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Adding compost to garden

 
Jade Crowley
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Hi all! I am having a hard time wrapping my head around what I should be doing to my garden soil. My problem is I get so many ideas and read so many different ways on doing things I get lost, so since last fall I have had my rabbits over my garden area because my soil here is junk, compacted clay with small rocks. I also added horse manure in that time and have built up a layer of each as well as random straw and hay from the cages. I took the rabbits off a few months ago and just added my last layer of horse manure. Do I need to till this all in? Or do I just let it sit and plant into it? I have at least 20 days before the transplants go into the ground because I almost never plant before June 1st. Also I have access to buy 1 ton of worm castings compost, should I go ahead and do that and then add it on top? If I do that do I need to till it in or just leave it. Last year I had my first successful garden (I has been trying for 6 years or so) but I lost most of my plants by middle summer to bugs and the fact I just could not keep them wet enough. Some searches on that led me to putting wood chips as mulch over the remaining plants and that worked wonderfully, so my plan this year was amend the soil with manure and put straw as mulch on top of everything to keep it moist. Is this a sound idea? Thank you for any and all help!
 
Daniel Schmidt
Posts: 79
Location: Jacksonville, FL
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I wouldn't till it into the soil. If you can cover it with straw, leaf litter, wood mulch, living mulch or whatever then that will help keep the sun off of it so it can retain some moisture. Having a contiguous layer will also help wick moisture from areas of high moisture to dryer areas, at least to a small degree. If you are digging holes to put plants in the ground you can add some amendments to the soil in the hole, but it seems like it is less beneficial to mix it into all of the soil.

If the soil isn't that great and doesn't have much life to it, then it seems to kill off the life in the amendments when you till it in. Eventually the soil below it will absorb some of the nutrients of the stuff laying on top, and the root zone of the plants will make it more habitable for insects, bacteria, and fungi. I made the mistake of mixing things into my sandy soil at first, but mixing the whole area at once seemed counterproductive. I have been digging small holes to dump fruit and vegetable scraps and doing a chop and drop method with beans which seems to be doing a good job of increasing organic matter in my soil. There are a lot of methods you can use, but mixing higher quality amendments into a large area seems less beneficial than if you were to use it in targeted locations or layering on top. If anything, it probably helps the weeds when you mix it all in, as it slightly improves the soil but not enough to make a massive difference for common garden vegetables. This is just my opinion.
 
Jade Crowley
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Thank you for your reply, would it be OK to add a layer of straw mixed with goat manure? Is there enough time for that or would it need to sit longer than 20-30 days?
 
Tobias Ber
Posts: 438
Location: Northern Germany (Zone 8a)
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hey jade....

i would not add the goat manure. with the horse manure you ll have more than enough nutrients for this growing season. i would let the manure sit. and maybe add some small portions here and there in a few months. if you can get more wood chips, this will help. goat manure mixes with woodchip will be good (carbon + nitrogen).

do you have the space to grow some plants for mulching/chop-n-drop? like comfrey or jerusalem artichokes?

you could sow some radishes. they ll bore into the ground and loosen it.

did you see the back to den movie? it s about gardening with woodchips...

https://vimeo.com/28055108
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 401
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
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If there is a way to leave the straw and goat manure mixture in a pile for a few weeks, wetting it and turning it occasionally, it should heat up and break down fairly quickly. Yes -- 20 to 30 days would be all you'd need if you can get it up to temperature and keep it there. That would be great compost. If the straw doesn't totally break down, I wouldn't worry about that.

Straw makes a nice mulch, but I'm not sure I'd want uncomposted manure next to veggies. A hot pile will get up to 140 degrees easily, so that will make the manure much safer to put around your veggies.

You speak of your poor soil -- then you'll need to put as much carbon (straw, wood chips, other organic mulches) on top and let it begin to break down. The compost will jump-start the decomposition of your mulch (if you haven't watched the Back to Eden movie, do so) and will enrich your poor soil.

Continue to build your soil: Look at planting a cover crop to add additional bio mass to the system—nitrogen fixing, if you can. Mulch, mulch, mulch. You just can't get too much carbon into your system, so find a free source of mulch (leaves, wood chips) and pile it on generously.
 
Tee Jay
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Location: Zone 6a
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If you can get a ton of worm casting soil, perhaps you could consider making up some raised beds and filling them with that soil. This could be the best of all worlds. That soil won't need to be composted or broken down so it won't get too hot or burn your seeds or seedlings, and it will leach down into your terrible soil over time to improve that too. Mulching it with ground up leaves or grass clippings (so long as you don't use chemical treatments on your lawn) will keep it moist and reduce evaporation and cut way down on needed watering.
On a side note, if you can get goat manure (or any herbivore manure, especially ruminant (multi-stomached animals is best - cows goats sheep etc) then set up a compost pile off to the side somewhere to make up your own supply of black gold to add to your garden or to add new gardens in the future. Ruminants digest the seeds better so their manure has far less weed seeds to deal with than say horse manure. But if you run a hot compost, that should burn up any weed seeds though. Just don't ever use any maunre from a predator (meat eaters such as dogs or cat etc. as their feces has far too many parasites and is very unhealthy and unsafe to use.
Best of luck this season.
 
