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Newbie gardening help - compost problems and guild help!

 
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Hi all

I've studied some permaculture but I'm quite new to gardening and would be grateful if you could comment on whether you think these polycultures would be ok as I'd like to grow some vegetables. I'm planning a 3-4sqm plot on compacted clay earth.

Bed 1: Sweet pea, tomato, basil, mint, rocket, spring onions, carrot
Bed 2: Cucumber, kale, dill, spinach, parsnip
Bed 3: Beans, squash, Romesco broccoli, endive lettuce, marigolds (not sure what to do for the root layer here, and the beans aren't ideal as they're a bush variety that I was given, rather than a climber)

Come winter, I wonder if I can add some garlic, more rocket and onions?

I also have some nasturtium and sunflower seeds but not sure if/how I could fit these in. Any thoughts on how to improve the above?

Also, I had a problem yesterday when I picked up what I was told was compost but after I got a tonne of it back home, I was told it was only semi-rotted manure! I'm a bit worried about the presence of aminopyralid so I've planted up some tomatoes in it to do a test. Not ideal as I really wanted to get underway and will now have to wait 3-4 weeks but on the positive side, it's absolutely full of worms.

However, the "compost" I thought I was getting was intended to go on the top of a sheet mulch I'm making (cardboard, manure, grass, straw, then compost) so I'm now without my compost layer. I'm not even sure if I can use the semi-rotted stuff as the manure layer as someone told me it probably wouldn't have much nitrogen in it. Is that right? I wondered whether I should hot compost it as then could be ready by the time the aminopyralid test is finished, but I'm a bit reluctant to kill of those worms so not sure what to do with it!

Thanks in advance
 
pollinator
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Louise,

I can’t speak to your specific microbiological concerns, but if you are concerned about the manure being too hot, I would suggest mixing it with straw, woodchips or some other carbon rich material and let it compost for a year.  Unfortunately that means it won’t be useful for this season.  In the meantime I suggest you find some other compost and otherwise encourage microbes in your garden soil.

Best of luck and please keep us updated,

Eric
 
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Location: South Central Kansas
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Eric Hanson wrote:Louise,

I can’t speak to your specific microbiological concerns, but if you are concerned about the manure being too hot, I would suggest mixing it with straw, woodchips or some other carbon rich material and let it compost for a year.  Unfortunately that means it won’t be useful for this season.  In the meantime I suggest you find some other compost and otherwise encourage microbes in your garden soil.

Best of luck and please keep us updated,

Eric



Gypsum can help loosen that packed clay soil. So can a rototiller (borrow or rent one?)

You *can* grow some things in hot compost but you have to use an ocean of water to keep the temps down.

If you are worried about bad bacteria then pour a gallon or more of hydrogen peroxide on it.
That can eliminate most of them 'baddies'.

But you kill the 'goodies' as well.

Barn scrapings are NOT compost! Had that argument before.

You can dilute the uncompost if you mix it with regular dirt about 50/50 or so.

You could put that uncompost under the cardboard then do your lasagna layers.

Or make a hugelbeet (put down wood, wood chips, logs, sticks, then cover with your uncompost then more twigs and such with the top layer of 8" topsoil or more).

A hugel garden would be even better if you can dig through that clay.
But your uncompost would go on the bottom layer so water can keep the temps down.

You could also try running some drain tile (4" PVC with factory holes already made into it) to vent out that heat.
But in all cases the heat will dry it out and water would be needed more often.

Perhaps put down that uncompost and place a table style raised bed 3 feet above it then plant on that table?
No bending either!
Next year, you can drop that dirt onto the fresh compost, mix well, and remove the table if desired.

There is another option.
A compost drum that has a hand crank on it.

Load it with desired material. Wet it a little, Sit it in the hot sun, turn crank every 3-4 days.

You can have compost in 1-4 weeks depending on the material and environment.

 
pollinator
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Hi Louise,

If there are already worms growing in the manure, chances are its already been composted enough. Worms won't live in manure if its hot, so assuming the manure was collected from a minimum 3 yard pile, it suggests the manure already heated up: then cooled off and the worms moved in. This doesn't mean the pile was properly rotated to insure full pasteurization of potential pathogens or weed seeds, just that the manure for the most part is aged well enough to use without burn.

