Just about a year ago, I found myself with an open four months between my final college class and graduation in May. Instead of getting a job or planning my wedding like any reasonable person would do, I flew out to a tiny town on the Big Island of Hawaii to do work trade at a ten acre organic garden sanctuary through a program called Wwoof Hawaii. Most of my friends and family thought I was crazy, but I believe it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself because it gave me a much needed break between college and my future life as somebody’s wife. Plus, any chance to miss out. on a nasty Michigan winter should always be pursued.
I learned so much through that experience, both about farming and myself, and in a lot of ways it prepped me to live in West Virginia. Now that Ian and I have our own chickens, I decided to reblog one of my previous posts about a fabulously simple composting system that can be built and utilized on just about any homestead. Read on, build one if you dare, and when your chickens thank you for all their new yummy treats, just remember to tell them I was the one that inspired you.
A wild pig got onto the farm last week. The entire property is fenced in, so this is a rare occurrence. In fact, he is the first one to get on the property in ten years. A young boar, this unwelcome guest was the size of a Labrador retriever and very sneaky. Extensive searching through the ten acre property didn’t reveal his whereabouts, but in the morning the scattered shred of leeks and kale in the garden revealed ample evidence of his nighttime feasting. Pigs are a huge nuisance in Hawaii; they devastate local ecosystems by eating native plants and are responsible for spreading songbird malaria by uprooting trees and creating good habitats for mosquitoes to breed. Locals see them as an unavoidable nuisance, but killing them is encouraged and any trip into town reveals posters everywhere advertising pig hunting classes. Here at Lokahi Garden Sanctuary, that was going to be the best solution. So, after the pig had been on the property for 24 hours, farm owner Richard’s son in law Yumbel went out with a gun and an overly enthusiastic border collie to track him down. It didn’t take long before a single shot rang through the air and Yumbel, victorious, ran to tell us the good news.
So now we had a dead pig on the farm. More useful than a live one, but still a problem to deal with. He had been shot in the brush and was surprisingly difficult to track down again. (Thank goodness for dogs and their keen sense of smell!) When the poor boar was found it was time to turn him into something a little more useful than a vegetable thief. The carcass was dragged to our butchering tree, hoisted up, and split open. This is the fourth large animal butchering I’ve watched since coming here, and I get more excited about them every time. Richard and Yumbel made a great team and hardly any time had passed before the pig was clean and prepped for cooking.
The carcass was deposited into our fridge, the guts were collected and life sort of moved on. If I were normal and a little more hipster this would be the time where I would write about the tasty Argentinian-style pig roast we had a few nights later. I’d say a few things about how amazing it was that friends, family, and complete strangers could gather and enjoy a feast together. I’d go on for a while about how unifying food could be across cultural divides and the incredible gift that being able to eat both locally and sustainably is, and on ad nauseam.
I could, but we’ve all heard it before, and frankly I’m sick to death of talks like this. Yes, food is great and I’ll eat just about anything, but what really gets me passionate about alternative food systems are things more like the use that the inedibles of our pig were put to. I’m talking about the maggonator, in my opinion the best small scale farm invention ever.
It’s really neat. The maggonator is Richard’s take on a black soldier fly composting system. Essentially, he took all the nasties from the pig like the skin, skull and bones, and stuck them all into a wood bin. Not the organs, those were eaten by us! This bin had small holes on the side that were large enough for flies to get in and lay eggs in the composting muck. Within a few hours, these eggs had hatched into small grubs that were literally writhing through the carcass. These grubs inched their way upwards to the supposed top of the box, but instead were tricked into sliding down pvc tubing and into the chicken coop. These maggots are extremely nutritious for the chickens and they gobble them up like the protein and probiotic-filled candy they are. While the maggonator was in full production, the chickens could barely be convinced to leave the sides of the tubing, as tasty morsels were falling into their coop at a steady rate.
Within the span of three days the waste product of a damaging farm pest had been completely broken down and was used to feed chickens, who in turn produced tasty, highly nutritious eggs. What an incredible conversion of resources! it’s even more impressive to understand that the chickens weren’t at all interested in the regular carcass. Richard had initially thrown it into the coop and the chickens barely pecked at it. But once it had been converted to maggots the chickens couldn’t get enough!
Yes it’s nasty. It’s really gross. The smell of ammonia was powerful and flies wouldn’t leave that area alone. But honestly, a lot of the thrill of farming for me is having an excuse to get good and dirty. And when the process creates happy chickens and incredible eggs? I’m a convert. You too? Here are some instructions to build your own.
Now that Ian and I have our own chickens, we are very excited to start our own soldier fly composting system soon. Maybe we can fill it with some of the roadkill we see along the road everyday? So keep on reading, because someday soon I will be posting details about our very own West Virginia maggonator.