Sunday, November 29, 2015

Using Hair, Fur, and Feathers

What do I use to make my compost? I get a lot of requests for my compost formula, a recipe so to speak. Well, I have no set recipe. I add whatever organic, non-toxic material that I have. Plus some things that are not organic in nature, such as lava sand, volcanic cinder, ocean water. The basic idea is to keep the material moist (but not soaking), aerated, have both nitrogen containing and non-nitrogen containing material, and to have it chopped into small pieces if possible. If the compost isn't working, then one of those factors is out of whack.

Because I get so many questions about compost and soil amendments, I've decided to post a string of articles about this subject, strictly about what I do, not how others should do it. My methods may be right, but then again, they might be wrong or just a tad screwy. I'll focus on the popular points and answer questions that I've gotten. So here it goes. 

Question received ...... "Can hair be added to a compost pile?"

Answer .... Yes. 

For years I've been throwing human hair trimmings to the gardens. So either it goes into a compost pile or it just goes right directly into the soil. I see no compelling need to subject it to the heat of composting because :
a) hubby doesn't have head lice
b) the dogs don't have fleas, other skin parasites, or infections
c) the sheep don't have lice or other skin problems

So I use hair, fur, and wool. And even feathers. 

Above......I trimmed hubby's hair the other day. Rather than throw the hair into the trash, I swept them up and added them to a garden bed that I'm working on. So although he never gets his hands dirty or even picks a ripe veggie, he's contributing to our food production. Ha. 

Human hair is just fine in the garden. I'm told that other gardeners collect hair from hair salons to use. Purists may warn and scream about chemical contamination. While there are probably small bits of various chemicals in that hair, I would venture to say it's no worse than all the pollutants that the garden is already exposed to that come along in the rain, that are in the air, that are everywhere we turn. Face it, we can never be truely chemical-free anymore. The world where I live is too contaminated. Most gardeners can only use commonsense and avoid dangerous levels of noxious chemicals. That being said, yes, I use human hair......hubby's and my own. 

What is probably more chemical free than human hair would be pet fur from one's own dogs or from pet grooming shops. Pet fur wouldn't be as subjected to dyes, conditioners, and styling agents as human hair. I personally have three dogs that are seasonal shredders, thus I get piles of fluffy fur when they shed. It all goes into the garden to one place or another. 

Above is some of Willie's fur added to the hugel bed. He's just starting to shed again. Over the next few weeks he'll donate bags of fur. 

My feather source is the birds we process for food. Chickens. Ducks. Turkeys. While some of the feathers are set aside for artist friends, most simply go into the soil. 

Is there much benefit to hair, fur, or feathers for the soil? I don't know exactly what it would be, but it's organic material going back to nature and that sounds good enough to me. In Mother Nature, animals die and their fur, feathers, or scales decompose, becoming part of the soil. Thus recycling these things would be an acceptable permaculture method. 

Hair and feathers break down slowly. So you might be able to visually identify them in the soil for months. Think of it as a slow release fertilizer. Since they are slow to decompose, I spread it out rather than leaving it in big clumps. 

With sheep wool, I take advantage of the fact that it slowly decomposes. I use it for mulching. It tends to produce a felted mat that suppresses weeds but allows rain water through. I don't have enough sheep for wool to be a big item in my garden. Afterall, I only have hair sheep, not woollies. But I'll use what I can get. 

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I compost everything organic - my hair clippings and bones (I crush), fat scraps.
    Also junk mail and newspapers - some will always say colored inks have toxic heavy metals, others that they are harmless soy based.
    I just think if they do have toxins, it would be at negligible levels and not worth worrying about.