Not all soils are created equal. Some consist of too much clay, so drainage is too slow. Others are sandy, so drain too quickly. Some are too silty, so texture is not right. The best soil is 40%,sand, 40%silt, and 20% clay. Even if this blend is achieved, the ability of the soil to properly feed plant life and to provide the support roots, stems, and foliage need depends on the nutrients available in the soil.
Fortunately, your almost perfect soil can be made nutritionally balanced using some easy composting methods.
What Is Composting?
Composting is a process that speeds the natural decaying process of organic material by microorganisms. Compost improves soil aeration, the water holding capacity of soil, the structure of soil, the tilth (workability), and the nutrient holding capacity of the soil.
Another benefit of composting, especially in urban areas, is using vegetable scraps, aka leftovers, from your kitchen. By doing so, less waste is sent to landfills. With the burgeoning amount of waste going to solid waste facilities, composting is a way for you to feel good about doing something to benefit the earth. Scraps such as vegetable matter, coffee grounds, and fruit gone bad can be used, but no meats or dog or cat manure. Fallen leaves and grass clippings are also good.
Meat is not good for composting because it can draw unwanted critters, and it smells bad. Dog or cat manure can contain unhealthy pathogens, and it also smells terrible too. Odor from your compost pile or unit is a real bummer for your neighbors.
Easy Composting Steps.
The first step is to pick a good site location. Exposure to sunlight is important. Although compost generates heat by bacterial decomposition, sunlight helps warm the compost, thus speeding the decay process as well as helping to dry the pile. Your site should get at least six hours of sunlight each day. The area should also be in a well drained section of your property, but also near a water source as you want to keep your compost moist. It should also be hidden in such a way as to avoid being unsightly. Many container composters are not visually distracting at all.
The second step is to chose your container. Compost can be piled in a heap, or placed in a fenced pen, cage, bin, barrel, or drum. Whatever you choose, the perfect volume of material is one cubic yard, or three feet wide by three feet deep by three feet tall. This allows for appropriate heat generation by bacteria while also allowing for adequate aeration.
Step three is choosing raw materials. Microbes break down the carbon in organic matter into usable nutrients for plants. These microbes must also have nitrogen to break down carbon. Green organic materials, such as grass clippings, manure, and garden waste, have a low carbon to nitrogen ratio and are easy for microbes to break down. Brown organic materials such as sawdust, fine wood chips, straw, and dry leaves have a high carbon to nitrogen ratio and are a problem for microbes to break down. The ideal compost will be a mix of both green and brown types in a ratio of two parts brown to one part green. This will ensure that the microbes have enough food (carbon) and nitrogen to help them decompose it.
The fourth step is aeration. The “bugs” or bacteria in compost have to have oxygen for healthy decomposition. You have to turn or stir piles every week, or at least every two weeks, to insure adequate aeration, and to fold outside edges of piles into the mix. Done right, compost can be ready in two to four months. If not turned, compost can take 6 months to 2 years to decompose.
On to step five… keep the pile moist. Just as microbes in the compost need air to breathe, they also need water to “drink”. Your potential soil is too wet if water can be squeezed out of a handful and too dry if it doesn’t feel moist to the touch. If the compost pile is too dry, decomposition slows down. Too wet and air movement is restricted in the pile. Heat and evaporation will dry out the pile, so it needs to be kept just moist – not hard to do if there is a hose nearby.
In step six you want to keep the internal temperature of the compost at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
The final and seventh step is to cure your compost. At this point you should have a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling, warm, moist compost. It will still need a little time to gas off and to decompose a little more. Let it sit for about a month and you will have an amazing soil amendment that your plant will thrive in.
Chicken Manure In Compost
Now that you know how to create your own compost, let’s talk about chicken manure as it relates to the two to one, brown to green ratio described in step three. Chicken manure is very green. It would need to be mixed as the “one” part of the two to one scenario. If you were to add chicken manure straight to your garden, you would probably burn your plants because chicken manure is very “hot”. It is very high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium compared to most manures like cattle, horse, sheep, or even deer.
The heat from chicken manure can be easily managed by proper composting.
Sharing With Neighbors
Chickens don’t lay eggs their entire lives. What they do create from day one to the end is manure. One chicken can create 8-11 pounds of manure every month. That is staggering. Something you can do to make friends and get rid of some of your copious bounty is to share your manure, or compost, with neighbors. Once they see the benefit of your garden gold, they probably won’t mind the constant crowing of your rooster.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning how to make your own compost in this article. It’s really not that hard. By following some simple steps and using some easy composting methods, you will be able to grow sturdier plants, and have fuller baskets at harvest time.
Thank you, and let me know if I can be of any help.