How To Make Compost Bays

sounds so much better than poop containment

First – I am feeling much better, though the steroids will be done on Tuesday, and I am going to start doing more of the chores again Monday so we’ll see if I still feel better come the end of this week; but for now, I am happy with my improvement. I have not however made that acupuncture appointment yet. Or the dentist appointment I have been meaning to make for myself since March. However, I did get Juniper’s dentist appointment scheduled. Priorities!

There are many, many projects we need to get done, and all of them will be easier if completed before winter. But the poop does not stop coming so the compost bays keep winding up on the top of the list. Once the corn is harvested for the year we will just spread the poop around the field. I know that’s not a long term solution with my hatred of bugs (poop = bugs), but the one upshot to winter is no bugs! I had hoped to make real compost that would be good for a garden but (A) we don’t have the equipment and knowledge to do that properly – though I’m hoping to learn more over the winter and (B) with Juniper on so many antibiotic and antifungal meds I’m not sure what the impact would be on a real food web which is what I am trying to get going for my plants. The field around our house has been conventionally farmed for years so it doesn’t have a food web to speak of so no concern there. I had really, really hoped, that this was our last year being surrounded by pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. But with the decision to buy the hay shed instead of building it, the money has to come from somewhere and I think it’s going to come from the money that was supposed to go towards planting native prairie-based pasture and hayfield on the land. Which means we’ll probably be leasing it to the farmer for one more year. I’m still not 100% sure that is the best course of action. Nate and I always hide in the house when they are spraying the field with their various chemicals, but I can’t bring Leeloo and Juniper inside. Also, sometimes the well water turns funny colors after they spray and/or plant the field. Maybe I need to start a native-prairie OnlyFans to pay for it…

We did get a decent start on two more hay boxes this weekend and we got some of the mats laid out in preparation for a future muddy spring, but our biggest accomplishment was finishing another compost bay. We have learned from our first two and now have a pretty decent process.

How To Build A Compost Bay

  • Find three pallets, two of which are approximately the same size.
  • Set them up in a U shape.
  • Use scrap wood to screw them together along the back and/or sides depending on how you had to lay them out to maximize your space.
  • Use L brackets in the lower inner corners and possibly the upper corners – or more scrap wood. 
  • Use scrap wood to screw them together along the top on the back side of the U.
  • Line with chicken wire – a staple gun makes this job go more smoothly. It is also easier if you set the U up so the two long sides are pointing straight up and the back is lying flat on the floor. This way gravity is working with you instead of against you.
  • It is easier to build it in it’s permanent location; but where our compost bays reside it is not even remotely level or even, so we decided to build them in the garage and move them. Moving them is not an easy task, the best method has been to slowly “roll” the completed bays from back to front and over again down from the garage to their final location.
  • Make a lid from scrap wood and scrap rubber roofing material and attach it with hinges that are designed for a full 270 degree opening. If you do not use the correct hinges the first strong wind will tear all your hard work right off.

Set up in a U shape – note L brackets in corners.

Scrap wood on the top an the side for stability

We started adding more scrap wood and a big block at the top that we screwed into both the back and the side for more stability

Look at that beautiful lid. With the wrong type of hinge.

Compost Bay Building Tips:

Find free pallets. Ideally, they should be heat treated and not chemically treated and free of any mystery spills or liquids.  If a pallet is heat treated it will have an HT on it somewhere like one of these pictures.

We’ve been getting pallets from a closet design company (they were posted on Craigslist) so I feel pretty safe using them for compost and for under our hay.

If you are doing the compost stuff by hand, then you want to maximize your depth. Getting the poop up high without equipment means shoveling it out of your cart onto the top of the pile which is a pain.

Line it with chicken wire! This was an “optional” thing on many of the sites I saw, but it makes a huge difference.

No chicken wire – look at all that escaped poop!

Hopefully by next spring I’ll have fixed the lid situation which will help in the actual creation of useable compost. Once we get this compost thing figured out, I am sure we’ll have tons to share! 

Third Interlude

I don’t need to explain my art to you.

There is much more to the fence story, however the next part will ideally have a multimedia component that is currently causing me difficulties, so we’ll take a brief break to discuss bugs and my hatred of them.  Also, a quick update on this post – according to a neighbor the rodents in question are most likely thirteen-lined ground squirrels and not chipmunks, though the chipmunk trap worked just as well on them, but also the larger holes I’m seeing are most likely not made by the ground squirrels but by the snakes that like to hunt them. Fun times! They (or maybe chipmunks for real this time?) are back and so we’ll need to do another round of white bucket traps. Now on to the bugs.

