Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pragmatic composting

In my old place of residence cow poo was readily available, convenient and gave excellent results. Because of the lack of rain, when cows dropped a turd, that turd dried out and preserved all the goodies until it was scraped up and wetted down for making compost.

Around here in the Yarra Valley, cows poo in paddocks and the manure rapidly disintegrates through rain, insects and fungi. Good for the paddocks but not so good for the keen gardener. Some small dairy’s use straw which is mucked out , while most (it is my understanding) hose out the poo into large poo pools. Not so easy to take home in a trailer. I have tried horse poo, which is readily available here, but by the time I got hold of it, it was somewhat aged and had lost some of the goodies that are needed for composting. Without composting weed seeds are not killed and I am not all that keen to introduce new weeds to the property.

I could perhaps persevere with horse poo and try to source it from a place where I can obtain it quite fresh, but I only have so much time in a day to find this source.

So what have I done to make my compost here?

Well – chook poo. From a large and intensive chicken growing farm. I am told this is not so good because of possible hormones, antibiotics and food additives, but I also know that composting destroys a lot of these things. So although it is not altogether the most desirable source of composting material- I am being pragmatic. I do need to grow vegies to feed the family now, and as there is neither ready made compost on offer (which is not also made from the same chook poo) or readily available composting material from other sources, this is the decision I have arrived at.

Over time I should be able to source more and more of my composting materials from the farm but at this stage I just need to get things moving and I need large amounts of compost to do this.

I always like to have a lot of finished compost ready and waiting for the vege garden. This lessens the likelihood that I will be tempted to skimp on how much I add to garden beds. I have discovered here that although the soil is pretty good, it definitely needs a good feed of compost to grow a productive crop of vegies.

If you have the room, a trailer load of manure is desirable, and this can be combined with other plant materials from the garden in the right ratios. I have recently purchased a garden mulcher which I have wanted to do for years. This machine reduces woody prunings (source or carbon) and branches into fine chips of a size that are perfect for composting. For chicken manure which has a high nitrogen content, this is the main material I use to mix with it – so far with good results. When you use these fine wood chips, the pile is easy to turn (because there are no big stringy bits inside) and more air is held in the heap which is desirable for aerobic composting. For instance, if you use straw it can rot quite quickly and the heap can collapse into a more compact, and more anaerobic heap which is not so good.

Thanks to help from the wwoofers I have two big heaps cooking at the moment which will make for some great growing come spring. I find that when the heaps are Winter is the perfect time to do all this compost preparation

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