Cleaning out the duck pen is a stinky, sweaty, muddy spring job. But it stinks a lot less when you can make the labor do double duty, by converting that half-decomposed bedding into a new garden bed, the lazy girl way!
- A sunny spot about 4 feet wide by 8 feet long (or whatever) (required)
- Wheelbarrow (or garden trolly or similar) (required)
- Pitchfork (required)
- Strong back (required. Borrow one from a husband, neighbor, or offspring if necessary. Try to return it in good condition)
- Ducks maintained on a deep litter bed at least part time (required)
- Cardboard or newspaper (Ikea boxes are ideal and well worth the minimal expense of purchasing Ikea furniture) (optional but highly recommended)
- Sunny day (optional but highly recommended)
- A frame of wood, stone, plastic, or whatever, around the outside (optional)
- A fence to keep ducks and goats out of beds (optional)
The deep litter method of bedding ducks is simple: When the ducks make their pen mucky, stinky, and poopy (i.e., every day), you spread a new layer of straw on top. Once or twice a year, you clean it all out and start over again. The bedding gradually decomposes below the ducks and provides a warm layer of protection in winter, and fabulous rich garden material when you clean it out.
Converting duck poop into dinner salad is also simple. If you’re using a frame, start by laying it down in your sunny spot. Just toss it down, right on top of whatever grass and weeds are growing there–no digging required. The only part of this that requires effort is making sure you lay it exactly where you want it. Once it is filled, you will not be able to move it easily.
Being lazy as I am, I used a frame that came already constructed, left over from a warehouse that went out of business. If you’re gardening with children, choose a bed 3 feet wide unless, like me, you have a frame that is 4 feet wide and you’re too lazy to cut it down and re-build it. If only adults will use the garden, 4 feet is perfect.
If you don’t have pre-constructed frames, are lazy, and also don’t mind a slightly unkempt (ahem, au naturel) look in your garden, you can skip the frame and just put sticks in the corners or something to remind yourself where to dump the poopy straw.
Next, pull out your Ikea boxes. Other types of boxes will do, but Ikea furniture comes in lovely long boxes secured by minimal amounts of tape or glue, that are absolutely ideal for this application. If you don’t have Ikea boxes, I recommend obtaining them for this purpose. A new Ikea bed costs only a couple hundred dollars, and you’ll save that much in vegetables this year from your new garden bed. Ikea is not paying me to say this.
You can also use several layers of old newspaper for this purpose, but it is more work and anyway you don’t get to go furniture shopping. The cardboard will serve two purposes: It suppresses weeds, killing the grass and other plants under your garden bed, and it encourages worms and other beneficial insects to move in and go to work on your soil. If you’ve ever picked up a log in the woods and found worms teeming in the soil below, you’ll understand why this works.
One Ikea bunk bed, plus one Ikea bookshelf, equals exactly enough cardboard to fill a 4×8 frame:
(I’ve been informed that newspapers and leftover moving boxes are free, which may be a benefit to some. It is not, however, necessary to mention that fact to your spouse if what you really want is new furniture). Go ahead and let the cardboard peek out around the edges–it won’t hurt a thing (except your sense of aesthetics–if you’re picky, make mulch paths and bury the cardboard ends that way), and it prevents weeds from growing up through gaps.
If you’ve gotten this far and it starts to rain, go inside and assemble your new furniture. Finish the garden tomorrow. If, on the other hand, it’s a beautiful day, you have no excuse and must now tackle the duck pen.
Thusly, fill the bed, covering the cardboard about four to six inches deep in muck. The bed comes pre-installed with earthworms:
Your finished bed will look like this:
Once again, a kitty inspection rarely goes amiss:
If your ducks have access to the garden area, surround it with a low fence to keep them from munching on your young plants. If goats have access to your garden area, surround it with a tall, tough, strong, preferably electrified fence to prevent them destroying your entire garden in the ten seconds between when they discover the weakness in your fence and you discover them.
You’ll need to weed the garden regularly to remove the plants that grow up from straw and seeds, but they’ll be shallow-rooted and easy to remove. You can also just let them grow and then turn them over when you’re ready to plant. If you’re not planning to plant immediately, you can give the ducks access to the new bed and they will weed for you.
The bed will perform best roughly one year after completion (and indefinitely thereafter, especially if you add a thin layer of bedding on top each spring), when the bedding will have decomposed into lovely, crumbly, rich organic soil like this:
You can, however, begin planting in the fresh bed immediately. Plant seeds directly after you top the bed with an inch or two of finished compost. Or, start hardy bulbs such as the garlic in the picture above, directly in the mucky bedding. You can also transplant starts into the bed, moving the starting soil in along with the young plant. The starting soil will shield the young plant from the burning effects of fresh poop, while the roots will seek out pockets of decomposed matter in the surrounding bedding.
To convert the poop into salad as quickly as possible, go ahead and plant your lettuce starts directly in the bed right away.
We ate several bowls of duck poop salad last fall before the snow finally ended our bonanza. We did not call it duck poop salad when we had guests. But that’s still what it was, and you can have some too this Spring. Enjoy!
(P.S. Many of these photos are courtesy my honorary son, 13-year-old Ben Brabson [also featured in my duck article holding a duck]. Thanks, Ben!)