For my opinion I refer to Ken's First Rule of Compost: It's your compost and you can do whatever you like with it.
Compost is a process. In nature, the process has a lot to do with succession: what happens next. In a hot heap the thermophiles are the king. When they have consumed their resources and populated themselves into unsustainable territory they die off. As the pile cools the mesophiles have the advantage and for a while, they rule the world. There are still thermophillic bacteria around, but the conditions which allow them to dominate are no longer in place. There are also anaerobic bacteria scratching out an existence. As conditions in the pile change, so does the dominant organism. There are countless species of microbes lurking in the shadows which will grow readily the moment they are able.
The primary reasons for hot composting: kill off weed seeds, kill off pathogens, and speed of decomposition. Besides heat, other factors can kill off weed seeds. Mold, mildew, and fungus can infect the seeds, destroying their viability. They can dry out. The can be eaten or damaged by bugs and worms. Pathogens have a hard time of it. While they thrive on the host plant, the conditions in the compost heap are usually far from ideal for their needs, reducing their population. Speed of decomposition is deceptive in a hot heap. Sure, there's lots of activity, but for the compost to finish, other successors need to do their part. Some of them can do their part in the garden beds just as well as in a heap.
Insects are going after the compost because it offers something they are looking for:
-a breeding environment
Regardless of the stage of decomposition, most of the material in that bin will offer a food source for some kind of insect. It may not be the orange peel the bugs eat, but the bacteria and decomposed material which offers a delicious meal. Insects have a limited digestive system. Organic matter that has broken down makes it possible for some insects to consume what they could not otherwise ingest.
Bugs need water same as everything else but they don't much. Standing water such as a birdbath does not offer a stable surface to land on whereas moist grass clippings provide purchase from which the bugs can slurp up the water they need. There is no getting away from moisture if you wish to compost.
The warmth is important when the seasons are changing. Bugs have a different way of seeing the world and can detect infrared (heat) as well as UV sources. Being a cold blooded creature, they'll be drawn to it. At this time of the year it's not a factor.
A BREEDING ENVIRONMENT
Bugs eat, mate, breed. That's what they do. A warm, moist, food rich compost bin is an ideal environment. As long as the bugs are hanging around eating and drinking, they'll find a hugger and set to work keeping their genes pool alive. For momma's precious little snowflakes, it's hard to beat a compost heap for egg laying. From the perspective of the compost maker, the bugs are good workers helping to decompose the material.
With all this in mind, the task is to make the compost less attractive to the bugs. Bugs have 2 primary methods of detecting your compost: light (including IR) and chemical. Those antennae are able to detect the odors emanating from the compost. Evaporating moisture will carry chemical signals through the air. Looking at your compost bin I see it is essentially an inverted trash can with solid sides. There is some ventilation on the bottom, but not enough to allow the material to dry out. This is by design as these small containers need to retain the moisture in order for the contents to decompose. If that same volume was a heap o the ground it would be able dry out completely, weather permitting.
That small volume won't heat up to such an extent as would a cubic yard heap. It's just not big enough for the thickness and depth of material to serve as insulation. We can eliminate visual cues as a reason for drawing the bugs. This leaves odor as the attraction.
The compost bin does not have to be a reeking cesspool. Light odors will be enough to draw in the bugs. Looking at the bin there are vents on the bottom and what appear to be vents on the top. What you have, in effect, is a chimney. You toss in new material, stir it up. This keeps it loose and allows air to flow. There will be some warmth which will create some airflow. In that air is moisture and chemical signals. It's a big neon sign for bugs. Those plastic bins retain much more moisture than an open heap. Those open heaps dry out on the outside. Once again, it's the thickness and depth of dry material that absorb that moisture before it passes out of the heap. The moisture will still move through eventually, but in the meantime it is a barrier preventing access to the moist material which the bugs need to eat, drink, and propagate.
Once you use the material in your garden or containers, you'll have the same effect: a dry surface acting as a barrier. The core of the planter will still be moist but the bugs won't be able to get to it in such numbers that they become a problem. I hope that answers your question.
There still exists the problem of the bugs in your bin. I suggest leaving the cover off to let it dry out some. You could also add some dry material to reduce the moisture level inside the bin.
It breaths, allowing some moisture out. Hard work and sweat will see any boot get moist by the end of the day. Synthetics take a long time to dry out. Leather flexes and will take on a shape according to the wear and use involved. Synthetics retain their shape and end up causing blisters. Break in the leather boots by wearing them for a couple hours per day while doing some light work, walking around.
Not all leather boots are created equally. Different cuts from the hide, different tanning methods, different stitching. Those cheap leather boots you can get at the big box store for 30 bucks won't hold up. Better brand names include Justin, Wolverine, Timberland. Do you go for a $30 boot that lasts maybe 6 months or a $200 boot that lasts a couple years? I've done it both ways. Those durable, high quality boots are expensive, but your feet will thank you. If conditions are kinda nasty and would ruin boots in short order, go with the disposables for those jobs.
Physical work will have the wearer kicking and dropping things. It does not take much to break a toe and a broken toe is not worth seeing a doctor, getting a cast...get the steel toes ad save a whole lot of grief.
This is a steel bar in the sole of the boot. It protects the bottom of the foot when stomping and walking on rough surfaces. Makes life easy when stomping a shovel into hard ground.
