Sunday, July 8, 2012

Horse Manure

“You can’t chemical your way out of soil infertility” 

We finally found a source of horse manure that is definitely free of a chemical that causes toxic compost. The owners of the property keep bees, so they never spray any chemicals, and they said they don't feed hay. We found them through our local Freecycle List. Actually, we found two sources, I mean horses:

Annie the Escape Artist
It seems strange to me that property owners are willing to give up compostable manure. In my eyes, manure is valuable, and getting rid of it, the loss of a great opportunity. If I had a couple of horses, I would be eagerly harvesting their manure and mixing it with sources of carbon. The carbon both decreases the smell and helps lock in the manure's valuable nitrogen. When the compost pile cooled off, I would use it for vermicomposting. I'd sell the red wrigglers or feed them as a source of protein to my chickens . I'd compost the chicken manure, too.

Then I would use the composted manure and the worms' castings to improve the soil in my lawn and gardens. Heck, if I had more compost than I could handle, I suppose I'd sell that, too.

All this guy wants is for us to leave the gate open...
...Back to reality. Of course, I do not have horses nor am I even allowed chickens without changes to the zoning laws in Chesapeake, Virginia. So Don and I headed off yesterday evening to a local farm. We gathered the hopefully-nontoxic manure, and then we collapsed with exhaustion. Don always seems to pick the hottest days of the year (or the muddiest) to go get horse manure.

Don working in the heat
This morning I loaded about half the manure into our ComposTumbler.  I added some weeds, some yard waste from my garden, some scraps from my kitchen, some hay and shavings mixed with manure from a local guinea-pig and rabbit rescue, and some clean, non-toxic sawdust we collected from a local woodworker, again through Freecycle. Tomorrow I will start to load up one of our other composters with the rest of the horse manure combined with more sawdust. I like the tumbler better because it composts faster. The compost is so easy to turn and aerate!

On the other hand, a regular compost pile is nice, too. It is pleasant to just compile the ingredients and then let the compost slowly break down while we go about our daily lives.

The farm also has peacocks, dogs, and a mini-pig
Composting is generally a pretty easy and forgiving process. Just put the ingredients together in an appropriate bin and let mother nature take its course. There are many composters available on the market, or you can build yourself an inexpensive 4x4x4' bin out of scrap wood and chicken wire or welded fencing.

If you are new to composting, my advice is to read up a little bit, so you know what to avoid composting, and then just start. If you want to garden but don't want to turn compost or even dig a bed, make the compost right in the garden bed using the no-till lasagna layering method. Just be sure to plan at least a season ahead. It is a great feeling to keep waste out of the landfill. It also feels great to take other people's garbage-- or sanitation problem, in the case of the horses-- and turn it into something useful and good, like flowers or vegetables. For more on toxic compost, check out this article at Mother Earth News.

Mother Nature is creative; sometimes we just need to help her along!

**Update: For an overview of different composting methods, check out this website from the University of Illinois.

Update: Hens are now legal in my backyard in Chesapeake, VA, with certain restrictions.

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