Composting horse manure

Here’s a picture of our garden stitched form pictures this evening

It’s been a good season. Better than last year; Robie and I are learning a lot. Most folks I know that have a garden have noticed that the season’s been less productive than we’d like, but we’re pleased with the success we have had and what we’ve learned.

On my drive home, I pass by a horse ranch Abbey Creek Stables. Although it’s not there anymore, they used to have a sign at the entrance “Free manure. We load”. Since you can never have enough compost and because I like the word “free”, I went and got some. Two loads actually for a total of about two cubic yards.

Composting is one of those things that sounds more complicated when you read about it than it actually is. Websites and books talk about cabon/nitrogen ratios and all that. Some refer to it as browns/greens. I’ve generally found that what I’ve got is what I’ve got. If I have too much green, like from cutting the grass, I can’t just conjur up some leaves to balance it out. Whatever I have is what ends up in my compost bins.

Having said that, horse manure actually has an optimal ratio. The manure I got is a nice mix of what looks to be sawdust and manure. Good even texture. It heated up pretty quickly. Since I was thinking about composting at the time, I did a bit of reading. One site I came across talked about a simple way of aerating the pile with perforated pipes. This is actually mentioned in a bunch of places, but the key is that the microbes that process compost need oxygen. Most sources advocate turning the compost pile, but that’s a lot of work.

So I got a couple lengths of 1″ pvc and drilled a bunch of holes. I also had a couple lengths of ABS. I went to Harbor Freight and got some thermometers to track what the pile is doing and now I have two of them in the manure pile. The one in the center quickly climbed outside the working range of the thermometers (159 deg) and it stayed there for about two weeks. The other one is in the corner and hung out at around 140 deg. The active composting temp range that I’ve come across in a couple places is about 110-160 deg. Today, three weeks after I got the second load of manure, the center is at 140 deg and the corner is 120. I’m curious to see how it’ll look when things cool off and I dig around in there.

The manure is under the blue tarp. The other pipes are normal compost. One thing I am a little concerned about is an ariticle I just read in mother earth news about some herbicides surviving through horses’ digestive systems.

If it all works out, I’ll probably get a bunch more loads of the stuff.

Oh, and it doesn’t stink at all.

Miles’s tips on gardening

I can’t say I’m the most masterful of gardeners, but I do have some specific thoughts on the matter that have made life easier for me. The other day, my friend Jacob asked why I use raised beds, so I figure I can answer his question and more.

Here’s our garden as it is today

Why raised beds?

  1. they warm up quicker in the spring. That are somewhat separated from the large heatsink that is the earth.
  2. they discourage you stepping in them. If you have garden rows, it’s easy step where you’re not supposed to
  3. guaranteed drainage.
  4. easier to work. I sit on the edges.
  5. easier to maintain a border between paths and growing area.
  6. you have something to attach PVC pipe to for cold-frame plastic, bird netting, or shade cloth

Other thoughts

  1. wood chips are your friend. (you can see a pile of them in front of my pickup.)
    1. a thick layer around your garden beds are great for preventing weeds. I have a 3 or 4 inche thick layer.
    2. get them for free from local tree trimming companies. They can pay the dump or a composting place to get rid of their chips, or they can dump them in your driveway. They don’t have to pay for disposal and you get free chips. We’re on our third load this year, each is about 5 yards.
  2. Lime is your friend. I don’t know if this is specific to the northwest, but my friend Markus once suggested spreading lime on my lawn to green it up. He studied botany and gave me an explanation, most of which I don’t remember. What I do remember is that the rain that we get here leeches away much of the mineral content of the soil. Anyway, I dumped a bunch of the stuff on my lawn and I definitely see a difference. much greener.
  3. recommended reading:
    1. Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long This book is about how to extend your growing season throug the use of cold frames and heartier plants. There are lots of bienniels that want to grow to the second year to go to seed. carrots, beets. Many greens do just fine in the cold. Lettuce won’t wilt if it’s still in the ground.
    2. This article If you have a piece of grass that you want to convert to flowers or garden, do you really need to dig up the grass? Just put down newspaper and dump compost on top of that. By the time the newspaper dissintegrates, the grass will be dead. Less work and better for the soil. digging damages a lot of the stupp that lives beneath the surface of the soil.
    3. I enjoyed Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture Permaculture should be renamed: Gardening for Lazy People. Don’t fight weeds, bugs and such. They will win. Setup the proper conditions for the plants you want and nature will maintain it for you.
    4. Not directly gardening, but food related is the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals I recommend this book to anyone above all other books. Most books that talk about where food comes from here in America are depressing to read. This covers the same topics and gives the same information but then goes on to offer practical alternatives and things to be aware of. If you take one recommendation from me, this is it. We all eat. We should all know more about where it comes from than we do.
    5. As a corralary to the Omnivore book, there’s the book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front This one is a bit more depressing, but I enjoyed reading it.

That’s all I have to say about that.