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where to draw the line  RSS feed

 
Annie Daellenbach
Posts: 19
Location: Santa Cruz, Ca
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I'm finding myself frustrated lately, trying to find acceptable inputs for my compost pile.  I use it faster than I can make it, and my soil is so in need of organic matter that I can't keep up.  I grow very tall grasses and cut them to use like straw, in my chicken coop, then compost it.  But I feel like I'm only robbing the grass growing area of matter that it needs to be fertile.  I often want to go down to the feed stort and pick up a few bales, but they are certainly glyphosated, or, even laced with aminopyralid https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/making-it-practical/herbicides-from-hell-the-next-generation/ ; There are NO sorces of organically grown hay anywhere near me.  I have found several local sources of manure, even from animals who do not get the daily wormer, but the hay they feed is certainly not organic either.  If i purchase compost, it is not cost effective AND contaminated by human 'bio solids' and is full of icky pharmaceuticals... I don't have enough land to raise my own horses/alpaca for the manure, or to grow enough straw or other material to bulk up my pile.  So, I'm wondering should I just pick my battles and compromise on this one?  Get a dumptruck of composted horse manure and just focus on my compost tea making to break down the herbicides as fast as possible?  what do you guys think? Thanks
 
Gilbert Fritz
Posts: 1280
Location: Denver, CO
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Don't compromise with aminopyralid, similar herbicides, or heavy metals. These will not break down (at least not for years) and in the case of herbicides will sterilize your garden for years. They persist in manure and compost. Other herbicides such as roundup (glyphosate) and pesticides can be broken down by soil organisms. Tree leaves are unlikely to have persistent herbicides on them, though if they contain grass clippings then they may.

Aside from avoiding persistent herbicides, I'm OK with composting non-organic stuff. I use non-organic soy bean meal for nitrogen.

I'd also recommend growing heavy cover crops such as rye, buckwheat, wheat, and sudan grass.
 
Deb Rebel
garden master
Posts: 1210
Location: Zone 6b
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How rural are you? Perhaps there are some others that just literally toss their cuttings (grass/hay, leaves) that are not full of gick. Ditches along the roads, depending on if they salt in winter or not, might be another source. You might have to cut or scythe it and gather it yourself. Um I know it's hard, you can easily go through more compost than you can possibly make.

Look into putting in green-manure (cover crop that can be tilled/dug under) to improve your soil? That might help...
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1102
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Annie Daellenbach wrote:But I feel like I'm only robbing the grass growing area of matter that it needs to be fertile.


The grass growing area will be just fine without the grass cut from it.  Many, many people cut their grass and dispose of the clippings and the lawn does just fine.  Go ahead and use the clippings where you need them.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1786
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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I feel as if it's perfectly OK to "borrow" organic material from one part of my property to benefit another.  It's all one system, I'm just capturing solar inputs and moving them around.

I haven't done this but some people swear by a few rabbits as a low-space way to turn vegetation into compost inputs and fertilizer.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1477
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Could I suggest that if you do take a risk with composted manures, you apply them to your grass growing area? That could reduce your worry about stealing fertility and there would be more separation between your food and any chemical contaminants.  I agree with some of the other posters that you probably aren't harming your grasslands even as it stands
 
Annie Daellenbach
Posts: 19
Location: Santa Cruz, Ca
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food preservation fungi trees
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Don't compromise with aminopyralid, similar herbicides, or heavy metals. These will not break down (at least not for years) and in the case of herbicides will sterilize your garden for years. They persist in manure and compost. 


I like the idea of doing a bio-assay (growing two plots, one with the manure/compost in question and the other without, to check herbicide levels) but that requires about 6 weeks. 
Otherwise I'd need to send off samples to a lab and test for each specific compound!  (When will they finally invent the tricorder from Star Trek)

I know that the horse facilities feed hay from different places.  I could track down every hay grower and interrogate them about what they spray... 
I feel like asking the horse ranchers about it would be impertinent, similar to having someone invite you over for dinner and then asking if the ingredients are organic.  

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Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 90
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
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I use it faster than I can make it, and my soil is so in need of organic matter that I can't keep up


First off, I'd say this is a healthy state to be in. I've never had as much compost as I want. The more I make, the more I use.

