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Can I make garden soil out of just poultry poop and pine shavings?

 
Nicole Alderman
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I'm in the process of finishing a garden bed, and I realized that I need more soil. I'm expanding it both horizontally, as well as hopefully a few inches vertically. I don't really want to pay an arm and a leg for topsoil or potting soil that just isn't that great--or at least the last batch of organic topsoil I got wasn't great.

But, I realized that the pine shavings I use in my duck/chicken house are pretty cheap. If I actually fed my ducks and chicken all their food in their house, I could probably quickly get enough poop to balance the carbon in the pine shavings. As they foul/fowl the bedding, I'd scoop it out and add it to the bed so it can compost there in place over the next 6 months. In some areas, the compost would take up the entire vertical height of the bed (about one foot).

Can I grow in straight duck poop, duck feathers, and pine shavings? Do I need to try to scrounge up some actual soil to mix in? Are their nutrients I'll be missing by doing this? Would adding some wood ash to it help, both in adding nutrients and balancing the likely acidic PH?

Any thoughts? Any experience? Thanks so much!!!
 
Tracy Wandling
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Hi Nicole;

I think it would work out great! As you may have read in my project thread, I don't have any soil in my beds at all, except what went in with the transplants. It's all organic matter: grass, leaves, weeds, and year-old wood chips. The plants grew great. And I've recently planted seeds straight into this soil/mulch, and they sprouted and are growing fine. If you're not going to be growing in it until spring, I think it will break down beautifully, and you'll have a great new garden bed.

One thing I'm in the process of trying to figure out is: how do we test this 'soil' to see what amendments are needed? I've added some clay, rock dust, and seaweed stuff to mine, but I'd like to know what else I might want to add. Maybe you could move this conversation to the soil forum, and we'll see what folks have to say on the matter.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I'd forgotten that you're garden is growing in all organic material. That's really reassuring! Making soil/compost with the duck bedding should be a lot easier for me, too, as I will only have to feed them once/day (I've been feeding them the majority of their food 1+hour before I put them away to keep the bedding from being too soiled, and just luring them in with a cup of feed at bedtime).

Thank you for your help!

I added the thread to the Soil and Composting forums. Hopefully some more people will chime in!
 
Galadriel Freden
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Hi Nicole, if I have a new container to fill, I usually go and scoop out a big pile of chicken bedding and put it in the bottom, cover it with a few inches of soil/potting compost, and plant straight away.  My chicken bedding is straw, and I find it usually sinks quite a bit while decomposing in place, so I have to top it up (usually with more soil).  I've even planted pumpkins into a mound of fresh chicken bedding, no soil on top (just a little in the middle for the roots to grab hold of).  This might not work with other plants, though!

I've also filled the bottom of containers with any other organic matter I have:  branches and logs of course, scrunched up newspaper, grass clippings.  Anything to fill it up, but I do generally add a couple inches of soil on top when planting.

I think six months of decomposition would be just fine for planting, but expect it to shrink a bit
 
Aimee Tidman
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Out of interest would I be able to do this with hemp bedding?  It breaks down fast but I also keep Guinea pigs on it too. Thanks
 
Scott Strough
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Sure you can, just be sure to compost it first. It's pretty easy to do, and would take only 30 days using a "hot compost" method. Well worth that extra effort.
 
Parker Free
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If Guinea pig poop is at all like rabbit poop, it's quite gentle right away, as in, you generally don't need to compost it before using it around plants.  Rabbits can be your garden's best friend (if you can keep them out of it!).
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Tracy, to test for what amendments you might need just take some samples to a testing laboratory, tell them you want a mineral assay. 
That will give you a good idea as to what is most needed and keep you from the expense of a full test battery.

optionally you could go ahead and use something like green sand as a mix in to help the mineral balance.
 
Tracy Wandling
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Hi Bryant;

Thanks for the reply. My difficulty is that I don't actually have any soil in my buried wood beds to test. It's almost all organic material. The only soil that went in was with the transplants. So, I'm basically growing in about 2-3 feet of mulch - year-old grass/leaves/weeds/woodchips/compost - on top of 4-5 feet of buried wood, grass, chips, sand, and other organic material. We have sand, sand and more sand - no actual top soil. I did use some sand in the beds, to fill between the logs and branches, and some mixed in with the mulchy material on top.

I'm very happy with how the beds have performed their first summer. Things grew beautifully (you can check it out at the link in my signature). I did add some amendments, including greensand, clay, seaweed, rock dust, wormy compost, etc., but not a lot. I have enjoyed growing in this mulchy 'soil' - the veggies stay clean, the mulch absorbs a lot of water, and it's easy to work in.

So, I guess what I need to know is: can I test this mulch mix the same way I would get actual soil tested? Or perhaps just get our sandy 'soil' tested, and then combine that with the other necessary elements that it are missing from the sand, and use that as my amendment in my mulchy beds.

I think I just answered my own question.  Sheesh.

Also, the potting soil mix I make and use has a lot of nutrients in it - compost, soil, rock dust, greensand, and other organic bits and bobs - so, all of that nutrient goes into the beds with the transplants and stays there. So . . . yeah, I think I figured it out!