I say add your manure, then cover it with mulch to create a nice barrier, so the leaves are protected from manure splashing up on them in rainfall events. That will prevent disease and the spread of potential pathogens. If your growing root crops, just keep the manure back like a side dressing: so its in the root zone, but far enough away its not touching the root crop. Of course cover the manure with mulch there too, as to prevent erosion of your manure onto the root crop.

Hope that helps!
 
Louise Watts
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Thank you all for your replies - lots of useful ideas to try! The compost drum sounds intriguing so I'll take a look at that.

For the time being, I've just made a bit of a heap with half of the mix and added in some plant food scraps and straw, given it a bit of a water and covered it. The weather where I am is pretty terrible right now! I'm hoping it won't get too hot or at least if it does that the worms can escape. The rest I've just left in the bags until I see what happens with the plant tests.

You can dilute the uncompost if you mix it with regular dirt about 50/50 or so.

You could put that uncompost under the cardboard then do your lasagna layers.  



If I go ahead with the lasagne and put the uncompost underneath, would I still need a layer of high nitrogen after the cardboard then usual layers, etc.? I do have local source of fresh manure I could use (although, again I'm still going to have to run these herbicide tests on it ) and also a source of grass clippings.

Worms won't live in manure if its hot, so assuming the manure was collected from a minimum 3 yard pile, it suggests the manure already heated up



Yes, they had this huge heap (maybe 25sqm) that they said was around 8 years old and had dug about an 8ft hold in the middle of it where I took the stuff from but yes, it doesn't look like much oxygen has got to it/hasn't been turned during that time.

but far enough away its not touching the root crop.

Should the manure be far enough away that it wouldn't touch the area where the bottom of a carrot would grow into?

Thanks again!

I think I read that aminopyralid won't affect mushroom growth so worst-case and if it is contaminated, I wonder if I can use it as a growing substrate, although I'm not sure if then the herbicide could end up inside the mushroom? I did have a look to see if anyone had tried treating these herbicides with fungi as seems plausible given their amazing clean-up abilities, and although it looks like there are/were plans for experiments, I couldn't find any detailed results
 
R. Steele
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Hi Louise,

The situation you described the manure came from, means the manure is fully done cooking, and fully pasteurized. So no worries about that kind of manure being close to root vegetables, as the harmful pathogens associated with fresh manure are nutralized. The compost may have broken down in a anaerobic environment, which would seem less them ideal, but it will quickly transition to aerobic without issues, once it's exposed to air. A little aerated compost tea sprayed on your newly added layers can speed that up if your concerned; however, definitely keep the mulch over that manure, as aerobic things can sometimes cause leaf disease on more sensitive plants like tomatoes.

Hope that helps!
 
Kai Walker
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I had someone bring me 'old' barn scrapings (3-5 years old)
They were dehydrated not composted.
Got them wet and the heat took off after a week or so.

So long as the barn scrapings were wet then would eventually break down albeit more slowly than if you turned them occasionally.

Had goat poo as well. That too was claimed to be compost. But it was only dehydrated.

It is great that it is working out for you.

I had no way to do a herbicide test as there was no time to do it and the weather was too cold.

Unless I wanted to pay a bunch of money....

So mine hot composted a year and used an ocean of water on it.
Doubtful much if any herbicide remained in it if there was any.
 
Louise Watts
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 A little aerated compost tea sprayed on your newly added layers can speed that up if your concerned; however, definitely keep the mulch over that manure, as aerobic things can sometimes cause leaf disease on more sensitive plants like tomatoes.  

Thank you - that's useful to know. Just to check I understand correctly, I'm ok to use this as my compost layer on the sheet mulch (and another layer of straw on top) before planting? I also have some fresh manure I'm picking up today so wondering whether to use that as the nitrogen layer instead.

Got them wet and the heat took off after a week or so.

 Did you just leave them in pile and wet them without turning?

