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Chicken run composting in a greenhouse  RSS feed

 
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Hello all,

I am trying to figure out what to expect or how to prepare my greenhouse this coming season. I live in a zone 3-4 area and have been housing 44 chickens in my 100'x14' catapilar green house all winter(about 5 months so far). My original idea was to do this to boost the fertility, keep weeds down, and to lower the slug population during the winter months. Come about May i was hoping to start my tomatoes and such in there..

My main concern is how good my soil is really going to be in there with all the poop everywhere? Is it going to be safe for plants? Will it burn or prevent growth? I know chicken droppings are pretty potent, but my hope was they will be scratching away excellerating the breakdown process and essentially tilling and readying it for this years planting. I will add that fertility to start in there was low to moderate at best. How much time do i need before planting? Should I scrape the top layer off, or should i just till everything in? Any thoughts will be much appreciated.

Other notes...  we have a very wet spring melt period.  I will be building up the beds so they are raised.  I plan to remove the birds and till at least 4 weeks before planting.  I will be planting tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, cucumbers, and melons primarily.  There was a LOT of residue last year and bad weeds.  I will be laying down landcape fabric in the whole greenhouse this year to manage the unwanted vegetation.  I have sandy loam soils, and the water table is high in this area.  I cant think of anything else, but feel free to ask for any other needed info.  Thanks!
 
pollinator
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Well, you probably won't have any weeds.
Chickens seem pretty good at devastating weed seeds.
If you fill the raised beds with compost on.the bottom and sandy soil on top, the plants could grow down to find their own food without sitting directly in it.
 
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I would strongly advise against landscape fabric. It is a pain even when just used under landscaping meant to be undisturbed for years, it will only be exponentially more so a pain in a greenhouse with soil on top. The chickens will have done a number on the weeds and if you are building up the soil in the beds with compost etc.. you will probably notice a marked improvement this year and it should get better with each passing year on the weed front.
 
matthew boersma
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stephen lowe wrote:I would strongly advise against landscape fabric. It is a pain even when just used under landscaping meant to be undisturbed for years, it will only be exponentially more so a pain in a greenhouse with soil on top. The chickens will have done a number on the weeds and if you are building up the soil in the beds with compost etc.. you will probably notice a marked improvement this year and it should get better with each passing year on the weed front.



Please explain a bit more to why to not use landscape fabrics.  I am pretty set on using it, so if you could clue me in a bit further?  Thanks!

...an after thought here.  I think you are thinking i am using under my plantings.  In this regard i fully understand this would be terrible!  It would keep me ffom tilling or broadforking.  Instead, I will be using it on top of the ground to act as a top layer mulch that won't degrade, or grow into weeds like hay or straw does.  So it won't be buried at all.  It will be removable come fall.  Does this still sound like a bad idea?
 
stephen lowe
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Ah yes Matthew you have figured the misunderstanding perfectly. Used as a plastic mulch seems like a fine idea.
 
matthew boersma
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stephen lowe wrote:Ah yes Matthew you have figured the misunderstanding perfectly. Used as a plastic mulch seems like a fine idea.



Its much more durable and reusable than plastic.  That's why choosing fabric was the idea.
 
matthew boersma
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William Bronson wrote:Well, you probably won't have any weeds.
Chickens seem pretty good at devastating weed seeds.
If you fill the raised beds with compost on.the bottom and sandy soil on top, the plants could grow down to find their own food without sitting directly in it.



I will likely be tilling first then letting them run through a few days to gobble up the newly surfaced dormant weed seed and slug nests.  Then i will go through with a spade and dig our the walk ways into the raised portion of the beds. 
 
pollinator
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IF you choose to use landscape fabric, make sure you pull it up at the end of the season and do not allow it to slowly be buried over time.  It will end up being a mess with tree roots and such tangled up in it.

A better option for mulch would either be cardboard or woodchips.  Or both.  Landscape fabric doesn't break down, so it will keep the layers of your soil from intermixing.  Any mulch on top of the fabric will not feed the soil below.  It creates an impediment to the soil food web.  Decomposing carbon-based mulches feed the soil AND keep weeds down.

As for planting anything in that former chicken-run space, I'd go with nitrogen loving plants like tomatoes.  If you're worried about the soil being too hot with too much N, then dig a hole, refill it with normal garden soil, and then plant your plant in the amended hole.  Once the roots push through that imported soil out into the native high nitrogen soil, the plant should be big enough to handle the heat of that N and not get burned-up.
 
pollinator
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Maybe everyone needs to learn for themselves that landscape fabric and black plastic are a monumental pain in the butt. At least longterm for someone it will be. Chickens make in unnecessary anyhow. It is simply inevitable trash that interferes with healthy soil life processes.
 