Wet feet in boots can be tolerated for a few hours. Wet feet in boots for many hours will cause distress and can take the worker off the job. A splash here and there is expected and you'll get wet feet from time to time. For that occasional splash, swap your wet socks for new socks. Keeping your feet dry for long work days demands the boots don't allow water to seep in. I've seen guys treat their boots. In an emergency, WD-40, motor oil, even bearing grease will offer protection, but some of these solutions will wreck the boots. Your boots should be waterproofed as part of the manufacturing process. As they get scuffed and scraped, they lose that waterproofing. Google this: Nikwax
Lace Ups vs Pullups
Pullups are easy on, easy off. After a while they can lose their snugness.
Lace ups can be tightened as needed but the laces can get caught on machinery, sticks, obstacles.
My preference is and shall always be pullups. I'm just too danm clumsy, and that's on a good day.
I hear Arizona is kind warm. no matter. Get the high top boots. They'll be warm but they reach above the ankle. There are low top boots out there, but if you are even a fraction as clumsy and awkward as me you'll save not one but many sprained ankles. If this is your daughter's first time in boots, she'll be awkward. Get the high tops.
Now let's talk about socks.
Heavy Duty or Industrial Strength durable socks, reinforced heel and toe. I get more holes in the toes than in the heel-moving my toes for leverage wears them through. When the heel wears out, they are finished. I like those with arch support. Some cotton in the blend makes them cozy. You'll spend 10 bucks on a decent pair of socks. Be sure to try on the boot while wearing the socks. These socks are bigger than normal crew socks and can make a pair of boots a little too snug. You might want 1/2 size larger to account for the socks. I can stand old ad beat up boots if I have my awesome socks. I tell you, I freakin LOVE my socks. I don't care about the boots. Awesome socks will make crappy boots bearable.
The socks need to be as high as the boot at least. Too short and the cuff of the boot will rub your leg.
Get extra socks so you can swap them if your feet get wet.
Smaller is better. The issue here is the ratio of surface area to volume. The higher the ratio, the faster the material will break down. Consider a log as the example. Cut the log in half, you have increased the surface area by exposing the newly split sides, but the volume is unchanged. Keep keep on splitting that log the size of the pieces keep getting smaller but with every split you are exposing more surface area. Wood chips are the same thing as a log that has been split a large number of times. It is on the surfaces that the microbes live and do their thing. More surface area allows more microbes. The microbes generate heat as they do their thing. More surface area will allow a larger population of microbes which in turn generate more heat, but conditions have to be right.
The microbes need a diverse diet. The woodchips offer carbon. Grass clippings offer nitrogen. A layer of wood chips on top of a layer of grass clippings has a narrow zone in the middle where the microbes have access to both N and C. I've seen lots of instruction saying to alternate layers in the heap as you build it. This is great advice to help you get the proportions of browns and green right, but these instructions stop short. Take the extra step of tossing the heap immediately. A layered heap will heat up in a few days, and will compost fine. A homogenous heap with a reasonable blend of greens and browns combined with adequate moisture throughout will heat up overnight.
Another key indicator of when to turn is temperature. When the heap begins to cool, it is because the thermophillic microbes have consumed all available food and are beginning to die off. Turning the heap brings unconsumed food to the microbes as well as much needed oxygen and moisture. Turning breaths new life into the heap and will allow higher temperatures to be sustained for a longer period. This will last until the food runs out. It is possible to keep a heap in the thermophillic phase indefinately by adding fresh foodstuffs. I've added bag after bag after bag of lawn clippings to an active hot heap. The clippings are consumed in less than a week. Bear in mind that it is possible to add too much green material. Spontaneous combustion has been documented. I have burned my hand by shoving my arm into a pile.
N LOSS IN MANURE
I've read studies that show the nitrogen loss in cow manure begins immediately. I recall one study that measured soil nitrogen: Plot A had the manure applied and tilled immediately. Plot B had the manure applied and tilled a week later. The N levels in the soil were HALF.
Gather the patties, but get them blended with browns and cover with several inches of material to absorb the ammonia as it volatilizes. Dry leaves are well suited for the task. Sir Albert Howard covered his Indore Method heaps with a few inches of soil.
Use weight as the metric. The carbon is not a free molecule, it is contained in cellulose, lignin and organic compounds within the cells. The N is in the form of ammonia and urea within cells. Most plant matter has similar density once it is shredded up, about 5 pounds per gallon. Water can make it seem a lot heavier by filling the spaces between the shredded pieces. As long as the browns are about as moist as the greens, you will be able to estimate equal weights well enough for the process to work. If you can come up with similar weight, all you need is the proportions. I find a pitchfork will let me gauge the weight...as long as my back hurts the same with each forkfull, I'm able to stay consistent.
50 pounds of greens to 100 pounds of browns. This does not have to be perfect. It barely needs to be close. In the ballpark, even way out in left field is good enough. The heap will let you know what it needs. Smelly: add browns. Cool: add greens. Dry: add water
The best way to learn how to compost is to go ahead and pile stuff up. Compost happens even when conditions are not ideal. There is a certain excitement and satisfaction found in building a hot pile, tearing into it and watching the steam rise! Over time, the excitement may cool off right along with the heap, however that satisfaction can develop into pride and accomplishment.