I hate bugs. Not all bugs; bumblebees, butterflies, dragonflies, maybe someday honeybees? (that is a very long term goal) are cool and are welcome to stay. Spiders, wasps, flies of all varieties, and ticks *shudder* are not welcome guests. I’m doing much better about spiders than I used to, provided they stay outside or out of sight. If they come in my house and make themselves visible they need to die. I have managed to live and let live with all of the spiders I encounter outside – including the super creepy black with white spots spider that startled a ridiculous shriek out of me when it came around the corner of the fencepost right into my face. Wasps are trickier, I know they are necessary pollinators and helpful in hunting other insects but I would like to be able to turn the hose on without fear of being attacked so any nests by the house have got to go. Flies and ticks are another story. They are not welcome anywhere for any reason and knowing that horses and possibly other animals will soon be coming home means the flies and ticks are going to get worse and I wanted to take some preemptive measures.

A friend of mine in WI who also has horses has long used fly predators and has had many a good thing to say about them, so this spring when I got a catalog from Spalding Laboratories with their various fly control options I decided to order their fly predators to help control the “filth” flies or “pest” flies which include house, biting stable, and horn flies. We’ve been getting the fly predators every few weeks since this spring and they seem to be working. I can’t say with too much certainty since we don’t actually have any animals on the property yet (when this whole thing first started I thought I’d have Leeloo home by June 15 but probably July 1 -HA!), but there seem to be less around and Nate and I are pretty in tune to flies in and around the house because of a minor fly infestation at our previous house. If either of us sees a fly in the house all other activities stop until we kill it! So overall I think they are working. Unfortunately those predators only work on flies that lay their eggs in manure or other organic matter and it turns out that horse flies and deer flies lay their eggs in water and the fly predators don’t do anything to them. The same company does make an “H-trap” that is supposed to trap and kill deer and horse flies and it had some pretty good reviews online so despite the hefty price tag we decided to get it.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, there is a picture online (here) but there is no sense of size or scale. This thing is large! Which explains the price tag. It also has to be placed very intentionally. Namely in a spot that is sunny all day and is in the direct path from wherever the flies are coming from. The flies are not going to pass up an existing meal to get to the trap, but if the trap is between them and other options they’ll go to the trap first. The horse and deer flies are unquestionably worse at the top of the driveway near our mailbox (we are forever getting dive bombed when we get the mail or are watering the trees/plants or mowing up there). My best guess is they are either coming from standing water somewhere in the park across the street from us or from the tiny pond of sorts a few houses down from us. So that means this very large and very unattractive object needs to go right at the top of our driveway for all to see. It got delivered pretty early in the season so it didn’t do much at first (too cold, too windy, and not many bugs out yet) so anytime we would drive in or out of our yard I would look at this expensive giant eyesore that didn’t seem to be doing anything but being “decorative” and declare “I don’t have to explain my art to you!”

gallon container for scale

It turns out it does work! We haven’t caught as many flies as some of the reviews online claim, but it has also been an insanely dry summer so the overall numbers are down. I can say that we are not only catching flies but some mosquitos and gnats too and we are not being dive bombed nearly as much when getting the mail, watering, or mowing and that is what matters. It also turns out to be a great conversation starter with neighbors. I have had several iterations of the following conversation:

Neighbor: So what exactly is that thing at the top of your driveway?

Me: You mean my art piece?

Neighbor: (awkward pause while they contemplate what they may have just gotten in to)

Me: It’s a fly trap, it’s much larger and much uglier than I expected.

Neighbor: (clearly relieved) – does it work?! If so, I may have to get one.

The flies are (hopefully) mostly dealt with. We’ll see what happens once the animals are actually home. I may need to get some additional traps but I’m hoping these preemptive measures make a difference.

That leaves the ticks. F*ing ticks. I have a genuine phobia when it comes to ticks of all kinds. I know it is irrational, but ticks are the worst! They don’t just seek you out (unlike other spiders that don’t want anything to do with you), they don’t just bite you and leave (like mosquitos which also suck), but they burrow their heads into your body and then stay with you for days. NO THANK YOU! Between the traumatic experience I had with ticks as a kid and dealing with Leeloo’s Lyme’s disease and their just general disgustingness you can see why I do not like ticks. Unfortunately, I have not found any solution for dealing with them. They may be the thing that pushes me over the edge into some sort of scorched earth scenario that involves poison or perhaps literally scorching the earth, but I’m hoping not.

Anyone have any suggestions for how to get rid of ticks without resorting to poison that will wipe out all the beneficial insects too? I really do love our bumblebees and butterflies and don’t want to harm them.