Jade Crowley
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Thank you everybody, Tobias - Thank you for your reply, I may be able to plant some for chop and drop, our biggest issue with growing random things is we haul our own water, so we use it very carefully, but with the possible addition of all the mulch I am hoping I will use a lot less water as it is and then it wouldn't be so bad to add in extra crops. I have not seen this movie, but I will watch it as soon as I get time.
Marco - I have never had luck with compost, I just can not get it right, it just sits and sits and never does anything. But the more I read I think its just lack of water and not being able to mix the right stuff together, if I have brown I have no green. Can I just put the straw and the goat manure in say a pallet "box" and as long as I turn it and water it it should work? How often do I have to water it? How often should I turn it? Sorry for the questions I have just never figured it out. I have not watched that movie either, but I will find it and watch it when I can! Where do you go to find free mulch or wood chips? Do you just have to know someone who knows someone?? Thank you!
Flint - Thank you! I need all the luck I can get!! I wanted to build some raised beds, I actually wanted to do them like the food is free project does with the water underneath them, but I ran out of time so it just wont happen this year. I am still going to try to get some built by the end of the year but its going to take me a bit to get them done, hopefully next year!! I am actually really lucky because I own my own goat, and I have access to as much organic cow manure as I could ever want from the farm I get my milk from, but I just don't know what to do with it once I get it! Composting has never worked for me, I even killed a whole bucket of worms trying to use them! My garden took almost a decade to work, maybe my composting will take a whole decade haha! Thank you!
 
Tobias Ber
Posts: 438
Location: Northern Germany (Zone 8a)
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hey jade... thank you for your reply...

some question:

what s your climate?

how big is the area you re planning to use as garden?

how big is your whole piece of land?

what ressources do you have on your land?



composting: you should shade that pile to protect it from sun. it needs to be as moist as a wrung out sponge. manure and straw will compost. i think, you could even add more "browns"(carbon rich material) to the goat manure. you would not need to turn it often. some people never turn and it s ok. it takes longer and probably wont get hot in all places. but that s ok.

here s great information on composting:

http://humanurehandbook.com/contents.html

http://humanurehandbook.com/downloads/Chapter_3.pdf

can you use grey water? can you harvest and store rain water? can (and would you like to) collect and use your own urine?


worms: did you have the small red ones from manure (red wigglers) or earthworms? they need different conditions. buckets are not the best place for them. if you have red wigglers, they ll do well in a manure heap, but it needs to be moist. you should add other material like finished compost, leaves etc. the compost should not get too hot for them. shredded or balled up (wet) newspaper helps them alot.

raised beds: have you looked into hugelkultur? you can include wood into beds to help store/wick moisture.


comfrey... i think, it has deep roots and will care for itself when established. it could probably use some poor corner of your property, grow there and create high-quality mulching material.


good luck and blessings ... btw: i expect that you ll have a super productive year with your garden...



 
Jade Crowley
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Tobias you are so helpful! The area I live in is pretty much a desert prairie. We get 10-13 inches of rain a year (mostly in the late summer), short prairie grass, tumbleweeds and morning glory flowers (or bindweed) is about the only thing that grows, on really wet years we will get huge sunflowers growing but I have only seen that happen once in the 8 years I have been here, my land was once used for cattle and it was very poorly managed so the land was destroyed. My garden is 15' x 50' or so, my entire property is 45 acres. There are absolutely no resources on my land unfortunately... no water, no trees, no hills, its just flat and dry. I only have 3 of the acres fenced for my horses but I would like to get 5-10 more fenced but its very expensive to do so unless I use electric which I have not figured out all the ins and outs of yet.

Thank you for the links on composting I will check them out, I just went and got a load of horse hay today so have a bit of green hay I can add to the compost from the old hay pile. Collecting rainwater is actually illeagl here in Colorado which is the dumbest thing ever, that being said I have some gutters that I need to hang and I have 2 barrels I need to get fixed up and get that going anyway, I have a metal roof so I think if I put them on the back of the house only i will at least get some collected and hopefully no one will see and turn me in. I have read about using my own urine but have not read the specifics on it or tried it yet, but would be willing to. Our goal is to eventually sell this place and be completely off grid and on a composting toilet system for the flower beds, so using my urine would just be the first step in that anyway!

I don't remember what kind of worms they were, I bought a "worm bucket kit" from a lady that runs our local extension ag office, but I didn't get much of any instructions with them. There is a new place that is doing huge tubs of worm kits for $40, I am thinking about getting myself one for my birthday. If I do that the ones I would get are red wigglers.

