Category Archives: Compost

Composting Chicken Manure

Chicken Compost

Chicken Manure Compost

Well how hard can it be?  Just toss it in a pile and let it sit right?  Sure you can, but if you want to use it without the burn, or wait a year or more, you might want to take a few more steps to get it right!  Chicken manure is high in nitrogen and is dangerous to plants if the manure is not composted properly.  The composting process allows time to break down the more powerful nutrients so that they are more useable by the plants. Depending on how diligent you are, composted chicken manure can be ready in as little as two months or if not so diligent, up to nine months.

When chicken manure is just piled up dry and left to sit, it will do just that, sit!  While the outside may get wet from sprinklers or rain, the inside of the pile will remain very dry.  The outer layer will form a crust and not let water penetrate.  You must have all the manure moist in order to begin the break down process.  You can use straight chicken manure, but I prefer to add other composting matter to the pile, this way it won’t smell like it would if you just used chicken manure.  Things like leaves, grass clippings, garden or kitchen scrapes.  You know, organic matter! Simply start to pile your manure in layers and sprinkle every layer.  Chicken poop, leaves, water, chicken poop, etc.  Add a couple of cups of blood meal or cottonseed meal to the mix (for a 3x3x3′ pile).  I know…it would seem that it wasn’t necessary, but it really does speed up the process!  Turn the pile to get everything mixed up.  If you want finished compost sooner, turn the pile every few days.  If time seems to be few and far between, try every week or even every other week.  Just remember the less you turn the longer the process will take.   If the pile seems rather dry, sprinkle it with water while turning.   If the pile gets to wet and becomes stinky, you can spread it out and allow it to dry for a few days.  You can use a compost thermometer to gauge how hot your pile is getting.  A temperature between 140 and 160 degrees is the optimum temperature range to break down pathogens, weed seed and get the decomposition really moving!  When the pile no longer heats up after turning, you know your compost is getting close to a finished product.   It should be dark and smell like earth.  Clean earth!  It’s time to add that black gold to the garden.  Till or spade the compost into the garden beds or use as a side dress for plants.  Chicken manure compost is full of nitrogen, it contains a good amount of phosphorus and potassium making it excellent for your veggies to grow in.

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Making Your Garden’s Dirt, Living

When I first started my garden years ago I can honestly say it was definitely dead dirt.  Nothing living in it at all except the local gopher.  Not even a worm.   Soil should have life and lots of life to it to make healthy plants.  It all starts with the soil.  From the ground up.  One thing I have always have said is “Feed the earth that feeds the plants that feed you”.  Healthy soil wards off diseases and insects.  When the plants are healthy they have less chance of becoming weak and diseased.  Just like us human beings.   Insects will always go to the weak plants first.  Healthy soil means that organisms in the soil are present and doing their job to support the growth of plants.  There is microscopic life performing its own function in the soil food web.  There is good bacteria, which requires oxygen to survive while the disease-causing bacteria thrive on low-oxygen.  Makes since!  Think about compacted soils verses loose loamy soils.   This was my story when I first started my garden.  Believe it or not good soil contains Fungi, microorganisms that help hold soil particles together and improve soil structure.  These little buggers consume things like pine needles, branches and leaves.  Larger hard to break down materials.  So you can see that having both these good guys are more than valuable they are essential.  Nematodes are something else in the soil you may not associate with as being good.  Most people think of root-feeding nematodes that cause havoc while the beneficial nematodes help protect the roots from disease and build soil structure.

So this brings me to Organic Fertilizer vs. Synthetic.  Natural or synthesized.  While many people have had success with synthetic, overtime they are destroying your soil.  Killing off any good microorganisms, not to mention run off and leaching into our water tables.  Synthetics do not feed the living organisms while organic soil amendments and fertilizers do.  synthetic chemicals leave your plants without beneficial life which is their support system! Yes, organic is bulkier, but in the long run your soil, plants and your body will thank you!  synthetic is a quick fix, but is it?  The chances of burning are higher.  The salt content is higher.  Organic fertilizer is a slow release and gives gardeners a litter more leeway to make mistakes without seriously harming the soil or plants.