Talking with veteran composters I find a common pattern:
Early composting attempts see great attention to detail, turning the pile religiously, strictly following the directions
Experienced composters turn it less often, keep an eye on the moisture, but generally loosen up the standards and let things slide
Veteran composters pile stuff up and walk away. Nature takes care of the rest.
I've used drip systems with excellent results. The style I used had a limit of 25 PSI for the flow rate to work right. I dont think you'll have a problem with the pressure with a small pump. If needed, a pressure regulator can be installed in about a minute with a cost pf maybe 20 bucks.
I've got sandy soil. I set up my system with drippers every 2 feet. A 4x50 bed would require 2 rows with 25 tips each, or a single line down the center with foot long 1/4" tubing every foot. The advantage of the tips on the end of a foot of tubing is moving them around when a different crop goes in.
At the spacing above, the 2 beds would require 100 drip tips. With a flow rate of 1/2 gpm/tip, that vessel will drain in 5.5 hours of use. For my environment that would get me by for a dry week.
Before I used drip, I used clay pots with excellent results. I was in a D2 drought at the time and those pots would empty in a day or two. Filling them was getting to be a chore and the plant growth was making it hard to find the pots. I ran a drip line down the center of the beds with a drip tip shoved into the clay pot and a timer on the faucet. Every other day the pots would be filled automatically.
I did the math on flow rates, don't know where the notes are, but as I recall a 25 PSI supply would service around 250 tips rated at either 1/2 GPM or 1 GPM.
If you drained the entire 275 gallons across the 400 sqft, it works out to the equivalent of .8 inches of rain. About enough to last you a week in well drained soil, perhaps 2 weeks in a heavy clay soil.
John Wolfram points out the algae issue. I gave up on the drip system because of the clogging problem, and I was using city water at the time. An inline filter may be needed. Another option is an aerator and some algae eating fish.
My rule is 1 cell 1 seed.
I make my own potting mix, no cost there. The cells and trays are reusable, no cost there. Not all my seed in harvested here so I still have some cost. To keep down my seed cost I want to get the most out of a packet. Thinning never made much sense to me: plant it, then rip them out? My time has value and cannot be replaced. Rather than spend time thinning or pinching off seedlings, I can skip potting up or transplanting the weaklings.
My methods may not work with your setup. I've got plenty of space, warmth and sunshine. I've got room to spare to start extra seeds and use more space.
My stomach won't let me drink beer anymore, but back in the day I was a bit more intemperate.
A good campfire, some food, some friends, and an ice chest full of beer makes a fine evening. After a few seasons of fine evenings, it does not take long for kids to start showing up. Having glass around the ground with kids close is a bad combination. We used buckets up at camp. Toss in caps, empties, trash, butts, whatever needed a place, the bucket was it's place. Easy to haul the next day, easy to clean out, stack for the next weekend. If anyone wanted to raise hell, they were welcome to live freely. If they didn't clean up after themselves, they were not invited back.
Those well compacted leaves will make a good insulator. I've seen the leaf piles get warm-lay down and be comfy warm. I've measured my hot compost heaps at 175. The leaves seem to be missing the thermophillic stage found in bacterial decomposition, again suggesting a different process going on. Fungi use energy, therefore they will create waste heat. This will keep a pile warm. 100F is not unbelievable.
All I do is pile up the leaves and walk away. As the leaves decompose their structure weakens, the heap settles and compacts under its own weight. A loose pile would allow improved airflow which would draw off heat. A loose pile would not have the same surface to surface contact which I think would promote activity within the heap.
Viola's pile is 3' high, Brian's is 5' high. That extra 2 feet equates to a whole lot of insulation. When I pile the leaves 4-5 feet is about where I stop for height. My heaps are loose at that height then compact over a few months to 1-2 feet high. In nature, leaves will collect on low spots and along hedges. A couple feet loose, maybe a half foot to a foot when compacted would be typical.
Please keep up with your heaps and your reporting of observations, and Thank You for reporting what you've found so far.
I'm in north Florida, White Springs, about 30 miles south of the GA line.
Zone 8b in a cool year, 9A in a hot year.
http://farmwhisperer.com/ I talk about farming, gardening, homesteading and permaculture with a strong tendency to see it through the lens of an entrepreneur.
After 11 years on this job, full of adventures, lots of hair loss, plenty of achievements, and landing in middle management, I've quit. For real this time, not like all the other times.
I've got my ducks lined up. Cash set aside. Tools and gear in place. Soil in a fine state. Customers waiting for me to produce an abundance of produce. Experience to make it happen. I've done my homework, cramming about as much knowledge and experience as will fit into this little head. There are no obstacles left to overcome. It is time to make the leap of faith and strike out on my own.
Suwannee Valley Natural Garden, a Pick Your Own Vegetable Farm, is now being planted for the spring harvest.
I operate a Pick Your Own Vegetable Farm when work slows down and I have a chance to get some crops started. One day a family of three, 2 parents with a four year old daughter, came by to find something for dinner and show the yung'un how food grows. The little one had a great time. She got to pet the chickens and ducks, pick some lettuce and was astounded that there were so many tomatoes in so many different colors.
She asked if she could pick a flower.
"Go right ahead" I told her, "Any one you want."
