If you are just getting started on your farming or gardening journey, you know the importance of providing sufficient nourishment to your soil – and you also know how there are SO many different ways that yo can do it! Whilst we cannot tell you which method YOU should use (because this depends on several factors, such as: location, current soil quality, resource availability, field access, etc), we can share with you the methods that we implement on our farm. Hopefully this can provide some inspiration and get those gears moving on how you can nourish your own soil through the beauty of composting!
Please keep in mind that these methods we utilize are due to the availability of resources we have, field accessibility, and what we find to be the most efficient means of utilizing compost with our field sizes, production quantities, and time limitations. If you are gardening as a hobby, and have a small plot of land these methods may not be the most ideal methods of composting, however, there may still be valuable information and ideas that can inspire more efficient ways for you to utilize compost in your garden. If you are working on a slightly larger scale, these methods we have found to be very efficient to save us time in the field, utilize resources to their fullest, and provide all of our fertilization needs.
If you are looking for compost inspiration for your small garden, HERE is a great article to support you.
Composting Through our Animals
One of the main ways we get our compost is through our animals! Whenever we have scraps on the farm we give it right to our animals. Additionally, they are constantly grazing on fresh grasses, weeds, insects, etc. This combined leads to some very nourishing compost! On our farm in particular we use the manure from our:
Donkey – We keep a donkey on one plot of land where he continues to graze, and receives the scraps and some treats right from the field he is on. Donkey manure is great for plants as it is high in essential nutrients for your soil: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as minerals: magnesium and calcium.
Hens – Hens love to eat almost anything and everything! (do take some time to learn about the things they don’t love though). We keep our hens in a large, fenced area where they have the opportunity to eat all sorts. We let them poo as they are, and add a layer of hay when we see it adding up. As the hens scratch, peck, run, and poop some more, this mixes the contents beneath them and creates a nourishing compost that we muck out later on. This manure also contains the important soil nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The combination of broken down manure and hay also provides organic material that aids the soil in aeration and drainage. Do note that chicken manure is very potent and needs time to be aged to ensure it doesn’t burn the roots of your crops, or add harmful bacteria to your soil. Another note to keep in mind is that chicken manure raises the pH of your soil, therefore, you may not want to use it for crops that are ericaceous.
Sheep – I would say that the bulk of the manure that we use on the farm is from the sheep. When so much goes in, it needs to come back out. Sheep manure is suitable for all crop types, and adds richness to soil to that can aid in making it more crumbly. It is also very high in phosphorus and potassium, which helps to establish strong roots, and can act as a natural pest repellant. However, note that sheep manure releases nutrients slowly, so this is one you want to use consistently and early on, not if you are in urgent need for a nutrient boost. Let this age well into a compost, and feed your hungry plants 🙂
Rabbits – Rabbit manure, in our opinion, is one of the best that you can get for your garden. It is packed with nitrogen , phosphorus and potassium, the main three needed for plant growth. However, it also contains a variety of trace minerals such as: boron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, cobalt, sulfur, and copper. These nutrients support soil health and microorganisms, as well as attract earth worms, which provide further nutrition and aeration to your soil. This manure is also considered a ‘cold’ manure, which means you don’t need to let it age and compost before putting it straight in your garden. If you don’t want to use it straight on your plants though, it still makes a great addition to your compost pile, to further boost nutrients.
Depending on our time restraints, what is needed in the fields, what stage of growth the plants are at, and what resources we have, we may use the compost directly spread in the fields and lightly tilled, we may plant it directly when planting our plants so that the nutrition goes directly where it needs to, or we may put it in our fertigation system, which will be expanded on in the last section of this post.
The next resource we love to use in our fields is mushroom compost. Though we don’t tend to use it often at the moment due to limited access with a truck into the fields, if you are able to have vehicle access we highly recommend this method.
We use mushroom compost by first digging a shallow drill, layering cardboard on top for additional weed suppression, and pile on the mushroom. If possible, give it some time to break down so that it can cool down, otherwise your plants roots may get burnt if you plant directly into it. You can see in more detail how we make these beds HERE.
There is a lot of waste in the mushroom industry – once the mushrooms grown the soil has to br thrown away as it has become void of the nutrients required for mushroom growing. However, it still contains lots of lovely nutrients that other plants in the garden can use! So one resource that becomes useless to one, becomes gold to us 🙂 Get in touch with a local mushroom farmer and you can probably get your hands on some for free. However, as previously stated, we use this for large drills in the field and therefore need it by the truckload, which can be problematic due to field access. However, this can also be used on a small scale in gardens if desired.
Mushroom compost is especially useful if you are trying to amend your soil, for example if its very compact or clay like. This is a great source of organic material to add slow release nutrition, increase water capacity, microbial activity, and aeration. However, please note that this compost is not suitable for all scenarios. This type of compost has high soluble salt levels and alkalinity which makes it difficult to germinate seeds, burn young seedlings, and damage plants that may be sensitive to salt. Therefore, it is suggested to use this as a means of amending soil structure, and with mature seedlings only.
This, very simply, is utilizing the weeds that we pull in the fields to add further nutrients into the soil. This is as simple as, when we pull the weeds with our hands from between the plants, we put them right back on the soil between the plants to break down and add their nutrition. It is important though to known which weeds you are working with. For example, you want to make sure you aren’t throwing weeds back into the soil that can re-catch with the roots and regrow – for example, Bermuda grass. Therefore, this is a very simple way to ‘compost’ directly in your fields, so long as you know about the weeds you are pulling.
Fertigation is a means of fertilizing your plants through your watering system. We add the animal manure, green manure or ‘weeds’ into a large tank of water and use systems that allow the water to be then be filter and sent through the pipes so that the exact amount of nutrition is reaching its exact place. This is a method we use every 2-4 waterings to ensure that the plants in our fields are getting a consistent dosing of the required nutrition in order to thrive. It takes some mental and physical work to set up, as the set up is going to be specific to your fields size, shape, and layout, but once its up it is a very simple and efficient way of utilizing compost to fertilize your land.
There are so many different means and way to compost, and to utilize it for our plants. These are just a few examples of the primary ways we compost and fertilize our land in a way that works for us 🙂