If you are starting a new garden spot, you need to know your soil.  Is it clay or sand?  Loamy?  Silt?  But what ever you have the very first thing I would add is compost.  Not just a little compost, but a lot of compost.  Every time you plant!   Every Time!  Make sure your compost is truly composted.  Sometimes people think that compost means just manure.  Don’t think that this is compost.  It is raw material that will take time to break down.  If added and then planted right away it can burn new plants and seeds may not germinate.  Raw material will also rob your soil of nitrogen.  I like a well-rounded compost made from more than just manure.  Add peat moss or coconut coir, depending on your pH.  High pH, add peat.  Low pH add coconut coir.  If your soil is sandy add some vermiculite to help hold the water. If it is clay, add perlite to open up the soil for better drainage and help the good bacteria.  These three things, peat moss, vermiculite or perlite and compost can be used for raised beds, but make sure you add some good old dirt to the pile.  I really have seen much better results when you add your native soil to the mix.  Peat will last for 4 years in the soil and vermiculite and perlite will last for 5-7 years.  Another important soil amendment that you shouldn’t forget is GreensandGreensand supplies no organic matter, but it helps loosen clay soils, improves water and nutrient retention in sandy soils, and is a rich source of potassium and micro-nutrients.  I put it in my soil every spring when preparing my garden beds.  As far as working the beds with a tiller I am all for it!  BUT, please don’t pulverize your soil.  Less is more in this case.  I like to work my amendments into the existing soil, but not overwork it.  It really isn’t good for the worm life.  I use a small tiller in my raised beds and the tines only go 8-10 inches deep, so every 3 or 4 years I deep dig (great cardio exercise) with a shovel below the point of where the tines go.  The soil gets somewhat of a hard-pan that isn’t healthy for your plants.  Add organic fertilizers to the needs of your plants.  I suggest to use less more often then loads less often.  The plant will react better and will be healthier if you do it this way.

There are so many things you can add to your soil to help improve its structure and tilth.  Weed free straw, leaves, leaf mold, cotton burr compost, shredded pine needles and so many more things.  I like to add these in the fall so they have time to break down through the winter.  Work them into the soil.  Another thing that some people really like and I use it as well, but I always compost it first is shredded tree branches.  If it hasn’t been composted first it will inhibit seed germination and seriously rob your soil of nitrogen.

There are a few amendments to really feed your micro organisms if you want to get them really active:  Crab Meal, Neem Seed Meal, Karanja Seed Meal, and Alfalfa Meal.  These are great in the compost pile too for basically the same effect.

Greensand, Organic Fertilizers

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Making Compost

Compost is a beautiful thing for gardeners!

If I could only put one thing into my garden it would be compost.  I have been composting for twenty years now.  When I first started to garden I would just simply put the plants into the soil and expect them to grow.  My gardens have since improved dramatically thanks to compost.  When people come to me and ask what they should do to get their garden going I always say ” compost, compost, compost”.  I think it is the first step!  Composting can be as simple, or as complicating as you make it.  I like to compost everything.  Whereas some like to add manures into the garden without composting, I will compost it first.  I feel this way I still get the benefits of the manure without it robbing the soil of nitrogen and it also kills weed seeds that I would rather not deal with later.  Composting choices are numerous, ranging from worm composting to what I call “dump and run”.  Pick a spot in your yard for your compost pile, ideally near your garden for easier access and where the sun hits it for most of the day.  You can just simply build a pile right on the ground with nothing around it, or you could use pallets, a wire fence enclosure or something of the sort to encase it for a more tidy look.   I don’t like to make composting rocket science.  For one, I don’t have the time, and two I’m not a rocket scientist!  What I have available at the time is what I use.  Water near by is a must because if it’s not…..well, we have a tendency to neglect giving our compost heaps enough water that it requires and if we have to drag a bucket it probably won’t get done.  At least that would be in my case!  One thing to get out-of-the-way and I can’t stress enough!  DO NOT use synthetic fertilizers (chemical) to heat up your pile!  Compost is made when billions of microbes  digest the waste you provide for them.  Think about it.  Would you eat a cup of synthetic fertilizer?  Of course not, because it would be lethal.  Yes, it will decompose with synthetic fertilizer, but I prefer not to add such things that will go in the garden and then my body.  Carbon, Water and nitrogen are the key ingredients.  I like to have bare earth beneath my compost to allow worms and other organisms to get into the pile.  For better drainage you can add straw or twigs for the first bottom layer.  Start layering greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon).  Like I said I use what I have.  If I have loads of fresh grass clipping I don’t add much water, because there is enough moisture.   Add kitchen scrapes, leaves, garden waste or wood chips for layers.  When adding a new layer I like to add a handful of blood meal and bone meal.  Every layer gets a little stir. Your compost needs to be moist, not soggy to break down.  Like a wrung out sponge.  I cover my pile with burlap to help keep the moisture and heat in.  You can turn your pile every few days, every few weeks or just let it sit and rot.   The moral of the story is-everything rots.  The hotter the pile the faster it will decompose.   Chopping or shredding your materials also helps speed things up.  Water occasionally.  Nitrogen materials consist of:  grass clippings, kitchen waste, coffee grounds, eggshells and chicken manure.  Carbon materials:  dried plants, straw, newsprint, cardboard, dryer lint and wood chips.  Things you shouldn’t compost:  meat, bones, milk products, diseased plants, weeds with seed heads, walnut leaves and roots from pernicious weeds.  Some people add wood ashes and that’s okay if your soil pH is low (acid).  I don’t because our area has a high alkaline count.  If your compost is soggy and/or stinky, turn the pile to aerate and you can add some dry peat moss to tame it.  Things that I keep near my compost pile:  Pitch fork for turning, blood and bone meal, machete for chopping,  compost thermometer and burlap.   An unknown author once said; You know you’re a real gardener when you think compost is a fascinating subject.

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