing a large animal from the back of a trailer with a 17,000 pound machine.

I was thankful that I already had the depression carved in what was then an extensive sawdust pile. They didn't have much of a ceremony, but they were certainly grief-stricken. I covered the horse gently. The man thanked me with a tear or two in his eye and they scooped up that poor girl and took her home.

Anything is possible in this line of work.

On a lighter note, here is Caleb, happily planting red spuds in soil that used to be sand and clay. That crop came due last fall and was the best patch of potatoes we've raised yet.

Following is a series of pics taken by Wendy, of Matthew, the summer before she graduated life here. I didn't realize that Matthew, barely two, had been paying such rapt attention to his father's work, until Wendy showed me these pictures. Humbling, to say the least.

Loading up product for the job.

Sidetracked along the trail to feed some plant that apparently looked hungry.

Back on the job at hand, feeding Mother's red raspberries.

Pausing to enjoy a bit of the fruit of his labors.
A common sidetrack that afflicts the best of gardeners.....

Back to the task.

Compost......it's not just for old folks, anymore.


A question has been posed to me from another forum in which I've also shared this thread.

I believe my best course of action is to simply convey the conversation here, in it's entirety.


"My first husband was into composting in a big way too, and I have sadly lapsed in recent years, but the chickens and goats are on deep beds and after the snow thaws, we will be starting a large compost pile. I already have some horse manure cooking.

Now, I kind of hesitate to ask this, but my first husband peed on his compost pile at certain times, and I have no idea why. Does it help with the balance?  Rose."

*bows head humbly in somber recognition of a fellow Master, departed*

Oh, Rose...... he was one of the old school, for sure.

There are times and seasons and alignments of planets, moons and stars that have a direct correlation to the benefit that a man may not only impart to his compost pile, but realize in his own being as he bestows of himself to the teeming microbes at his feet, yet, the truth is much simpler than all of that.

A man and his compost pile are not unlike a man and his bride.

There is a communion.

Now just how reverent and deep that communion be is up to the man, and a wise man it is who understands how best to love and nurture his pile to mutual and stellar benefit.

The first time a man pees on his compost be, have he one or many, is just as important as the honeymoon night of a newly wed couple.

Now, in spite of being monogamous by nature in the social sense, I do support multiple compost piles...... but there is always that one that has my heart above all the others.

That is the pile with which I regularly commune.

It sits just outside my bedroom window and is thereby quick to access when the urge comes.

It is a quick exit for me, in the middle of the night, when most often I am affronted by the lust to so commune with the pile, just outside the bedroom door and to the left, onto the porch, a few short steps to the east and there is experienced the ecstasy known eons past by earth-aware men of old.

It is by far the best on a clear night, under a full moon with a sky hidden in bright stars, be that in the heat of summer or the icy chill of January.

As in other similar activities, it all starts out simply and innocently enough, almost routine. But as the act progresses, the true man of earth begins to experience a most rapturous sensation which culminates in near overwhelming climax...... man and pile at one..... microbes screaming their hearty cries of applause and thanksgiving.... the moon and stars, silent yet reverent witnesses to the loving act........

*pauses, overcome with emotion*

What more can I say ? 


 HERE is his wife's Blog.



  1. http://frmerswife.blogspot.com/

    ^^ Here is his wife's blog ^^

  2. Oh the post does have and ending

  3. He surely is an amazing man, and I enjoyed reading his answer to my question again. I reckon my first husband and Forerunner would have got along very well. He was a traditional woodsman.
    Great blog Mama Crow! I'm loving it all.


  4. Thank you, Rose! When my holistic site was up, Forerunner was a regular contributor.

    So wonderful to see you here ... please come back again.


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