My remaining bags are just sitting outside so I guess they're getting pretty wet as it's rained quite a lot recently. The "compost/manure" was really odd - some bits were sopping wet, other bits seemed totally dry and other bits had lumps of grey clay in them! in the pit it was dug from, you could see layers on the side between quite dark brown, more flaky dry bits and layers what I think was subsoil. I don't have the money for a proper test either and it's absolutely killing me to have to wait weeks but in the meantime I'm just getting the plants prepared in containers. The test I've done is just to plant tomato seeds in a manure pot and tomato seeds in a coconut coir pot to see what happens. I also had two 4 inch tomato plants and did the same with those. I think legumes are supposed to be the best ones to test but I wonder if I'm a bit late with sowing more beans.
 
Kai Walker
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Nope and sorta.
That poo was tossed onto my hugel base then tilled to make it fluffy.
With each subsequent layer of things added it was tilled again.
Until the top layer of soil was added.

Each layer was watered too (except for one small spot I missed and that part stayed dry and never composted).

If you do not have 'greens' to mix in then you can use used coffee grounds & some sugar.

Many things initially grew fairly well until the hugel started heating up.
Took a week to start heating and it heated up more and more over the weeks/months.
To the point that my potatoes were baked underground (exaggeration).

Soil temps were 130 deg F + just about 6 inches below the surface.
Couldn't give it enough water to keep temps down.

But the pigweed LOVED all that heat....

This year I took a post pounder and pounded some holes into it to allow some air in (used a 2" piece of PVC to make the hole).

Soil temps remained about equal to the surrounding undisturbed soil.

Things still struggle for some reason. Might be because of the 12 inches of water we got in a 2 week period last month.

Too many variables to narrow down everything.
Below is one pic from last year.




You-can-see-what-the-heat-did-to-tomato-plants-notice-the-watermelon-in-the-center-of-the-pic.JPG
[Thumbnail for You-can-see-what-the-heat-did-to-tomato-plants-notice-the-watermelon-in-the-center-of-the-pic.JPG]
2018 pic. Soil temp there was 130F about 4-6 inches below the surface. daytime temps in the 90's.
 
Kai Walker
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"My remaining bags are just sitting outside so I guess they're getting pretty wet as it's rained quite a lot recently. The "compost/manure" was really odd - some bits were sopping wet, other bits seemed totally dry and other bits had lumps of grey clay in them! in the pit it was dug from, you could see layers on the side between quite dark brown, more flaky dry bits and layers what I think was subsoil. I don't have the money for a proper test either and it's absolutely killing me to have to wait weeks but in the meantime I'm just getting the plants prepared in containers. The test I've done is just to plant tomato seeds in a manure pot and tomato seeds in a coconut coir pot to see what happens."

They took a front end loader and scraped up the material. That is why the clay.
wet/dry/dark/light/flaky is due to uneven moisture in the material.

You can just take a chance and use the stuff.
Worst that can happen is you have to remove the material and start all over.

Mine as seen above took 17 TONS of material to build it only 1/2-way high!
All put down by hand too.
Took 5 1/2 months to build it.

4 of those 17 tons were used coffee grounds too. (8-10 barrels, wet grounds x about 500 pounds each)

Not feasible to remove all that and start over.

Herbicides to not affect some crops either (usually root veggies are fairly ok with herbicides).

I did find some Johnsongrass in my hugel so I have to manually dig up that part this fall, sift through the material, and remove all those roots.
In the meantime I pull the grass every time some sprouts.
 
R. Steele
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Hi Louise,

Yes your safe to sheet mulch with that manure and then cover with straw, woodchips or the mulch layer of your choice. Personally, I would do manure layer, cardbord for weed barrier in none planting zones, the straw layer, then topped with a nice layer of mostly hardwood chips: since during that layering process, you could inoculate the top of the cardboard with King Stropheria spawn, to get an extra edible crop, while that mycelium turns those carbon rich mulches into mushroom compost. Once those layers are inoculated successfully, you can just keep adding hardwood dominant woodchips annually, and the mycelium will keep working for you while providing edible fruits.

Hope that helps!
 
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