Minutes April 20 — Tabb’s Composting

GEG Visit with Cam Tabb at Lyle C. Tabb & Sons, Inc Composting Farm April 20, 2013

Outside at Tabb Composting

GEG outside at Tabb Composting.
Do you believe it is April?

Cam’s wife, Jane, provided cornbread made from corn ground that morning, saved from last year’s crop – IT WAS WONDERFUL!  See the cornbread recipe and more at Fresh Feast on the Farm.

Jane and Cam Tabb sell antibiotic-free beef.  Everything that the cattle eat with the exception of salt is grown right on their farm.  They started out taking the beef to Baltimore to market and selling it to Truth Brother Industry.  After 911 the demand was even greater and now 50 to 60 percent of their beef is sold locally. Restaurants are big into drug-free beef.   The Tabbs do not package their beef; they deliver the cattle to the slaughterhouse.  Cam has worked out an arrangement with the slaughterhouses to divide the portions up equally, so small groups of people can get together and share a cow.  Antibiotics and steroids may fatten up a cow fast so it is ready for market 6 to 8 weeks sooner than Cam’s, but interestingly, both groups of cattle wind up eating the same amount overall.  It is healthier for us all to avoid antibiotics whenever possible so that when we do need them, they work.   Cam’s beef is raised in a stress-free environment and only fed from the Tabbs’ fields.

The Tabbs grow all of their own corn, wheat, soybeans, etc.  Their cover crops (they use wheat) are planted from an airplane.  They try to spread seeds before a rain over the soybeans while the leaves are still green on the plants.  I never thought of using an airplane to plant.  WOW!  Their ground is so fertile that they always have healthy crops and that is because of the compost they make and use on their fields.

Their composting business has several parts to it.

The Tabbs rent containers for waste and haul the waste to their farm where it is processed.  There are containers for clean wood, food scraps, road kill, and carcasses of animals including horses and cows. (The composted carcasses are not sold to the public.)

They shred what they call “clean wood,” the trim pieces from kiln-dried construction timber, for bedding for chickens, horses and cows.  The wood is ground in a huge machine that has magnets in it to extract all of the metal nails, screws etc.   The metal is sold for #1 scrap.   The wood is ground once for broiler chicken bedding; the chickens scratch at the larger chips which develops more meat on their thighs!  (Why am I doing all these exercises to reduce my thighs?)  The chips for the horse bedding are ground twice (or more).

Cam then rents waste containers for the used bedding from the horses and chickens, which he composts.   These materials along with other waste are ground and left to sit in windrows (huge long rows of mounded waste materials) for six months to a temperature of not more than 160 degrees.  He monitors the rows.  You want it to get hot enough to kill any weed seeds and insects including termites but not so hot that it ignites.  In May, June and October they have to keep a close eye because that is when the possibility of fire is greatest.   They use huge bucket loaders to turn the piles and incorporate new materials with the old because it helps the new break down faster.  There are little mushrooms that develop and can tell Cam that it is time to turn the piles.  If they did not turn the piles there would be leaching and they would lose a lot of the nutrients in the compost.  Airless composting is bad.  Don’t save your leaves in closed plastic bags; the anaerobic conditions yield an unhealthy mess, bad for your plants.

After the windrows have gotten hot and have been turned many times, the loaders pick up the composted material and run it through another machine that filters it and takes out all of the big stuff for further treatment.

What else is in the compost?  One thing is leftover food from the VA hospital.  The hospital has received awards for this.  They put all of the leftover food and waste (80 percent water plus nitrogen) into cardboard containers that frozen food comes out of (carbon) and refreeze it for Cam to pick up twice a month.  This ideal mix is added to the windrows for composting.

Cam Tabb and Crane

Cam Tabb and Crane

Tree Stump

GEG Fearless Leader with GEG Member and Tree Stump

The containers are also rented to places that are clearing trees.  Cam loves to get tree stumps because the stump soil is full of beneficial mycorrhizae fungi. A huge crane that looks like a dinosaur picks up the stumps and grinds them up in its mouth while shaking out all of the dirt.    It is awesome to watch!  These materials are used to produce the top soil that they sell.

Larry asked about the leaf mold that you can get from Waste Management Transfer Station and Cam said that he grinds that for them. Cam said that he has a place by the road where everyone could dump their leaves and grass clipping if they wanted.

Tabb Business CardSo what can you buy at Lyle C. Tabb & Sons Farm besides horse and chicken bedding and renting containers.  You can get topsoil, which is 80% soil and 20% compost.  For filtering ponds you get compost, sand, and top soil mix.  Cam will make any blend that you need if you make a special request.  You can get mulch in different sizes. Everything they sell is $20.00 a cubic yard. Delivery is free as long you buy 10 yards; if you want less there is a gentleman that will deliver it to you for a cost.   Industry prices are different.

How to figure your needs? The formula is Length x Width x Depth (in decimals, as in 6 inches = .5 ft) / 27. For example, if you are filling a raised bed that is 8 feet long by 4 feet wide and 18 inches deep, the formula for one bed is 8x4x1.5/27=48/27=1.7, or a little under 2 yards per bed.

And if you didn’t come, you missed sharing in Mark’s red Bee Balm and raspberry plants and Larry’s seed potatoes.

Next meeting topic is Native Plants and Wildflowers at Diana Eldridge’s home, 101 May Court, Shepherdstown — follow the GEG signs. Bring your chairs, a cup and breakfast dish, and the plants you wish to share, along with your suggestions and ideas to make this a wonderful summer.

See You There,
Carole Brooks