02 June 2009

From Coop Poop to Compost

When we muck out the barns in the spring, after a winter of layering bedding, we have a mixture of well composted manure on the bottom and fresh uncomposted manure on top. The fresh layer gets scraped off and moved into one pile, and the composted manure to another. We use the composted manure for top-dressing or working into fine seed beds. But we use the fresher manure in transplanting beds, after speeding up the decomposition process.

Fresh Chicken Manure and Bedding
This compost was at the bottom, and very rich. It is from last summer when we bedded the chicks with Poplar sawdust. It is well rotted and can be used as top-dressing, or worked into carrot, lettuce, herb, or other small seed beds. We moved it directly to the seed beds, if it is not going to be used right away, it should be covered to prevent leeching of nutrients.
This is some of the medium aged compost. The bedding was leftover wheat and rye straw from their shocks of winter grain, after they peck out all the seed heads, so it breaks down slowly.

To break down the straw compost, we begin by spreading the pile into a foot thick windrow, and tilling it a few times. This is best done when the pile is somewhat moist. Do this as early in the season as you can, and till it once a week until it begins to look like compost. If there is a lot of straw in the compost, it will naturally shed rain, minimizing leeching. But when the straw breaks down, that's when it needs to be moved onto the bed (or covered), so that the nutrients will be captured by the soil.

At least a week before you are ready to transplant, spread the compost onto the bed. This is going to be a Tomato bed, so we spread the chicken-manure-and-straw compost 2-3 inches thick. Till the compost in the soil right away, again this is done best when the soil and compost are moist, but just ready to work. Let the bed sit for a week, the worms and bacteria will continue to break down the compost, and any "hot" spots will have a chance to mellow. If the compost incorporates into the soil, as in the picture above, after a week, you are ready to plant.


hickchick said...

Good practical advise-i can picture how it actually works, instead of it being an abstract idea. I guess I am a 'gotta see it to belive it' type learner. kris

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

kris, the pictures really help. I'm a hands-on learner too, so I usually don't believe it til I do it. But a tutorial with good pictures goes a long way.