Edible Austin, Summer 2010

The Fertile Floor

Out on the edge of Wimberley, Gary Weeks & Company has perfected the winning formula for turning out stunning, handcrafted furniture. But transforming cherrywood, walnut, maple, mahogany and mesquite into works of art and ergonomic ecstasy isn’t the only formula magic happening around here. Weeks has discovered a clever and beneficial way to repurpose the mountain of sawdust and wood shavings his business produces each week by blending it with another, less expected, by-product.

The Weeks property includes his shop, his family home, the nearby home of his sons family and homemade chicken coop housing his modest flock of Ameraucana chickens. Dipping into the dark, rich compost on the coop’s floor, Weeks offers a handful and encourages taking a big whiff. “You don’t smell poop, do you?” he asks. And it’s true -- his coop lacks the aroma one typically associates with bird droppings, as well as the flies that come along with it. How does he do it? Weeks says he begins by essentially recreating the forest floor.

"To create compost, your need some source of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water,” Weeks explains. He begins with a 12-inch-deep bed of sawdust and shavings at the bottom of the coop. The birds roost at night, and by morning there’s a nice pile of manure, the nitrogen-rich component in the equation. Carbon comes courtesy of the sawdust and shavings that are never in short supply, and the combined mixture is kept moist and occasionally fluffed to provide oxygen. Every three months, Weeks takes out half of the composted floor and refills it with sawdust and shavings -- starting the process anew. Of course, he gives much of the credit for the magnificent results to the flock and their fertile offering. “This is premium compost,” he says. “I can start seeds in it without burning the sprouts.”

Not all of us generate our own regular pile of carbon, of course -- certainly we don’t have hills of sawdust in the yard. But Weeks says if you keep a backyard flock and want to try his method, call a woodworker and ask about hauling off some sawdust. Leaves or straw would also work, he says, but they’re more difficult to manage.

Weeks harvests two to four cubic yards of compost annually. Evidence of its high quality sits just a stone’s throw from the coop where a dozen 4-foot by 12-foot beds burst with green goodness—providing plenty of fresh vegetables for his family throughout the year.