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Sources of compost

Dandelion flowerThe permaculture way is to mix your own compost out of homegrown goodies and waste products from nearby, but our garden has grown faster than our capacity to come up with free compostables.  Last year, I top-dressed each of our vegetable garden beds with about 2.5 gallons of composted horse manure (equivalent to about 0.2 inches of compost, for a total of about 3 cubic yards), and I felt like the garden didn't grow as much as in previous years despite additional mulch.  Feeding the soil is a necessity, so we've broken down and bought storebought compost to allow us to double the application rate for this year.

As always, I have lots of crazy plans for creating as much compost as we need within the next year or two.  Here's a rundown of the top contenders:

  • Horse manure.  We've got a steady annual supply of around two to three cubic yards of horse manure from the neighbors.  In the past, we've been guilty of applying some manure which was only semi-composted because we needed more organic matter immediately.  This year, I'm hoping the storebought compost will tide us over so that we can run fresh manure through a worm bin for use next year.
  • Black soldier flies are on the horizon for this year, primarily because we want the free, high protein food to supplement the bugs our chickens will peck up naturally in the soon-to-be-built forest pasture.  If we find a source of free food scraps (difficult since we live so far from town and only make the trip once a week, on average), we could potentially create quite a lot of compost in the black soldier fly bins.
  • Compost tea from the worm bin and the black soldier fly bins.  In the past, our summer worm bin has been on the ground, which means all of the high quality tea leaches out into the surrounding soil.  Mark's going to build new bins for this summer that collect the tea --- now I'll have enough to use on plants other than the potted citrus!
  • Compost piles.  In the past, I've never had a compost pile, because I just threw the weeds and food scraps to the chickens or used them to build new raised beds.  This year, I hope to build some compost piles in the forest pasture to serve double duty as an insect reservoir for the chickens and a way to supplement my other sources of compost.  Potential components in these piles include leaves raked out of the woods, weeds pulled from the garden, wood chips and/or sawdust if we can find a free source, urine, manure from the chickens (naturally added as they scratch), duckweed, and comfrey leaves from my expanded patch.

I've got a whole 'nother set of goals for the mulch that goes on top of the compost, but this post is already too long!  By the way, the careful reader will have noticed that I included a photo of the year's first dandelion --- I guess this spring isn't a solid week behind last year's spring, at least according to the dandelions.

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Is Dandelion wine in your future? Since there is a flower the greens have to be cooked first.
Comment by Lisa Wed Mar 31 09:47:42 2010
Unfortunately, neither Mark nor I drink much wine. I suspect that if we brewed something, it'd be beer for Mark, but of course that would require hops and barley!
Comment by anna Wed Mar 31 10:16:35 2010

We have always just deposited sources of compost straight to the garden. What exactly would the advantages be to having a composting box or worm bin? I have never had any problem with burning from the chicken manure, I keep grass clippings away from plants until dry, and the horse manure is Gods gift to gardeners. We drink a lot of tea and I put the tea bags straight in the garden as well. I guess I always just thought I was cutting out a step.

Comment by Erich Wed Mar 31 16:40:41 2010

That's what I've been doing so far, for the same reasons. Simplicity is good! The reason I'm thinking of finally starting a compost pile is because I need more organic matter than I can come up with from those sources. In a compost pile, I can turn things like wood chips and leaves which would take nitrogen out of the garden during the first few months of decomposition, add nitrogen sources (like manure) to them, and end up with a compost that can go straight on the garden much more quickly than if I just set them aside and let them rot down. I figure that in a compost pile setting, wood chips should reach compost level within a year (I hope), while in a pile by themselves it'd take 2-4 years. I can also tap the nitrogen from urine, which I worry about being too salty if put straight on the garden bed, and weeds, which are too likely to root if tossed back on the beds.

I agree with you that manure is great going straight in the garden (though we do get some weed seeds.) I'm hopeful that I can get more bang for my buck in a worm bin, though, since I'll get the worm tea too.

But this is still all in the thinking stages!

Comment by anna Wed Mar 31 16:49:14 2010
While horse manure is probably more readily available, cow manure is much better since it has already gone through a few cud chewings. If you can find a farmer who has cows, see about getting some of his manure from his barn. That is assuming that you do not want to go out in the pasture and shovel cow pies!
Comment by Sheila Thu Apr 1 00:13:08 2010

You're right --- horse manure is probably the weediest of the lot. :-) Unfortunately, no one around here seems to keep dairy cows, and beef cattle are kept on pasture. Without a barn to concentrate the manure, it just doesn't make it worth our while to go scooping manure up.

(Although, as I type that, I remember the neighbor down the road who does keep one milk cow. I'll have to send Mark to ask them about their manure!)

Comment by anna Thu Apr 1 07:34:49 2010

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