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Building a Compost Station

Straw bales define a chicken compost bay.

As we say at Terra Firma, there's more than one way to skin an apple. We're cat lovers, after all.

Making compost is no exception. Everyone has their own method and recipe for producing perfect compost. One of the simplest and most efficient ways of composting is utilizing a multi-bay compost station. We've found a four bay system is perfect for compost stations around our small farm. Each station can accommodate chickens that are moved biweekly using mobile coops.

We typically use biodegradable, natural, found or reused items for our stations. This keeps costs down while also allowing us to practice some of our core tenets of sustainability. Typically a compost station will be comprised of straw bales, used pallets, and found/repurposed plywood. It takes only about an hour (two people) to put together and requires minimal tools.

A brand new four bay compost station with staging area for chicken antics

What You'll Need:

- 7-9 wood pallets 4' x 4'

- 2 sheets plywood 4' x 8'

- 8 straw bales

- 4x4 posts if required

- Skill Saw, wood screws, screwdriver

We used an existing fenced plant nursery and attached our plywood to the fence posts. The 4x4 pallets were then attached to the plywood to create 4 x 4 x 4 bays. We made four bays based on our particular compost recipe, but three bays can also be used. Front panels can use half pallets to ease the labor of transferring materials from bay to bay.

In front of the bays is a staging area where chickens can scratch, eat and fertilize. The staging area is first filled with a layer of carbon material which forms a foundation for green materials (such as food scraps). The chickens go to work scratching through the greens, turning and mixing the pile. We continue to put fresh greens in this area daily until it's full.

Once full, the staging mix is transferred to the first bay. The hot compost process begins. The compost moves its way down the bays until it reaches the fourth and final bay. The separate bays allow us to closely monitor temperature and break down of material. During this process, temperatures reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, eliminating weed seeds and pathogens and prepping the material for transfer to worm bins.

Once the partially composted material is introduced to the worms, they go to work converting it to vermicast. Aside from keeping bins at the correct temperature and moisture content (and ensuring they have enough to eat), they are simply allowed to do their thing without interference, typically for 3-4 months. We use both standard bins and flow-through bins. Standard bins produce a vermicast that is ready to be screened and used; flow-through bins produce a vermicast that we usually use for worm tea.

The benefits of the multi bay compost station are threefold. By utilizing chickens we are helping divert food waste from the landfills, reducing dependence on grain, and providing a more natural foraging experience. In return, chickens provide labor, fertilizer, and fresh eggs. By utilizing the hot compost process, we are eliminating seeds and pathogens while partially composting organic matter before introducing it to worm bins, reducing the time it takes worms to further break down the matter. By utilizing worms, we are creating one of the purest and most effective forms of natural fertilizers to exist on earth - vermicast.

If the chickens don't eat it, the worms will.

Try out your own multi bay composting station! If you don't have the time or resources to do it just yet, consider joining us in our endeavor to keep RVA food waste out of the landfill. We provide 5 gallon screw-top buckets - all you do is fill it with food waste that would've otherwise been thrown away. We'll pick up your waste biweekly (every other week) and convert it to compost on our RVA-local farm.

If you're interested in changing the world one bucket at a time try us out for a month to see if food waste collection is for you. We'll deliver a compost bucket right to your door and exchange it for a clean, empty bucket every two weeks. Each bucket collected is affordable and earns you credits which may be redeemed at our Farm Store for compost, vermicast, chicken manure, or other earth-conscious (and non-poop-related) goods.

Until next time...happy composting!


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