Unfinished Compost on my Vegetable Garden

compulsivegrower(8)February 12, 2013

Hello fellow gardeners! This is my first post on this website and I need your help ! I have a garden about 3000 square ft and this is my first season on this soil.
The landowner operates a pasture raised poultry farm and has a few horses. He also has a static compost pile about 12 feet high probably 30 ft long and 8 feet wide. In the pile is sawdust and chicken manure from the baby chicks before they are old enough to be in the pasture, horse manure with wood shavings, chicken morts ( dead chickens that apparently decompose in the middle of the pile within a few days ) and kitchen scraps and grass clippings. There are probably more ingredients added to the compost pile but this is all I know.
Now the problem is since it is a static pile it does not get turned. The heat in the middle is obviously hot but the rest of the pile is not. On Jan 19 he spread about 3-4 inches of this compost on the garden space. Looking at it you can see that it was unfinished compost that was spread as you can identify parent materials and it smells.
So my questions are
1) will this continue to decompose in the next few months and rob my plants of available nitrogen and nutrients if I plant directly into it or put in transplants ?
2) should I till it in or try and take it off ? ( seems like it would take days to do)
3) if I leave it on there how long will it take to cure once tilled into the soil ?
4) how long do I need to wait to do an accurate soil test ? Will the uncured compost effect the reading ?

If anyone can answer one or more questions please help !
I find it really hard to find info on my specific case

Thank you !!!!

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1. Yes and maybe. Whether this might tie up available Nitrogen depends on your soil, although seldom does material likes this applied to the soil surface cause an N deficiency in the soil.
2. Leave it. This will, eventually, improve your soil if left in place. Removing it will do nothing except create extra work for you. If you do till it in that material may create Nitrogen problems until the soil bacteria finish digesting it.
3. That depends. What was the soil like before this was laid on? If you had an active Soil Food Web before you may well see this being worked into the soil in 6 months. If your soil lacked adequate levels of organic matter and did not have an active SFW it could well be much longer.
4. That depends on how you sample. If you want to know about the soil under this compost scrape as much of the compost away from the soil before you take the sample and use a trowel that has not touched the compost.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 6:31AM
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I think you should shake his hand and offer to give him half the tomatoes you grow! That stuff looks awesome!

But if you do decide to remove it, box it up and mail it to me! :-)

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 9:38AM
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I would walk over the plot and sort out the beaks and feet. ;-) Probably no harm this far ahead - manure can be spread in the fall and grown in by the Spring in most places. If it stinks, I really wouldn't want it on my land if it was put down at planting time.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 12:25PM
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It looks very mucky right now.

At this point...unless you want to scrape and re-compost the pile yourself...your most labor-easy method might be to just let the top dry, break/stir the surface applied material, let the top dry, repeat/etc.

Rainfall might slow this down a bit (and hopefully runoff isn't an issue), but getting as much surface area exposed/dried as possible will hasten it's ideal use and get rid of the "smell."

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 3:46PM
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Thank you for your responses so far.
So it seems like what I'm getting from your responses is to basically leave it on there as it will breakdown and eventually improve the soil quality and structure.
My concern/focus now is that I most definitely will be direct seeding and transplanting into this soil ( once I turn this compost in and create beds ) by April...May at the latest. So if I am in a position where the compost is still being broken down & digested in the soil I most likely going to have problems with my plants being Nitogen deficient .....what can I do improve this situation ? My garden is a Market Garden and I will be selling my produce.
1) is there am amendment I can do between now and April/May to speed up the decomposition ?
2) once my plants are in and I'm noticing signs of N deficiency is there anything I can do ?

Thanks Again !!!!!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 6:03PM
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lonmower(zone8 Western Oregon)

First...I looked up Abbotsford and you are in the same relative weather area as I am here in Western Oregon. In the interest of full disclosure I have ONLY been gardening for 8 years and I am giving my opinions based on that experience, reading and NOT scientific evidence.

How long have you been gardening? It looks like from the photo you will be having to deal with the grasses that border the compost. Was the compost spread over dormant grasses? How long has this been fallow?

Here is my advice. In the next couple of weeks we should have a "drying period." Watch the forecast, and at the end of that time work this into the soil. If it is on top of grasses, I would just disk it in. I think if it is on sod, it would be difficult to till and might just spread the grasses. If there is no sod...go ahead and deep till it in and plan to till it a couple of more times before planting (weather permitting). To me, you are one year away form effective gardening on this. Mother Nature will not be rushed, but rather loves smooth steady attention

Good Luck

PS. Go to your GW profile and update your location and zone and then it will appear in future posts (that is essential to get quality responses)

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 7:13PM
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I'd till that in (or fork it in, in my case) and call myself very, very lucky.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 8:24PM
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It might be technically "unfinished," but I have horses and compost their manure and bedding and I think it looks fabulous. I would be very surprised it you have problems with it as I've tilled in less finished stuff than that into a new garden and had great results the first year.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 5:24PM
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prachi(6b (NJ))

I tend to compost in my garden on a portion that is "resting" that being said last year I found myself gardening on portions that weren't completely composted but nearly there. I just spread some blood meal around... this way there is another nitrogen source aside from yours seeds/plants. It worked from my watermelon, garlic, radishes, parsley carrots... broccoli didn't grow but that was due to cabbage worms not really the soil.

Also you could buy a bag of finished compost from a garden store and dig a shallow trench where you are going to plant your seeds. Then put down a layer or two of finished compost then your seeds then another appropriate sized later of finished compost on top of it. (This is something that Pat Lanza suggests in her Lassagna garden book.. which is basically growing in mulch similar to Ruth Stouts No work garden). If you are planting transplants then dig the hole for the transplant and use the finished compost to refill the hole once your transplants is in there.

I wouldn't scrape it back... good chance that a few weeks in the hot sun and the compost will be done.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 4:59PM
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I agree with annpat.

First get on your knees and give thanks for that win fall. Second stake out your area. Third level the manure on your garden spot so you have equal distrobution and then till (mix) it in to about 12". let it sit and get rained on and decompose and then just before planting give it another quick tilling to loosen the soil. You will have a great garden. Then every fall when youre about to put your garden to bed add another 4-6 inches of the finished compost till it in. Dont worry about N youll have lots and if you think youll need more pull out a 20$ bill and throw on some 10-10-10.

post a pic after planting and then again in July, you have a great opportunity.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:30PM
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Tilling unfinished compost into the soil will, definitly, cause a temporary tie up of Nitrogen as the soil bacteria concentrate their efforts on digesting that material. How long that might be depends on how raw the material is as well as how active the Soil Food Web is in your soil.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 6:25AM
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Once again thank you all for your responses.
I have been getting some mixed responses where some of you are saying its fine and dandy and I'm lucky, others who say I most definitely will have trouble with the nitrogen available to my plants.
I went out to take a closer look at the compost the other day and noticed that the moorts ( dead chickens ) that had been thrown into the pile have left behind some clumps of feathers and lots of bone. The horse manure and poultry manure still has a faint smell to it and there are large clumps of wood shavings ....... And there is approx 8 inches of this mix on top of soil
I've moved on from worrying about this partially decomposed compost tying up the nitrogen while it continues to compost in the soil, to worrying whether or not this mix is safe for me to grow leafy greens and root veg and sell to the public ( market garden ). I am concerned if there are potential pathogens or other bad stuff

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 6:51PM
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