She had already chosen an Empress of India Nasturtium in full bloom. While my back was turned, she picked her flower, along with the whole plant, roots and all.
"Is this good?" she asked.
On turning to look, her mother let out a GASP.
Not wanting this to be an incident I told her "That's perfect. I'll get you a pot. We can put some soil in it so you can take it home and have a whole garden."
Now they are regular customers. I give the girl a different plant every time she comes.
And she has her own garden.
My grandmother being down to earth and thrifty, used to save her aluminum foil, among other things like string and old bread bags.
She kept balling up the foil, for use later. Now the old lady got mighty long in the tooth, living, she would say suffering, to the ripe old age of 98, when she passed away quietly in her sleep.
After probate I was surprised to learn, through my late great-grandmother's now-wealthy attorney, that she had left me the aluminum ball in her will. The ball was shortly dropped off in my back yard. Remember, Nannie, being thrifty, had saved aluminum foil for the better part of a century, By this time it was 38 feet in diameter, tipped the scales at 138 metric tons, required one of those Army corps of Engineers land hauling trucks to move it, and had a band of gypsies living in it.
I was not particularly needy of such a large amount of high-grade raw ore, but wanted to sell it to a recycling plant in order to pay for delivery fees and an outstanding attorney bill. First, I had to evict the gypsies. Being they happened to hold a large share in the local recyling plant, they put up a hell of a fight in court, but to no avail. I was able to remove them from the foil ball, as well as my back yard, but not before the old gypsy grandmother put a curse on me.
That I would suffer in poverty for years and years.
Times have been hard ever since. All the hair fell off my cat. Hair stopped growing on my head and started growing in my ears. Never have any money to buy some small luxury, and no time to enjoy what I have. Something would always come up wiping out my savings as soon as it starts to get sizeable. I scrimp and save where I can. I learned thrift from my grandmother.
One trick I found is that, if it is clean, I can save the aluminum foil from my sandwich. I just roll it into a ball....
I got into genealogy back in the 90s. Did some checking, found some rich resources, traced much of my ancestry back to the boats. Being small town New England there are several Mayflowers passengers (if you find one, its likely you'll find several). Most lines lead to southern England. There's also a Scot, a Welshman, and a Donovan who may have come from Ireland.
You can have a look if you like.
I even wrote the software that generated the HTML files from a GEDCOM file. I stopped writing software when I was sidetracked by this thing called 'compost' and never looked back.
Some persons of note:
7th cousin 4 removed from FDR common ancestors=Edward Southworth/Alice
6th cousin five times removed of 13th President Millard Fillmore
common=Edmund Littlefield/Annis Austin
10g grandson of John Alden of the Mayflower
10g grandson of Priscilla Mullins of the Mayflower
11g grandson of William Mullins of the Mayflower
11g grandson of Alice (Atwood) Mullins of the Mayflower
11g grandson of William Brewster of the Mayflower
11g grandson of Mary Brewster of the Mayflower
10g grandson of Love Brewster of the Mayflower
9g grandson of Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower
9g grandson of Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins of the Mayflower
8g grandson of Constance Hopkins of the Mayflower
grandson of Isaac Allerton of the Mayflower
grandson of Mary (Norris) Allerton of the Mayflower
grandson of Mary Allerton of the Mayflower
grandson of Richard Warren of the Mayflower
relations to persons of note:
11th great grand nephew of Nathaniel Ingersoll. Many of the Salem
Witch Trials were held at his home
The Allerton family is interesting. This makes me something like a 12th cousin to Burra Maluca. NO KIDDING!
Loose, Rich, Fertile Soil.
Three years ago this was sand. It was good for growing grass and the occasional weed.
This is what happens to soil when it is not trampled on, driven on, tilled, compacted, left exposed, or treated with poisons. All I've done is add compost, leaf mold, grass clippings, and leaves to the surface and kept it covered with mulch.
My fingers are straight. I can drive my hand in almost to my wrist. Plant roots have unimpeded ability to grow. Synthetic fertilizers are not needed when plant roots can spread out. Tilling is not needed to loosen the soil. This is what organic gardening is all about.
The natural cec of the soil (sand) around here is around 5. Good for grass, pine trees, and this prickly thing called fireweed (DO NOT step on it barefoot). I add compost, leaf mold, grass clippings and wood chips. The leaves and wood create a rich volume of humus. It's the humus that boosts the cec.
A perfect homestead? Beats me.
A pretty good homestead would be one which has been developed for at least a few years. Systems are in place, working well with the bugs worked out. Crops have been grown in areas that have been under natural cultivation for a while with open pollinated seed which evolved specific to the location. Livestock has been bred on site and are well adapted to the environment. Pests are in balance with predators.
Most importantly, the skills required to keep the place going have been internalized. All the books in the world won't do much good when it's crunch time. Experience with the land must be developed over at least a few seasons to gain an understanding of the patterns of nature on the site and how to take best advantage of them. The people involved will be familiar with each other and fully assimilated into the local community. They'll not the good hunting and fishing spots, where to find wild berries and nuts, who to go to to get something fixed, who has what to trade with, who has specialized skills, who can be depended upon for a helping hand or sound counsel.
At home, at night, in the winter
I use the bedroom for sleeping, often with a heating pad for the back. The new bed is MUCH warmer than the old one. Got some different blankets that are toasty.
