Composting with Chickens

eggs-and-chickens-067It’s time to clean out the chicken coop. All summer my little flock has been happily picking weed and grass seeds out of the straw I spread in their coop last spring. At the same time, they’ve broken down the big pieces of grass stem into finer shreds. And, best of all, they’re balanced all that carbon with some nice, hot chicken manure.

Now that the weather has cooled a bit, I’m willing to venture out to the coop with a rake, scoop, and wheelbarrow. All that compostable material is heading for my veggie garden.

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Take the Test!

The sun is shining, the lawn is turning green, and the birds are chirping. In fact, it’s a balmy spring day. Surely there must be something you can do to start your veggie garden! As a matter of fact, there is, but it doesn’t involve a single seed.

If you’re like most gardeners, you’ve never had your soil tested. Every year you dutifully spread a layer of compost and/or manure over your garden, dig it in, and plant. After all, that’s what every book, article, and website tells you to do. You might even add some fertilizer, just to be on the safe side. But if you’ve never had a soil test, you’re flying blind.

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Digging Up Dirt

shoveling-manure-home-plh-sI keep talking about dirt. That is, I seem to have a soil fixation. Perhaps that’s because gardens begin with the soil. Properly prepared soil produces healthier plants, reducing the need for chemical sprays and fertilizer, and making more efficient use of water. Last May I discussed what soil is, and how to amend it. Today I want to expound a bit on the various types of amendments. I’ll also repeat myself a bit. That sort of thing happens as one gets older.

While living along the Front Range has many benefits, our soils are really pretty pitiful. Unless you are content growing a limited number of native plants adapted to this area, you’re going to have to improve on nature. What’s an environmentally responsible gardener to do?

In new plantings, it is worth spending a little time and money for a soil test. Knowing what your soil has, and what it lacks, helps you avoid many time-consuming and expensive mistakes. Follow the test result directions to maximize fertility and soil health. There are natural materials available to raise your levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous.

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Improving Your Soil

Soil is the foundation of your garden. It pays to invest in creating the best possible soil for your plants to grow in. Living along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains has many benefits. However, no one would move here for the black topsoil! Instead of the optimal 5% humus content, most of our soils have little or none. It’s up to us to improve on Mother Nature.

shoveling-manure-home-plhYou can easily increase the percentage of organic matter in your soil by adding compost or another organic amendment. This added humus will act as a sponge, increasing water retention in sandy soils. On the other hand, in clay it acts to improve drainage by increasing the size of air and water spaces. Plus, organic matter works with your fertilizer by holding nutrients in a form that is available for absorption by roots. As you can see, organic matter is an important component of healthy soil.

It’s best not to add too much organic material at once. Many organic amendments are based on manure, and could contain harmful amounts of salt, as well as weed seeds. Plus, the nitrogen in fresh manure can burn tender roots. Make sure to let manures age before adding them to your garden. Decomposition requires nitrogen. Any form of organic matter that isn’t completely decomposed will steal that essential element from your plants.

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