...or at least, that's what I call it as I shovel out the hen house and dump the contents on the vegetable beds.
In case you're not familiar with my chicken-assisted, lazy-woman composting method, here it is: throughout the year, I scatter bales of cheap, not-good-enough-for-cows hay on the floor of the hen house. The stuff builds up and keeps things dry and reasonably neat. The hens scratch in it and peck at the weed seeds and, most importantly,they poop on it. In the summer I also add garden waste, and in all seasons, carrot peels and coffee grounds and tea leaves and other non-meat rejects from the kitchen.
(Lest you be disgusted by the idea of once-a-year hen house cleaning, I should say that my nine hens reside in a majestic eight- by sixteen-foot space, and that except when there is deep snow on the ground they spend most of their time outdoors. So by chicken-shed norms, mine approaches Hilton standards.)
Then, on just the right day in the fall, after the chard and kale have expired but before everything, including the chicken bedding, freezes solid, I cart the entire contents of the chicken house, minus the chickens, to the vegetable garden.
Today was that day. It took me a week to build up to it--would the weather be right? Would I have enough energy? But this morning I girded my loins and got it done, in a two-and-a-half-hour marathon of shoveling and carting and dumping. All at once, full-out, non-stop is the only way to do it. If I put down my tools and sit down, or even worse, eat lunch, I may never rise again to finish the job. The dusty, weary, back-breaking job.
In the last couple of years, as I breathe in clouds of chicken dust and heft and dump heavy shovelfuls of bedding into the cart, I've been wondering how much longer I can keep this up. What with CFS and advancing age, I'm not getting any stronger. The obvious solution would be to hire somebody to do the job, thus saving my energy and contributing to the local economy. Likewise, my husband could hire out the splitting and stacking of the winter wood, and the mowing of the summer lawn.
But "use it or lose it" is a persuasive motto, even if it does not promise that by using it you get to keep it. So we persevere, doing menial tasks related to such exotic essentials as warmth and food.
It's not so bad, really, especially since on hen-house cleaning day the hens have such a blast. They can't believe their luck, having me in their midst for an entire morning. And they love it that I'm acting like a giant chicken, scraping and scratching on the shed floor, moving stuff around and exposing buried treasure for them. As if this were not enough, there comes next the ceremonial dumping of the new hay, fluffy, pristine and full of seeds that help to while away a hen's dull winter evenings.
And for me there is the garden, snug under its duvet of hay, manure and the occasional biodegradable coffee filter, and the delicious knowledge that, until next April, I am well and truly done with gardening.