Compost/Fertilizer plans for next spring

csross(9)December 14, 2013

I'm trying to plan out my compost / fertilizer additions for next year, so here's some background. I'm in Southern California, zone 8-9. Last spring was my first time gardening, so I built a 6x4 raised bed and filled it with a "planting mix" from a local nursery. They put a scoop in the back of my pickup, so I don't know what exactly was in it, but there's a lot of fine bark/wood chips, compost, some sand, loamy soil, etc. It's pretty fast-draining, and seems low in non-woody organic matter. I have a compost pile going, but it's not finished yet (I put a lot of dead ornamental grasses in, and they haven't completely decomposed yet. Since it's my first time with compost as well, I have no idea when it'll be finished and usable.) I have broccoli and greens growing in the garden now, which hopefully will continue through the winter. Then, I want to start planting tomatoes, basil, etc. in March.
So I'm thinking about adding a bag of chicken or steer manure from Home Depot as fertilizer. Should that simply be spread on top the existing soil? I don't want to dig around too much because I currently have plants there, but I want it in the ground in time for my tomatoes in mid-late March. My other idea (and the main question this rambling post is asking) is to buy the manure now and throw it in my compost pile for a month or two. I figure this would both help finish decomposition in my compost pile, as well as making sure the manure is well-aged before I put it in my garden. Then I could add the compost/manure mix in spring. However, would this defeat the purpose of adding manure, because it would start breaking down in the compost pile and not my garden?
Thanks very much!

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

The only way for you to know what that soil nees is by having a good reliable soil test done for the soils pH and major nutrient levels. Finished compost is almost always a desirable addition, providing it does not increase the amount of organic matter too much.
These simple soils tests may be of some help as well.
1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2013 at 7:19AM
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lazy_gardens

"So I'm thinking about adding a bag of chicken or steer manure from Home Depot as fertilizer. Should that simply be spread on top the existing soil?"

Probably not. The crap (literally and figuratively) sold bagged in large stores is high in salts and low in quality.

If you are concerned about specific nutrients, the surest way to get thm into the dirt is to buy a bag of real fertilizer and scatter it on the bed. Rake it in lightly and you are done.

You can sift out the un-finished bits of compost, toss them in the next pile as starter material and use the good stuff now. My bins are never "Finished" because I am a no-turn, pile it and forget it composter but about 1/2 to 2/3 of it can be sifted out and used after the bin settles.

You want the dark "filling" of the muffin. The lighter dry bits around the edges get tossed into the next bin, unless I want compost that is less decomposed.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cheap compost sifter

    Bookmark   December 14, 2013 at 7:40AM
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csross(9)

Thanks for the replies. IâÂÂm living at a rental house and may not be here more than another year, so I donâÂÂt want to sink too much money into this project, which is why I was thinking about the cheap manure.

Lazygardens, if I put the bagged manure into my compost pile for a month, would the salts leach out? You said to buy some âÂÂreal fertilizerâ - do you have any suggestions for something cheap but effective? Also, when is the best time to apply it?

Another reason I want to increase my organic matter is that I want the soil to hold on to moisture longer. Will manure help with that, or is compost better? Is there any way to know what bagged compost / manure is best?
Thanks.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2013 at 11:31AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Vegetative waste, ie compost, is better then animal manure to improve the moisture holding ability of any soil.
While many people think of "salt" as the Sodium Chloride we use on our food it is a very general term describing anything with chloride in its name and may not be anything inherently bad. The Potassium, Potassium Chloride, in manure is a salt and would not be considered a bad thing.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 7:03AM
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lazy_gardens

Unless you see signs of a definite need for it, like pale leaves and stunted growth, don't waste money fertilizing. Certain plants are what are called "heavy feeders" and are more likely to need fertilizing than others. Tomatoes are probably the most common one.

"Real fertilizer" - that's the chemical stuff that is sold in bags. My favorite is ammonium nitrate because it's almost all nitrogen (the one thing my soil can be really short on). If the dirt were short of phosphates, I'd use ammonium phosphate.

I use about 1/4 the recommended amount because ... just because I found it works for this garden area.

I know, from local soil maps, that we have alkaline dirt around here. I add "soil sulfur" liberally to vegetable and lawn areas every few years so it will slowly lower the pH a bit and free up the minerals ... but It's been about three years since any of the beds needed any fertilizing. I think the compost applications finally caught up.

If the plants are green and growing, all they need is water. The best materials to hold moisture is not manure, it's plant-based stuff like shredded leaves.

Rabbit manure, because they have such poor digestive systems, can be used straight on the beds.

Also, mulching your bed thickly with wood chips, straw or something - whatever is cheap or free - will help maintain moisture levels.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 10:02AM
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TheMasterGardener1(5B)

Posted by lazygardens PhxAZ%3A Sunset 13 (My Page) on Sun, Dec 15, 13 at 10:02
"Unless you see signs of a definite need for it, like pale leaves and stunted growth, don't waste money fertilizing."

