Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From The Corrals To The Garden

From squash pudding and apple pie with home-made ice cream to our topic for today- horse, chicken and goat poop. Well, you can't say this blog isn't diversified. Let's just say we're starting at the beginning, before the squash and apple appeared to the soil they grow in.
This pickup load is a thank you to all the microorganisms that inhabit my soil. The wood shavings is from the goat shed and the chicken manure with some alfalfa hay mixed in is from the chicken coop. It is a perfect combination as wood shavings open up the soil allowing air and water flow along with lowering the Ph making the soil more acidic. The draw back is wood shavings bind up nitrogen because the microorganisms consumes lots of nitrogen to break it down. That's where the chicken poop comes in. It is very high in nitrogen and releases this nitrogen more quickly than cow or horse manure. Hence, a wonderful match. Chicken manure for the delayed nitrogen to the plants and the addition of goat manure for a later nitrogen boost.

Like I said in A Complicated Story Made Simple blog, "If you feed them they will come" in reference to the microorganisms. (I have to apologize for those who read the blog earlier in the day because it wasn't a simple story at all but I went through and completely rewrote it so you might want to browse through it once more.) I want as many of these good guy organisms working for me as possible because they are the garden plant's doctors, chemists, cooks and shipping department that delivers their food. In turn some of the bacteria will take a small amount of sugar and starch from the plant's roots to feed themselves. But in return they allow you to weed less, water less, fight fewer pests and harvest far more from your garden than you would if these good guy bacteria were not present in large numbers. Disease and pests are like carnivores, they seek out and feed off of the weak and these good guys keep them at bay.

When I was in Junior High one student did a science fair project with plants and there reaction to different music. During this lecture she talked about how some plants actually emit sounds to call armies of helpful insects to come to their rescue to devour the bugs that were eating them. Others secreted nasty tasting liquids through their systems. Couple this with the antibiotics that the microorganism docs give to plants and nutrients that they feed the plants to boost their immune systems and plants will pretty well take care of themselves if you will just feed the good guy bacteria.

We talked about earlier that my native garden soil is solid clay. That means when you water, the soil holds the moisture, too much, too long and it drowns the plant's roots along with these microorganism. That's where the wood shavings and manure comes in. They help lower the Ph of the soil and open up the clay soil so water and air can flow. If the good guys can't breathe they die and the bad bacteria takes over spreading disease since they don't need air.

I found a good visual comparison of soils, if clay is a pea, then silt would be a ping pong, and sand would be a basketball. The sand heats up nicely in the spring but nutrients and water flows away too quickly. To open up my soil I tried adding sand. The coarse kind but it bound with the clay and soon I had bricks. The kind the pioneers around here built their sod houses out of. We have deposits of clay, sand, and scoria around the county. I had even added lots of manure but in areas like the asparagus and raspberries where they are in the soil for a number of years, the manure was broken down and the clay took over. It may of not started out as a brick but one developed quickly.

That's why you have to be so careful in adding sand to soil that is dominantly clay. I've found it is best to just stay away from it unless you are adding large quantities of manure year after year.

American Vetch growing on the prairie behind our house.
Clay soil does have a tendency to hold its nutrients because of its tight structure. This is evident as on the prairie behind our house the American Vetch grows and this plant requires a fairy rich soil. Our PH is way to alkaline though which is typical in a dry climate like Wyoming's and this slams the door shut on many of the nutrients ever reaching the plants. It is apparent that we have a high PH because the
Canadian Thistle is a real pest in our lawn but since the prairie behind our house has an even higher PH it does not thrive there. When I add enough sulfur to the garden the thistle disappears. Lowering or raising your PH should be done slowly from year to year as any great change will kill the microorganisms in the soil and disrupt growth of your plants.

I had some new weeds growing in the garden last year and I regret that I didn't look them up. They would have told me what changes were going on in the garden with the PH and dominant nutrients etc.
These wood shavings and goat manure may be waste at the corrals but they are a blessing on the garden and so the recycling continues from lumber waste, to shed, to garden. I've used wood shavings just out of the bag onto the garden. Just keep in mind that the more manure or wood shavings is turned, it will break down faster. Heat and water is also a big factor in breaking down compost and that's where the goats help in that they turn the wood shavings and add manure rich nitrogen, getting a good start on the decomposing process. This year, I am going to use wood shavings out of the bag for mulch in between the crop rows in a section of the garden to see how effective it is. The garden could use more wood shavings than what the goat's supply. I've obsured that the where the garden has a little more shavings the plants do much better. I think it has to do with the raised PH and the more open soil.
Keep in mind if you want to use sawdust that it is much finer and can bind clay soil together into a brick so beware of the size of the wood particles and if you are adding it, go lightly the addition of lots of manure, leaves or whatever mulch is available. We have about zilch leaves so I can't say much about them. Just don't burn them and put them on the garden like my step-dad does. It doesn't work because it serilizes the soil and that which you are adding is a whole nother chemical combination than when you put on crunched fall leaves.
This is a load of horse manure that sat in the neighbors horse corrals and is what I will begin to unload today. It is just a little of the pile his horses King Of The Mountain. I laugh and laugh at their shinanigan and appreciate the way their trapsing up and down it breaks down the manure. I know my garden soil is frozen and this layer of manure will just seal in the cold but a lady has to do what a lady has to do to get the job done. My back is not good and since I need lots of manure this year, I'm starting now. I'd like about four of these trailer loads this year. We need to raise one end of our garden and we're adding about six feet or so of garden to one end. That requires lots of this smelly, good stuff.
In another blog I'll discuss the use of green manures and how they can lower the need for the animal type. We started using them lightly last year but this year we will begin to incorporate them in earnest. I'll share with you our plans as they develop.

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