I use the bathroom for a few moments at a time. Longer periods of use has ample hot water involved.
I use the kitchen for a few moments at a time. Longer period have the stove going and sometime some hot water.
For the most part I'm at my desk.
I don't use the back bedroom or the living room. I don't really care about heat in the laundry room. I've shut off vents in those rooms, heating them does nothing for me.
This place uses electric heat and the bill is less than 100 bucks. It's been well insulated to keep the Cool in. Florida does not need much heating, but sometimes this place gets HOT. Right now it's daytime and I have the door open. Being a tightwad, I'd like to see how much I can cut that bill down.
Big seed catalogs don't fit in the mailbox way out at the road so the mailman brings it to the house and drops them on the porch with the rest of my mail.
I'm gonna order a different catalog every day from now on.
I'm constantly exploring ways for people to get started in farming. I've offered ideas for a large group. This is what I've come up with for a small group.
Lots of thought went into this article. It's been a month just writing it up, many months developing small ideas into the bigger picture, and probably more time will be needed to add finesse.
You can keep up with revisions on my site as well as explore relevant links.
For better or worse, this is what I've come up with.
Get yourself a cup of coffee...
A Few People Can Share A Farm
Getting started in farming and making a go of it is made difficult because of the cost of land. I've met people from all walks of life that would love to farm, would probably do very well for themselves, but lack the financial resources to buy property. It's tough out there just paying the bills. It would take a young kid making minimum wage forever to save up for a downpayment. If they are paying all the rent and bills alone, it may be impossible. People are left with only the dream of farming. Unless that dream is nourished, it can wither away. Rather than let the dream die, exploring different ways of buying a farm is in order.
Back in college, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I was earning something like 7 bucks an hour as a short order cook. Minimum wage was around $5/hour, so I was doing better than some. Still, the paycheck was only around $200/week. A couple bucks an hour up or down does not make a great deal of difference. Slightly better food, a new pair of pants now and then, some money to go to a concert, maybe I could get cable TV. To make ends meat I got together with some college buddies to share an apartment, 5 of us in all. These guys made less than me and with the rent at $500/month, sharing an apartment was the practical way to go. Split the rent, the light bill, everyone paid for their own long distance phone calls, and everyone was on their own for groceries. I don't know where toilet paper came from. The dishes were never done. There were mushrooms growing in the bathroom. Someone ate my spaghetti. There are advantages and disadvantages with shared housing arrangements. We had our own rooms and the bills were affordable. Had we organized ourselves a little more, by sharing cleaning/cooking/groceries, we could have made the apartment a more comfortable experience. As an example of cooperation for mutual advantage, I can think of none better.
I've explored the notion of a large group of people cooperating on an enterprise. A key element is using the money people are already spending. Most folks are already spending money on housing. Putting it to use to buy a farm makes good sense. I want to explore the notion of a handful of people sharing a farm. A small group can be formed more easily than an army. I'll use my place as the reference because it was cheap to buy, was purchased without a bank or even so much as a credit check. Several people will fit with a little bit of carpentry, it comes with 3.7 acres of pasture and trees and most importantly, the bills are low.
This place is a 40 year old mobile home. About 15 years ago the previous owner built an addition along the entire north side to add an enclosed porch, bedroom and sizable living room. Total area is 1000 square feet. Except for that one outlet and the garage light, practically everything works. With the 2 existing bedrooms and the laundry room, 5 people could fit comfortably but the plan may call for bunks or couples in the bedrooms. Fully enclosing the back porch would make a fine bedroom, as would the front porch. It can work.
If I were to sell the place, bank financing is not an option. The trailer was built in 1972. No bank is going to touch a trailer older than 30 years. Anyone with the money to pay for the place outright would probably be looking at something more modern. The only practical option is to finance the sale myself, which is what the previous owner did with me. $5000 down, 500/month is affordable. I've gone the extra mile in paying down the debt. It'll be paid off before I've been here 5 years. There are homes out there that can be had for little down. My last house I moved in with a $1600 downpayment. 25 years ago my brother and I bought a place with no downpayment. We got a bank loan that covered the entire price of the house, plus an extra $2k we used to put in a new front door, turn on the utilities, and catch up on some bills.
Anyway you look at it, coming up with a downpayment is not the easiest thing to do. For someone earning wages, saving up $5000 is tough. Add in a few hundred more for closing costs, turning the lights on, hooking up a phone, and renting a truck to move furniture. Having been a landlord, I've seen hundreds of people who can't come up with $800, the first months rent and security deposit, needed to move into an apartment. I've also seen people come up with a thousand bucks fast. They gotta have a car, somehow they find the money. They gotta have an apartment, they come up with it. Tax refunds are a nice shot in the arm every year. If you put the first $25 from each paycheck into a savings account or a mayonnaise jar, you'd have the money within a year. Split the downpayment with 5 people, $1200 each buys the property, pays the closing costs, and gets the lights turned on.
The place has some bills, everyone chips in equally. The place has a mortgage, everyone chips in equally. You are sharing the roof, the bathroom, the appliances, the electrical wiring, the door knobs, light bulbs, and the land. Sleeping arrangements, room size, and who owns the couch has no bearing on the amount of each share. 5 people demands the bills be split 5 ways.