matthew boersma
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My fabrics will be coming up every year at least once.  Cardboard sheet mulch blows around making an absolute mess of everything, and they keep rains from penetrating down to the soil level too much.  I have used cardboard sheet mulch for hundreds of square feet and it was nothing but problematic. Wood chips are a terrible option for me also since they will cost a lot given my 1.5 acre garden space.   Did i mention my ridiculous slug problem!  Wood chips would be like putting down an attractant.  Plus wood chips don't allow me to work the soil if i happen need to without an overwhelming amount of energy(working toward no till mind you).   Even broadforking will mix wood chips into the soil thus vastly increasing fungal growth(too much) in successive years.   Since they do take a long time to break down and require a very high N input and calcium buffer to balance the PH of the soil.  I won't use plastic specifically because of cost and non-reusability.  Also they tend to put small pieces of plastic everywhere, yuk!  Please come up with more specific examples if you plan to convince me not to use them.  I would love to hear all your experiences.  I want this kind of input and do thank you greatly, but so far the reasons to why dont seem to apply to my particular ideas or methods.  I do have a lot to learn so dont take this as me being combative.  I love humble pie and will down a full plate daily if need be. 

Basically, until I get my flock into better rotations(need fencing), and sqaush the weed population to a much more manageable degree these fabrics are me best option for now from what I know.  Cover cropping also will become my main mulch as i progress in this direction as well.  There is often too much water in my area that weeds just simply have a solid hold and are by far too strong for starting out leaving any bare ground exposed.  They will take over anything even cardboard and woodchips easily since they tend to shift around a bunch.  I have seen it and done it.  So my idea is if anything i do is temporary i will invest in a mulch i can bring up and put down for many seasons at my whim.  All without having to purchase or outsource of any kind every year.

Great talk, but a bit off topic i should add.  I am looking for experiences in regards to geeenhouse winter chicken homes and how it affects the soil more specifically.  Agaim, i do love any amount of imput so thanks all.  Btw, the dig a hole suggestion i love.  This makes tons of sense and seems very practical if needed. Thanks!
 
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matthew boersma wrote:Hello all,

I am trying to figure out what to expect or how to prepare my greenhouse this coming season. I live in a zone 3-4 area and have been housing 44 chickens in my 100'x14' catapilar green house all winter(about 5 months so far). My original idea was to do this to boost the fertility, keep weeds down, and to lower the slug population during the winter months. Come about May i was hoping to start my tomatoes and such in there..

My main concern is how good my soil is really going to be in there with all the poop everywhere? Is it going to be safe for plants? Will it burn or prevent growth? I know chicken droppings are pretty potent, but my hope was they will be scratching away excellerating the breakdown process and essentially tilling and readying it for this years planting. I will add that fertility to start in there was low to moderate at best. How much time do i need before planting? Should I scrape the top layer off, or should i just till everything in? Any thoughts will be much appreciated.!



Wintering chickens in a greenhouse is perfectly fine, if you lay down a layer of clean, organic straw prior to putting the chooks inside you will find they scratch their way all over the greenhouse floor and that incorporates their droppings which buffers the "fertilizer".
spreading the feedings over different spaces in the green house every day will insure that the chooks work over every inch of greenhouse floor soil, so that helps with not only spreading the fertility but fluffing up the soil at the same time.
When you are ready to move the chooks out, just rake up any "leftover poop" (proper timing and you won't really have any) and add it to a compost heap, what is left will not be harmful to your plants, especially since you mention below that you plant t build up rows for planting.
The real benefit of black plastic or landscape cloth is soil warming, weeds will still sprout under the covering and if they snake their way to a plant hole in the covering they will continue to grow and cover the desired plant or at the least, hinder its growth rate.
As long as you keep an eye on the plant holes for emerging weeds, no worries. 
Since you have utilized the chooks as tilling animals there should not be a need to till the soil, except for creating the raised beds you mentioned using for planting.


Other notes...  we have a very wet spring melt period.  I will be building up the beds so they are raised.  I plan to remove the birds and till at least 4 weeks before planting.  I will be planting tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, cucumbers, and melons primarily.  There was a LOT of residue last year and bad weeds.  I will be laying down landcape fabric in the whole greenhouse this year to manage the unwanted vegetation.  I have sandy loam soils, and the water table is high in this area.  I cant think of anything else, but feel free to ask for any other needed info.  Thanks!



The chooks will have taken care of most of the weed problems including seeds that might inhabit the top few inches of that soil.
Sandy loam is great stuff, adding some humus in the form of scratched in straw will only add to the fertility available to your plants along with the fertilizer from the birds.
The biggest thing is to move the water bowls and feed bowls at least once a week (daily would be better) so you know the birds are not concentrating poop in any area.

