The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Manure vs. municipal compost

Big broccoli plant

What's the biggest lesson I've learned from year one in a new garden spot? Don't put all of your soil fertility/amendment eggs in one basket!

Broccoli shows this best. The plant above was set out into a newly kill mulched bed using half-composted horse manure. Not an optimal soil environment by a long shot. But I planted the broccoli sets pretty deep, down into the native soil. And one month later they're huge and thriving, ready to start forming big, beautiful heads.

Puny broccoli plant

In contrast, the image above shows a broccoli plant of the same variety started inside at the same time and set out at the same time. This one went into a more mature no-till bed too...except the "compost" I'd put on top of that kill mulch was very low-nitrogen municipal compost. I won't be buying that stuff again.

Puny flowers

Lest you think I was just cherry picking those broccoli photos, take a look at some flowers in two different parts of the garden. Above, a sunflower that bloomed at knee high plus cock's comb flowers barely as big as a dime. I'll bet you can guess what they were growing in --- municipal compost.

Cock's comb

And a much more satisfying cock's comb growing in a mixture of very well-composted cow manure and topsoil. The sunflowers in this part of the garden are towering over my head.

In a few years, cover crops plus regular manure/compost additions will have built up a buffer of nitrogen and organic matter that will make it harder to tell when amendments are hindering instead of helping. So I'm glad we spread our net widely this year to try out most of the local offerings when the ground is hungry and shows results fast!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Hi Anna and Mark,

Another local farmer has seen similar effects. She thinks it is herbicide residues. I am not convinced. Which causes me to wonder if 'rawer' manure is even better if 'aged' in the soil. Maybe soil life or earthworm count would give a clue?

I am MOST curious as to what is really going on.


Comment by John Tue Sep 11 12:04:19 2018
Thanks for the comparison photos and explanation - this dramatically illustrates what a difference the soil quality can make!
Comment by Rhonda from Baddeck Tue Sep 11 12:52:33 2018

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