Split 5 ways, 175/month each. About $45/week. These figures are based on my current situation. With 5 people sharing the home, the electric bill would probably be more. I don't pay for homeowners insurance. I don't have municipal water and sewer, I have a well and septic tank. I don't have cable TV. The bills will depend on the specifics of the property and the lifestyle agreed upon by the people in the group. Not included in the above figures is the cost of groceries and supplies. The arrangement can have each person looking out for their own needs but considerable cost reductions can be found by working together. There is also no debate over who's turn it is to buy toilet paper this week. Groceries and supplies can be collectively purchased and meet everyone's needs for around $50/week each. This brings the total Room and Board charge to $95/week/person. Keeping the bills down is essential. Everyone has their own personal expenses, transportation, cell phones, hobbies and interests, and would likely be saving for a place of their own.
The numbers say around $100/week/person will do the job. It also assumes everything is smooth and there are no troubles. Reality and experience dictate otherwise. The water heater leaks, the fridge breaks down, the stairs need to be repaired and we don't have a saw to do it with, and we need a bigger pot to cook enough spaghetti to feed everyone. With everyone in the group dependent on everyone else, prudence demands the group be prepared for troubles and unexpected situations. The group needs to do more than just get by. It needs to flourish. A weekly Room & Board charge of $125-$150/week would make it possible for the group to get ahead of the game without making it unaffordable. The amount can be estimated ahead of time in order for the people involved to determine if they can be involved and make plans accordingly. When it's time to search for a property, these figures will aid in selecting suitable properties. The weekly R&B can be reduced at any time the group comes to agreement. Increasing the amount can cause hardship.
The first few weeks will surely find a need for funds. Tools and renovations, furniture, kitchen equipment, perhaps a spare fridge or chest freezer is essential to smoothing out operations. Once people are settled in, the surplus will grow, even with setting aside funds to handle emergencies. When the group has enough to cover the bills for a couple of months, that surplus can be used to further the ultimate goal of establishing a farm. It is the farm operation that will cut expenses and offer opportunity to everyone involved.
Everyone chips in on the bills, they do the same with the workload. Share the meals, share the cooking, share the cleanup. Everyone keeps an area clean and tidy. Take turns cleaning the bathroom. Getting a farm started takes an endless contribution of effort. Using natural growing methods, the costs are kept down, but the workload can be considerable. There is compost and leaf mold to gather, chickens to chase, growing areas to develop as raised beds, swales or hugelkulture. There are seeds to start and seedlings to transplant, potatoes that need to be hilled, and greens to harvest. If the marketing strategy includes farmers markets the product needs to be sorted, washed, packed, and the market staffed. The advantage of a group is found in division of labor. Where one person has strong skills, another may not. Delegating tasks according to ability makes good sense and puts the right person on the job for which they are best suited.
Growing vegetables is perhaps the easiest thing to do. As one of the first projects to pursue, it can be done with very little cost (seeds and hand tools), and offer food for the group. This offers an immediate return by reducing the grocery bill. If the grocery bill can be reduced consistently, the R&B fee can be reduced. Rather than reduce that fee, an increase in the surplus would allow the group to enhance operations with more/better tools and equipment. Get the pressure canner to preserve the harvest and keep the bills down when it's not harvest season. Buy and scavenge the materials needed to build a solar dehydrator. Save up for solar PV panels to eliminate the electric bill. Getting ahead on the mortgage or paying if off entirely sure would be a relief. The potential revenue from farm sales from even a small plot of land suggests the people involved could replace their employment income. Surely they would be able to enhance their income.
Cooperation, working together towards a common goal, sharing the burdens and responsibilities all come together to form an effective means of getting the land and bringing out the best in people. It promotes success. There is nothing new here. This is a proven method that works.
Until it all goes to hell.
Jack wants to move out to go to college or join the Army and wants his money back when he leaves. Jill is upset because she works twice as hard as everyone one else. John does all the cooking and it's as much time as Jane spends pulling weeds. Jane does the job of handling the bank, the shopping, the errands and wants to be compensated. Jim has been busy the last few months and has not put in the same effort.
Unless the arrangement has plans and procedures in place at the beginning to account for discontent, the mortgage holder will end up with the property, the lawyers will end up with all the money, and the people involved will be broke, homeless, unemployed and in debt. If things go well, at some point some members of the group will wish to move on to the next chapter of their life. The best case scenario of living together in harmony and operating a successful farm is possible for many years. Still, prudence demands there be an exit strategy for people to leave the group, voluntarily or involuntarily, and an entrance strategy to bring new members into the group.
There are separate and distinct projects involved: property management, rentable housing and a farm. The initial plan of 'share everything' can be modified to keep the separation.
Property Management Company
Establish a company with the purpose of buying and financing the land. This can add a couple hundred to a couple thousand bucks to the overall project, so it may be a difficult step to take with limited funds. There are advantages in the long run, but these advantages may not present with the single property. Foregoing this part of the plan is possible, in which case the farm company serves the purpose of owning the land.
The land company is the landlord. The home is a rentable asset, as is the land. The rent for the home must cover the mortgage, utilities, taxes, property insurance and maintenance. It is assumed the property is purchased with owner financing. In order for this to work, the people involved will need to be personally responsible for that mortgage. This is a committment from which there is no walking away. If there is no rent coming in, these shareholders either come out of pocket for the mortgage and expenses, or risk losing the property and all their invesment. A small group of people involved with a closely held company would be well served with equal shares and an equal investment.