Past that, I'd offer a couple pieces of advice:

Slow it down. If you can, target a 2 year horizon for your compost. That's a huge amount of time, which is frustrating as a human, but good for the micro-organisms that break down chemicals. For hay bales, you might experiment with seeding them with mushroom spawn and letting the mushrooms do their thing before using the hay for composting.

Find one or two good sources of material. You're right, it's super frustrating finding a good source of organic material. Maybe that's a person with only one or two horses that they feed through grazing on their property. Maybe it's coffee grounds from a local shop. Maybe it's a local landscaping company that doesn't spray. Maybe it's a nearby abandoned lot that the fire department bush-hogs for fire safety. Maybe it's a local kid who rakes up leaves in the fall. I think people get overwhelmed because there are so many options, and each requires a tremendous amount of diligence to ensure it's purity. So dig deep into one or two big producers instead of hundreds of small ones.

Focus on materials that don't get contaminated due to physical characteristics. Like you said with hay, it's complicated. That's because hay is easy to spray and comes into direct contact with chemicals. But used coffee grounds? Coffee is the nut of a cherry that grows on a bush. Any chemical residues are on the bush or the cherry flesh. Deciduous tree leaves are a similar story. Who's going to hike up a ladder to spray a 75ft tall Alder? They're not going to, they'll just spray the grasses near the ground.
 
chip sanft
pollinator
Posts: 403
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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I get manure from outside sources. I let it sit for a few months at least and then I plant in it to test for herbicides before doing anything else. According to what I have read, herbicides applied to hay are intended to spare grass and kill broad leaf plant. So I plant some different seeds on the pile and check the seedlings. If they grow normally, I then use the manure. It is a bit of a hassle but it seems like a workable compromise. Eventually I hope to do without external inputs at all but that day hasn't arrived yet.
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 534
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Hola -- fellow Californian here.

Wood chips.  I would imagine that there are tree trimmers who are eager to dump a load of wood chips in your driveway for free --- you just need to find them.

There are multiple threads that discuss the wonders of wood chips in the garden.  A simple search will find them.  Never-the-less, let me summarize the best that chips bring to your garden.

1.  Chips make an excellent mulch that slowly breaks down, feeds the soil, feeds the soil biota/worms/microorganisms.

2.  Chips quickly create a fungal dominated soil  Within 2 years, you'll see the fungal network throughout the chips and soil.  Compost is fantastic, as it feeds microbes to your plants.  But chips + compost gives them both bacterial microbes and fungi.  That's the best of all worlds.

3.  Depending on the type of wood and the state of decomposition, chips hold from 6 to 9 times their weight in water.  They turn your soil into a giant sponge that holds moisture after rain events, and then slowly releases it as the plants need it. 

4.  A surface mulch of chips keeps the sun from irradiating the microbial community as well as keeps soil temperature from spiking under our hot California sun, thus evaporating moisture and drying out our heavy clay soil.

5.  Despite what some say, as long as you do not till the chips down into the soil profile, they do not tie up available nitrogen for your plants.  In fact, as they break down, create a habitat for fungi as well as a rich habitat for earth worms, chips INCREASE the amount of nitrogen.  You just need to give them a year to break down and go no-till as you plant your garden.  Rake them back, plant your seeds, and then as plants emerge carefully push the chips back where you want them for mulch.

6.  Straw, grass, compost . . . these all break down very quickly and gas off within a couple of months.  Chips will also break down and gas off eventually (particularly once your soil gets more and more healthy), but in general, a six-inch layer of chips will last at least a full growing season before needing to be replaced.  As they break down, the soil beneath only gets better and better.

7.  A layer of chips throughout your garden, under your fruit trees, on your pathways . . . is a passive compost pile ---- more accurately, a sheet of passive compost.  You don't have to turn it.  Put it down once, and reap the benefits for years to come.

8.  Free.  Stop paying for carbon.  People are looking for someone to take them --- it's great for you, great for them, and great for the environment when a truck load of chips doesn't go to a landfill somewhere.

Best of luck.

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