I have never heard of hugelkultur beds, I will be looking them up. I have access to trees from my boss who owns a huge ranch, but no way to turn them into mulch. I will be looking into comfrey, its also a medicinal herb from what I have read and I would love to get lots of them growing as well. Thank you thank you thank you!! You are so helpful! I appreciate it so much!
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Can you direct rainwater on your property without violating some kind of crazy law? If so, you can probably get a lot of mileage out of directing rainfall through swales and infiltration basins to soak into the ground around your plants. Especially if you get occasional deluges which can overwhelm a rain barrel's capacity.

Also, hugelkultur tends to fail in my climate because we're too dry here, and we get a lot more water than you're talking about. Bury that wood in a level or sunken bed instead and you can get many of the benefits of a hugelkultur without the drying effects of all that extra surface area.
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Jade,

There are about 4 billion videos on the interwebs about how to make compost and get it to heat up . . . but it's still frustrating when you can't get your pile to work correctly. So just keep trying and messing around with it. Watch some videos, read a bit more, and give it another try.

It sounds like it isn't wet enough. If you've got a lot of browns (and straw would be a brown), then it takes much more water than you might think, as you've got to get those leaves and straw stalks wet. Manure is a green, but you might not have enough of it in your pile to really jumpstart the heating process. If it's not getting hot, you need to add more greens. Can you get a couple of 5 gallon pails of coffee grounds? I've got about 100 comfrey plants all over my garden and orchard, so when in doubt, I cut a bunch of comfrey and pile that into my compost. That always gets it cranking.

Or perhaps your pile just isn't big enough. I love to build a pile that's 5 feet tall, with tons of fresh ingredients. Fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds, the aforementioned comfrey leaves, and a bucket of urine.

Turn it every 3 days, and keep adding moisture. If you've got an old piece of carpet, throw that over the top --- a bit more insulation.

Even if you can't get your pile hot, it will still decompose over time. Everything rots eventually.

Build it bigger, build it wetter, and build it greener. If it starts to stink, it's too wet and too green. But even a stinky pile can be turned, and you can add a bit more dry stuff to it, and it will take off and heat up quickly.

Don't get discouraged. Keep trying!
 
Tobias Ber
Posts: 438
Location: Northern Germany (Zone 8a)
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hey jade...

ok, that are harsh conditions for gardening. but it can be done. thanks for sharing.

you need to watch the land. is there erosion? what are the causes? what about wind? when it rains, does the water run to/through some ares?

horses: i ve no experience there. but there s information on shifting-paddocks, mob-grazing etc.

red wigglers: you ll probably find them in horse manure. you could look in other persons manure piles. but they ll need more moisture. so maybe a worm bin would offer a protected living space for them.

rainwater: can you put barrels INTO a shed or dig them? when it rains, is there run-off off/through your property? you could build swales, berms, dams there to keep that water.
another thought... have the gutter run into a garden area. with some pipe. maybe a small pond would be legal, if it s leaky and feeds surrounding plants. this could be a starting-place for a small oasis with trees and shrubs.

shade: what about partially shading your area with certain trees (which are adapted to that climate)?

water harvesting: putting rocks into piles/walls in shady places. they ll have condensation pull some water outta the air.

mulch: having mulch on the soil and organic matter in it (or like a layer of compost), you ll need less water. dense planting will help also.

greywater: do you collect/use water from bathtub, dishwasher, washing machine etc? to use that on compost heap would be a good start. maybe you could send that into an area of your garden and make a small (but growing) food forrest there. use your waste to create an oasis. that sounds like fun. trees will shade and bring more organic matter. that system protects and feeds itself to a certain extent.

compost pile: can you build a roof to protect it from the sun? maybe with holes to get the rain onto that pile.


how do your neighbours garden and what do they plant? ask them for info for that region.

maybe you should look on youtube for videos "greening the desert". you might find some inout there.

 
Jade Crowley
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Casie - I am not sure, but I have a bar ditch that overflows into my driveway almost everytime it rains, is I could figure out how to make that water flow somewhere else that would be great. I do worry however about what it flows to because they spray the roads with all kinds of crazy things, so I would have to put something other than fruit trees there which sucks because I would really love to have some fruit trees. Thanks for the input on the hugelkltur beds. Would a bed like that work in a greenhouse? The sunken type bed?


Tobias - I watched the movie and liked it, while wondering where I was going to start getting wood chips I remembered we cut all our own wood, If I put a tarp down before cutting I can get quite a bit of them! Thanks for all of the help!
 
Jade Crowley
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Marco - I am probably not doing enough of green or wet, I will keep trying. Its really hard to get green stuff out here, and I think if I put a pallet on top of it until I can find some carpet that will help with the sun. Thanks for all your input!

Tobias - I somehow forgot to refresh and missed the last reply, We do collect bathwater in the summer and put it on the trees I am trying to get to grow, I just got 32 trees from a friend 2 miles down the road, but she has an irrigation ditch so they were growing great there, here they are mostly surviving but not thriving. Its just so flat here, I have no idea how I would get the water to pool anywhere. There are two flow areas from the ditch like I said in other post but its tainted water. I am taking all ideas and thinking on them, hopefully I will get some ways to put them into motion, thanks again!!
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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