The shareholders are not required to rent the home or live in the home. They are not required to participate in the farm enterprise. They can be unrelated and unassociated individuals involved only in the land company. Becoming a shareholder requires investment capital to create the company, purchase the property, and pay the bills long enough for income to fall in place. A shareholder is free to sell his/her share at anytime to anyone for whatever price. Any person can own from between 1 to all shares.
Instead of a small group of people investing in a land company, a large group of people could engage in a land company. An ideal situation sees the shareholders raise enough capital to purchase the land outright. Any rents collected cover a few minor expenses, with most of the rest being available for distribution to shareholders. Having prospective tenants already lined up is an incentive for those investors to get involved. For the prospective farmers, the shareholders are a potential market and the land company removes the need for a large investment. The trade off is ownership vs leasing the land. There are land companies out there, but a small group of farmers would benefit from a land company on their side. It may be possible for the farmers to eventually buy all the outstanding shares.
Using my place as a reference, the electricity creates a slight complication. A single meter for a housing unit and a farm will require the rent include the utility bill. A separate power pole could be installed, but the well is powered by one meter and shared by the housing and the farm. The septic system is usable only by the home. Installing independent systems is possible but can increase the investment required to unacceptable levels. Increasing the rent according to projected utility demand with the land company responsible for the electric service bill is the simple solution. Independent systems can be installed at a later date. In the meantime, the farm has no bathroom. A portalet would be the responsibility of the farm company.
The house loses status as a center of activity and becomes an income generating asset. The house rent would be a major component of the income for the land company. The utilities must be included in the rent as there is no way to split it equitably between the house and the land rentals. Using the same figures as above, the rent would be $1000/month. Because there are not independent systems for the home and the land, the rent must include electricity.
Stable tenants are desired. Anyone can rent the house. The tenants can be completely unrelated to the group or comprised in part or entirely of the group. The rent would need to be sufficient to cover the mortgage, insurance, utilities, maintenance, and property taxes. Those living in the house will be responsible for their own means of organizing and working out internal issues without impacting or shutting down the farm company or land company. As with the earlier plan, cooperation and sharing of expenses offers advantage if the tenants are unrelated. Since tenancy does not require a surplus for farm development, the R&B fee would be lower than the projection above. $40/week for each of 5 people covers the rent. Add another $50/week for groceries and supplies. $100/week rather than $125-150/week. Furthermore, with the land company in place the initial cost of tenancy is low and affordable. If the tenants are not involved in the land company or the farm operation, they would be charged a security deposit.
The farm company rents the land from the land company. The rent includes the use of utilities and may be adjusted for increases in utility usage as the farm expands. There are few expenses incurred by the land company but they need to be covered. Property taxes, some part of the utility bills, and insurance on structures used by the farm company won't add up to $100/month. Increase this amount to include a buffer for maintenance, increased electricity usage from running a well pump, and a return on investment. $200/month would be in line with a reasonable rental rate for the land and systems involved.
Developing a farm will take some investment. Along with the rent, there will be a need for tools, seed, fuel, and and endless list of other supplies and materials. This investment does not need to come in all at once. The farm company needs regular cashflow. 5 people chipping in $100/month each will pay the rent and allow enough to work with to get the place going. The greater investment is the time and effort being put in by the people involved. There is much more to discuss in how the farm is organized and operated. For the sake of getting this article finished, I'll assume equal effort and equal reward.
I've presented 2 plans.
Plan 1, everyone chips in equally, share everything equally. Cost per person, $1200 down, $150/week.
Plan 2, the people establish 3 companies. If all people involved live in the home and work the farm, and set up the companies with minimal cash outlay and equal shares, the cost per person can be $2000 down, $150/week.
The investment is pretty close. The monthly budget is the same. It may seem to be pointless redundancy for the people involved to shuffle money from one company to the next, but it is necessary to keep the books right and the enterprises separate and distinct. If the time comes that an outside investor is interested in assuming all the debt of the land company at a favorable rate, those books become critically important. If one of the people in the group wishes to exit, these books establish a fair market value. The key difference between the two plans is flexibility and continuity. There is an entrance strategy for others to get involved. There is an exit strategy for people to leave the group.
Perhaps the single biggest obstacle to a small group cooperating on a farm enterprise (other than coming up with the money) is the personalities involved. People come and go. They pair off and go their separate ways. They get along and they argue. There will be people who want to leave the group, people who want to join the group, and people who, as a last resort, need to be driven out. Setting up the 3 companies makes life a whole lot easier. Problems have solutions. They don't tear down the whole operation. In the event of disagreement there is a remedy to be found.
If 2 people can't live under the same roof, they can part company while still maintaining the farm. If someone moves out, the rent for the home is split among those who remain. A new roommate can be brought in, even if that new roomie has nothing to do with the farm. Everyone can move out. As long as a new tenant is found, the land company remains solvent. The farm can be a flop, never making a dime in sales, but the people involved still have really low bills. If someone wants to sell their share of the land company, there is nothing to stop them. It would be nice if the other shareholders had the right of first refusal. It would be possible for the shareholders of the land company to buy back the share.