Now, here's a question - and this goes back to Nicole's question a bit as well: If I build my beds with only organic material such as grass, leaves, weeds, wood chips, and other organic materials from around the farm (adding chicken manure next year), and I keep adding these mulchy things to the beds as they settle, at what point does this stuff go from being mulch, to being 'soil'? I do find earthworms in my mulchy garden beds, as well as rolly-pollies, and other creepy crawlies working on the decaying matter, so there will be earthworm castings, and other bug poops in there. And there is some sand, along with the rock dust and a bit of clay (I'll be adding more in the fall). So, when is it soil? I don't suppose it really matters, but I'm curious. I'm happy growing in my mulchy beds, but I am curious about the 'creation' of soil.

Anybody have any insight into this?

Cheers
Tracy
 
Susan Wakeman
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Why worry about it if your plants are growing fine? Cause if they are, then obviously you're on to a good thing.

I used my quail deep bedding in layers with hedge (mainly cherry laurel) trimmings to make a big pile last autumn. Left it without turning or any other attention in amongst the hedge. It reduced to about half the volume. Just started digging into it, and it's the most amazing compost I have yet produced. Soft. Dark. Full of creepy-crawlies. Whatever sticks are left I just toss aside. My neighbour uses my compost sieve now

My tomato pots are essentially vermicomposts with a layer of soil on top - I fill the bottom with veg scraps, rabbit bedding, whatever and cover with 6 inches of compost with worms in it. As the summer goes on, the soil level sinks, at which point I added another layer of rabbit bedding on top as mulch.My tomatoes grow into a jungle every year. And the following year I use the soil from the pots as potting compost.
 
Tracy Wandling
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Hi Susan;

This is a first year garden, and the plants are growing well, but as nutrients become depleted, I want to know how to replace them and what to replace them with. I will of course keep adding organic matter to the beds, but I will also need to add other amendments. I think that I need to have a little more 'soil' type additives in my predominately organic matter garden beds such as rock dust, clay, and sand. The first beds are very deep - much deeper than I wanted them - so I need to make sure that any nutrients that are being washed through are replaced.

Once I have more on-farm resources, such as animals and a diversity of chop-and-drop plants, I think it will make a big difference. But I think that for getting things started, finding out what nutrients I might have in the sandy 'soil', and what I need to add, will go a long way to keeping my garden healthy.

I am in the process of creating my own soil, and I want it to be healthy and balanced. I've been learning a lot about what the weeds add to the soil, and keeping the diversity up in the mulch and compost will go a long way toward creating that healthy, balanced soil I want. But there is always more to learn.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I've yet to read Steve Solomons Growing Vegetable's West of the Cascades, but I remember a lot of people commenting here on permies about how he realized that so much of his vegetables were mineral depleted, even though they were growing well. The plants looked healthy, but lacked the nutrition they were supposed to have.

From what I gather, he talks a lot about adding amendments to our soil to ensure the vegetables are full of nutrients. If our native soil is so devoid of nutrients, how devoid is the "soil" we make from composting? And, if it's depleted, what are permaculture ways of bringing in those nutrients without purchasing amendments?

Here's one thread I found discussing Steve Solomon's work. I'm still reading through it, and I need to put my toddler to bed, but I thought I'd link to it so other's can read it: https://permies.com/t/3884/cascadia/Growing-Vegetables-West-Cascades

 
Tracy Wandling
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Yes, Nicole, that is exactly what I am concerned about. Things might be growing well, but what's in them? I want nutrient rich food, so I agree that it's important to make sure the nutrients are there for them. I will add amendments if necessary, but I'm also interested in using plants/weeds to bring up the nutrients if possible. And making sure that my compost/mulch is very diverse and full of 'good stuff'.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I've yet to read Steve Solomons Growing Vegetable's West of the Cascades, but I remember a lot of people commenting here on permies about how he realized that so much of his vegetables were mineral depleted, even though they were growing well. The plants looked healthy, but lacked the nutrition they were supposed to have.

From what I gather, he talks a lot about adding amendments to our soil to ensure the vegetables are full of nutrients. If our native soil is so devoid of nutrients, how devoid is the "soil" we make from composting? And, if it's depleted, what are permaculture ways of bringing in those nutrients without purchasing amendments?

Here's one thread I found discussing Steve Solomon's work. I'm still reading through it, and I need to put my toddler to bed, but I thought I'd link to it so other's can read it: https://permies.com/t/3884/cascadia/Growing-Vegetables-West-Cascades



Gardening Without Irrigation is a pretty good introduction to Solomon's work. He's not very permie [and I imagine his methods aren't accounting for ours] but he takes his gardening very seriously.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Tracy, yes you can have pure organic soils tested in the same manner as you can earth.  (the things that make dirt soil are organic matter and biological matter, particles of earth are the carrier and minerals found in soil).
 
Elijah Kim
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You could try looking at what "weeds" are growing around your garden.  I've never paid for a soil test, but I figure if Nature wants that plant to grow there, and Nature's end goal is soil suitable for a forest, than that "weed" is growing to fix/add something that is missing.  For mineral miners figure out which "weeds" have deep taproots and use those.  We usually chop n drop weeds from the area and use them as a mulch on our beds, Great Mullein, dandelions, yarrow, and plantain are a few "weeds" that we mulch with... I've not yet done a soil test though, lol so my theory could be right out to lunch

 
please buy this thing and then I get a fat cut of the action:
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FoodForestCardGame.com
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