Redhawk
 
matthew boersma
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Great advice!  Honestly i sort have been incorporating or at least turning them into my brain these type of idea as i have been going...  Moving feed areas, and raking the top "fresh" poop layer off for the compost heap for instance.  This makes me feel pretty good about going ahead with my plans.  Any other ideas are most welcome.  Thanks again!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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You can also utilize spent coffee grounds inside the greenhouse.
These attract worms to come and feast which means the chooks will find them, scratch deeper for those tasty critters and that fluffs the soil, adds another layer of great material (the castings).
The best part is that all you have to do is spread the grounds on the surface, the worms will come and do the rest for you and what the worms don't take care of, the chooks will.

Redhawk
 
Ben Zumeta
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I can appreciate that you have a lot of ground for one person to cover, but the problems you describe (slugs and weeds) will be greatly mitigated by chickens. I also heartily endorse muscovy ducks and spanish cross (closer to wild) turkeys mixed in a flock with chickens. The landscape fabric will be unnecessary and a waste of time and resources if you integrate rotational pasturing of birds. Hugelkulture also wipes out a lot of weeds in the process of building them (even without digging up sod or weeds) and reduces the cost of inputs to raised beds. I manage a similar space to yours where animals aren't an option like they are at my own property where I have birds, and its an entirely different ballgame in terms of both slugs, weeds, and soil building. Animals are integral to a sustainable ecosystem, and will come in more and more difficult to eradicate forms the more we try to sanitize our environment to get rid of them, which is the effect of landscape fabric and inorganic mulches. For example, the prolific abundance of rats/roaches/pigeons/seagulls/diseases etc in cities that try their hardest to be free of all non human life. All fertility comes from natural ecosystem functions, even if it was Jurassic ecosystems we use for petrochemical fertilizers, and as far as I have observed landscape fabric is not a sustainable component of any living thing's lifecycle so it is probably more trouble than it is worth. It inevitably will tear and become litter or get matted, shallow, unhealthy roots entangled in it that damage the sickened plant attached to it.

Weeds and slugs will also soon become known to you as "bird food," and will therefore inevitably become less and less abundant.
 
matthew boersma
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I get what you are saying Ben!  You are 100% right!  My plan for using fabrics is a temporary one at best.  I admit this is mainly a method of getting ahead quickly and is by no means a fully sustainable system to the greatest extent.  I do plan to unincorporate these types of methods as i gain ground.  I need more rotational plots to move my birds in and out of.. as i plan to have multiple gardens and plan to use more living mulches as I figure out what works best.  I am trying to crawl before i run in this area if you follow... since honestly us Americans especially as a culture have moved far from these concepts and simply I don't expect every concept to work to my advantage overnight.  Information is also somewhat limited on my scale of gardening to an extent and what works for some may not work for me.   I know i have much work to do, and am only one man.  Also, currently my rotational methods and abilities(time and energy) will leave me with a lot to be desired if i depend on my birds exclusively to solve my issues now.   As i grow my flock and grow my paddock fencing i can and will get great results i am certian.  So as i said for now it is a strategy to speed up the process even if in some regards it may be moving slightly in a stagnate sideways direction.  I love this discussion so once again don't get wrong...  my main goal IS to have zero monetary need for "products" as i develope methods that will work based on what I already have going on.  Thanks for the input!  It keeps my brain cranking.
 
Ben Zumeta
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I also am coming from my own mistakes where I bought a large amount of greenhouse poly that turned out to be very unsustainable in our 10” rain days with 70mph winds. I made my money back many times over but recently our local small town recycling company had to stop taking the plastics it used to due to oil prices dropping, and now I am looking for ways to repurpose holy greenhouse plastic. I only need so many tarps!
 
matthew boersma
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Ben Zumeta wrote:I also am coming from my own mistakes where I bought a large amount of greenhouse poly that turned out to be very unsustainable in our 10” rain days with 70mph winds. I made my money back many times over but recently our local small town recycling company had to stop taking the plastics it used to due to oil prices dropping, and now I am looking for ways to repurpose holy greenhouse plastic. I only need so many tarps!



Are you saying that your greenhouses didn't work well?  Or specifically did you try to reuse the plastic somehow as a mulch?  Or am i misunderstanding and you mean like a black plastic poly for the greenhouse floor?  Im just curious how you mean, and how the rain and wind was a big issue more specifically.  We also have a lot of prevailing wind and lots of precipitation annually too.  My grow season is fairly short as well.  Without greenhouses i could not grow some crops.  Please expand if you can...
 
Ben Zumeta
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I mean clear poly for greenhouse shell. It worked well in some ways, and ultimately the storm damage didn’t lead to any catastrophic failures for crops. It did however seem woefully unsustainable in terms of plastic usage. I guess if I bought a similar value of what I produced in the greenhouses, I would have bought a lot of packaging and supported the use of a lot of plastic and petroleum, but it was still more than I’d like to use on a yearly basis or even every two years with it going in the trash rather than recycling. It’s not a clear cut ethical decision though, as you could theoretically be doing better on waste than those you would otherwise pay for produce.
 
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