What's important to understand is the fact there are plenty of options under the 2nd plan. In the first plan, if cohesion of the group breaks down there is the risk of losing the land and everything that comes with it. It is difficult to interchange people without a plan and a statutory structure which allows it to be conducted quickly and fairly. A few years down the road, if the original group is still working and living well together, the fruits of their labor can be impressive. Even if they hit some bumps along the way, they don't have to stop and start over from scratch.
Perseverance has it's place. This sort of situation is designed so that it is not necessarily a permanent one. It may be that most of the original group takes their leave as time goes by. While there, perhaps they learn skills that make them better people. For those who remain behind, the learning continues, as does the development and performance of the farm which can make it possible for the group to operate with fewer people involved. Attrition can be an advantage for those who stick with the plan.
If the original team sticks with it the advantages are greater still. Say the farm business performs well enough for the group to buy another farm. Some of the original team break off to operate it, perhaps bringing in roommates, interns, or new group members to give the place a financial boost at the start. A couple of local farms begins to form the nucleus of a cooperative market.
There is no limit to where this can go but it has to start somewhere.
As I mentioned in the OP, leaf mold is terribly overlooked and is in dire need of more attention. I must admit to being a Purist when it comes to production methods. I shall strive to be more open minded.
I started making leaf mold about 12 years ago. I had a huge volume of leaves available. When I added them to the compost heap, the heap cooled down. I was trying to put together a big steamy pile. Hot composting was the objective, getting the C:N ratio right so I could have compost ready FAST. I was tossing the hot heap every couple of days. I drove over to my brothers house one day. On the way I came across a huge pile of bagged leaves by the road which I simply HAD to have. It took several trips with a 5x10 trailer piled high to haul them home. With all those bags of leaves there was no way I was going to put them all in the hot compost. I figured I'd pile them in the corner, letting them rot slowly on their own with no attention. I could draw from the leaf heap as I needed more browns. Then spring came and I had even more leaves that had to be stolen. The pile got bigger. After a couple of years I got into mulching. Sure was handy having all those leaves. As I dug into the pile, I found the leaves were breaking down beautifully, even without the steamy goodness of the hot compost heap. I figured I could save myself a lot of work if I had enough material piled up ahead of time to keep my compost pipeline full. I started heaping up even more leaves and studying up on compost. This led to my thinking that rotten leaves, all by themselves, was a different animal.
1 Pay off the house. It is an obsession at this point. I'm so close right now I can taste it. March is possible, May is certain. With the mortgage gone I have the ability to flush the job. After 47 years, I'd like to be debt free. I'll have new doors of opportunity open up when I am able to seize control of my time.
2 Make The Natural Growing and Small Farm Reader a reality. This project has been gaining momentum lately. This project would provide a residual income stream for me and a hundred other people. The stage would be set for moving ahead with more projects.
Magnus Fundal wrote:
Don't mind if I make my own observations, then.
By all means, I welcome it. Anything that adds to the body of knowledge of what is going on and how this stuff does whatever it is it is doing will touch many lives. There is much more to it than meats the eye.
If I'm right, leaf mold is an abundantly available, mineral rich resource that also serves as a nutrient trap. Identifying it as a separate and distinct product would open the doors to an entire industry, and a local one at that.
I have no references or sources to offer other than my back field and years of personal observation to support my conclusion that compost is different from leaf mold.
It is my understanding that bacteria can not produce lignase. Nonetheless, leaves will break down in a compost heap. Fungal decomposition is a slow, cool process which would be a challenge in a hot, active compost heap. That heat is gonna cook the fungi. Something else is happening. In a rich, diverse, steamy compost heap I'm sure there are all sorts of things going on with environmental factors, organic acids, enzymes and stuff I never heard of which can aid in decomposing lignin without participation by fungi. It's a different process with different results.
In the finished product there is a recognizable distinction. Leaf mold is spongy. The texture of compost is more like dirt, kinda flat. The smell is different. Leaf mold has a simple woodsy odor. Compost has a different odor depending on what went into the heap. Wet compost has the texture of mud. Wet leaf mold expands. I've seen remarkable difference in the soil. Beds treated with compost separated by a 2 foot wide path from beds treated with leaf mold grow different weeds.
Leaves. Only Leaves. Really.
Pile them up, walk away. If you want to encourage bacteria, do it in the compost heap. Leave the leaves alone.
I want to read more about how and why.
Me too. Can you send me a copy of your thesis when completed?
"Organic" labeling is an artform. If the product can not be labeled as Certified Organic, simply use the word as part of the Brand:
"Organic Traditions" All-Natural YumYums
"Organic Delights" Hair Conditioning Rinse and Styling Gel
"Fresh Organics" Gear Lubricant and Engine Degreaser
I've found a wide range of misunderstanding of what 'organic' and 'natural' means to people.
I spoke with an Amish farmer a few years back asking if his produce was organic. His response has been stuck in my head ever since. "It sure is. It's organic. But I won't lose a crop. I'll go to the spray if I have to ."
I asked a landscape guy if his compost was organic. He said it was. I asked if he had the Certifying Documents. He had no idea what I was talking about.
Sometimes people don't know what they are eating. I overheard a young lady talking about Celiac's disease: "That's why I don't eat Wheat. I prefer to eat Grain."