That said it all. The cheapest thing you can do is nothing. Plants will thrive still I bet. If you get some yellowing leaves some liquid fertilizer is there to save the day and is like 5 bucks and lasts forever.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 12:02AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Most bagged so-called cow manures are mostly compost with little REAL manure in them . So I would not worry about having over fertilizing with them. I consider them a good soil amendments. Home Depot sell this "Steer Manure" for about $1.30 per bag/cu.ft. I use quite a bit of it. It is cheaper than regular bagged soil but is has some fertilizer and compost. I mix it in about 50/50 in the holes of tomatoes at the planting time. Right now, I would sprinkle some granular inexpensive fertilizers(10-10-10 or any 1-1-1 ratio) and rake it in and let it get absorbed. For a 4' by 6' bed about 3 to 4 cups should be enough(read the label).

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 5:42AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Most, if not all, of the bagged manure sold by garden centers comes from the Confined Animal Feeding Operations, also known as slaughter houses, those places that "finish" livestock for butchering. The manure they produce while waiting slaughter is collected, dried, bagged and then sold, and may contain some of the soil from the pens these animals are held in.
Since these animals are given fairly large doses of antibiotics, to prevent diseases common to overcrowded conditions and also to help these animals gain weight faster, that manure probably has enough to allow any disease pathogens to develop immunities to them.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 7:35AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

OK, let me get this straight. The OP asked whether to add bagged manure compost to the garden or the compost pile, and got the following answers:

Don't bother with compost, use fertilizer.
You have to get a soil test before adding a bag of compost to your garden.
This kind of compost will harm your plants, it's too salty.
This kind of compost is mostly other stuff than what it says on the bag [which is the salty stuff].
This kind of compost will give you horrendous diseases.

Come on guys. There may be a grain of truth to some or even all of these, but it's a bag of compost on a tomato bed. What harm can it really do? Sheesh.

This post was edited by toxcrusadr on Tue, Dec 17, 13 at 15:27

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 11:33AM
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TheMasterGardener1(5B)

tox

You forgot mine- "Do nothing" ;)

If it aint broke, don't fix it.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 7:50PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Right on Tox! Everything in moderation (except wine! ;))
I've used all of everything, but have backed off to home made compost and hoping for a neighbor's rabbit leavings in the near future (In bulk , I hope!)
I just love the process of composting and gardening! Nancy

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 2:30AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

"This kind of compost will give you horrendous diseases"
Taken totally out of context. You can do better, Tox.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 7:42AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Hyperbole, perhaps, but I assumed you were implying a disease risk, otherwise why bring up antibiotics and pathogen immunity?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 3:30PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Cripes! Why the arguments?
I'm going to use my compost mixed with the neighbor's rabbit pooh!
I should have a GREAT crop! Nancy

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 1:09AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Ok. I would rather use my own horse manure, my own cow manure, ..my own compost. BUT then I do not have any of those. What shall I do ?
I tell you what I'll do. Buy bagged composted cow manure, synthetic fertilizer ( as I find the prices of the so-called organic fertilizers out of my roof). I hope my tomatoes will forgive me for that. LOL.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 5:10AM
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TheMasterGardener1(5B)

"I hope my tomatoes will forgive me for that."

I grew pounds and pounds of peppers with miracle gro one year, the all purpose(about $2 worth). The harvest was like 55 lb of jalapenos and a few lb of cherry and cayenne. I now only grow leaf greens like chard, lettuce, basil,ect because they are the only thing worth growing as peppers cost nothing in the store and I eat salad every day.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 11:40AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

I bring up the point about antibiotics in animal manures because that can allow disease pathogens to build immunities to them. That is one of the reasons the FDA is requiring manufacturers to prove the effectiveness of the antibacterial soaps they sell.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 11:46AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

I am quite familiar with that concept, and in fact we probably agree on many points on the subject. I just think it's not germane to the OP's simple question.

MasterGardener, I wish I could shop at your grocery stores. The days of bell peppers at 4/$1 are long gone, even in the summer, around here, and they're a buck or two apiece in winter. I freeze them in the summer when I have too many, because I can't afford them!

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 1:24PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I am wondering if all the concoctions are mixed in with much real soil. I wouldn't want just some light stuff piled on top. Maybe some people do....I don't. I like a deep base of action.
Since I am removing nutrients, I give back some besides compost and such.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 3:21PM
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TheMasterGardener1(5B)

Posted by toxcrusadr 5 (My Page) on Wed, Dec 18, 13 at 13:24

"MasterGardener, I wish I could shop at your grocery stores. The days of bell peppers at 4/$1 are long gone, even in the summer, around here, and they're a buck or two apiece in winter. I freeze them in the summer when I have too many, because I can't afford them!"

I guess I meant jalapenos being no one can really eat too many anyway!

You know, your making me think about growing bell peppers next year and freezing them as well, just like I do with my jalapenos. I know the bells will get used up way quicker than jalapenos.

Bells are a dollar a piece here.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 7:44PM
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