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Grass, chicken manure, wood ash?

 
ted agens
Posts: 16
Location: Elk County PA
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So with all the chickens we have (about 100) I have several piles "stewing" at any time. I also keep a sep pile of leaves and grass clippings that of course as a very quick turnover to usable soil, unlike manure.

This summer, I decided to add grass clips to one manure pile-a fresh one, to see if the clip's help the manure ready faster. Verdict in the spring.

My question is-I have read elsewhere that wood ash-particularly hard woods-can be of a great benefit to the composting process.There was no elaboration. Does anyone here add wood ash from their stoves to any of their composting projects? If so, what are the results? Benefits?

thanks (there is that better?)
 
Adam Klaus
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gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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I think ideally you would want to be adding hardwood sawdust (or really any sawdust) as a source of carbon to your compost piles.
Chicken manure is very high in N, and to offset that in a balanced compost pile, sawdust is a perfect material.
The other thing you definitely would want to add to your compost pile is soil, clay soil especially.

Grass clippings, if green, are more a N source. If dried grass, along with dried leaves, then it is more of a carbon source. But still nowhere near the carbon of sawdust.

Sorry if this is too basic, but good compost is all about the proper carbon to nitrogen ratio. Chicken manure often yields poor results for people in the garden because they do not mix it with enough carbon to facilitate a complete humus-forming composting process.

As for the wood ash, it isnt really going to affect the carbon to nitrogen ratio, or the quality of humus formation in your compost pile. Wood ash will add a lot of potassium, and other trace elements, which is generally a good thing. The best thing about good compost is the humus. The mineral content is important too, but definitely secondary.

IMHO, in order of importance, compost is about humus, then microbiology, then nutrients. Just my 2 cents. good luck!
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1592
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Seconding the above

Chicken poo and grass clipping are both high in nitrogen. As they breakdown that nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere (the pungent urea smell you sometimes get). Adding carbon to the mix in the form of sawdust dilutes the nitrogen to a better ratio so a lot less is lost to the atmosphere. You also get much better humus formation.

Without the carbon grass + chicken poo sounds like a recipe for slime.
 
                    
Posts: 238
Location: AR ~ozark mountain range~zone7a
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I wouldn't hesitate to use chicken manure, grass clippings, wood ash, sawdust, clay, sand, acorns, mushrooms, rotten wood, vast amounts of tree leaves... whatever you think right, rain water and lots of it on a new pile to get it started well. Everyone's recipe should be their own to experiment with, which best suits their operation, always looking to obtain that working heat zone deep within the pile.

I sometimes think about the PH value of a substance...like wood ash is fairly high on the PH scale, but charcoal is fairly neutral, sawdust is low, chicken manure is low, green grass sweetens the sawdust to cause the pile to chemically react, waste sugars, bread, & seed are good, rotted meat (very little is my preference), bones are OK... burned bones are better.

I wouldn't expect a pile to quickly compost if it were over 50% ash, 5% would be better...30% sawdust, 20% chicken manure, 20% green grass, 20% tree leaves, 5% ash should process quick, don't forget rainwater. If you have a huge amount of ash on hand maybe you can save the extra dry ash for any soap making friends?

I check my pile every few days for high enough temperature that it is notably working, you should have no troubles because you have a fair amount of grass & chicken manure in there. Pile high always, gather enough to make it 3' or 4' tall ~if at all possible~ the height has everything to do with insulating the working inside of the pile from the outside winter temperatures. Remember most bulk materials when composted, completing their processing shall change the PH of the whole batch. The acidic tree leaves, sawdust, clay dirt will eventually process to neutral PH, the basic ash PH will have helped offset those acidic materials.

I would think for a lot of chicken manure mixed with a lot of other bulk materials a fair amount of ash would be helpful. Stir or double dig occasionally, add rain water afterwards, if your pile is working properly as you dig it, you should find a 'warm/hot working zone' deep within the pile, this area can be diluted by mixing the outer pile within the working zone...or left alone to continue on it's natural way, your choice. I stir mine occasionally attempting to process as much outer material to contact within the working zone, but it isn't as cold in AR as it is in PA...don't let the winter cold kill your processing heat within the pile by digging...by immediately remounding the pile high again.

james beam;)

 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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Seems to me that I've read in the Rodale composting book that wood ash should not be added to the compost. Instead, you should ph test your garden, and add directly if it's needed... Wouldn't think it'd matter too much, really. I have lately been adding granite dust to my compost. Got the dust free at a place that engraves tombstones... Best of luck to you!
 
Micky Ewing
Posts: 104
Location: Merrickville, Ontario
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Tim Malacarne wrote:... wood ash should not be added to the compost. Instead, you should ph test your garden, and add directly if it's needed...


This advice is sound. The minerals in ash are already in a suitable, biologically active form, so you'd only add ash to the compost pile (where some nutrients will be lost to leaching) if they could be expected to benefit the composting process in some way. The opposite is usually true though. Compost bacteria tend to favour the acidic side of neutral -- ideal pH range is 6.0- 7.5. Wood ash is going to tend to push the pile higher, inhibiting the composting process.
 
ted agens
Posts: 16
Location: Elk County PA
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Does it matter hard wood versus soft wood ash? Or is it a more general issue, that is "just wood" versus wood type? Obviously some wood is more acidic/produces acidity (like pine and hemlock) and some wood is basically neutral like aspen.

Thanks for all of the answers though, good stuff to know.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Micky Ewing wrote:
Tim Malacarne wrote:... wood ash should not be added to the compost. Instead, you should ph test your garden, and add directly if it's needed...

Compost bacteria tend to favour the acidic side of neutral -- ideal pH range is 6.0- 7.5. Wood ash is going to tend to push the pile higher, inhibiting the composting process.
I have also always heard that ash is best spread, dry, straight on the ground.
ted agens wrote:Does it matter hard wood versus soft wood ash? Or is it a more general issue, that is "just wood" versus wood type? Obviously some wood is more acidic/produces acidity (like pine and hemlock) and some wood is basically neutral like aspen
As far as I'm aware, all wood composts down to around neutral and all wood is pretty alkaline as ash.
I'm not very familiar with wood ash though, as I don't want to raise my ph.
 
David Hartley
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I use straw... Chicken manure, kitchen waste and straw. No need to turn the pile. Not only does the straw provide the needed carbon, but it also keeps the compost aerated.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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