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how much compost is too much???

Posted by greendumb 7b (My Page) on
Sun, Sep 27, 09 at 13:16

I have a friend who has a rodent biz and uses aspen bedding.After the cleaning of cages he takes the old bedding to his garden,composts the aspen and adds it to his 150ftX150ft garden.He has been doing this for five years and by our estimation has added 200 tons of compost.He recently got a soil test and every thing is off the charts.except calcium and iron.This garden also sits right next to his well(30ft away)and his water is heavy w/algae.Some plants like asparagus and strawberries do good,but most all his plants are spindly and low in fruit and vegetable production.He thinks he hasn't added enough compost and is fixing to add another 80 tons"yes I said tons".What are the problems he might see by using high amounts of compost other than what I pointed out?And he also is adding 300 gallons of compost tea a month to his garden or as we localy call it "the super fund sight".I am looking forward to some real interesting feedback.Thanks


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RE: how much compost is too much???

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 27, 09 at 13:39

Most folks on this forum think of making, and using, your own compost as the right thing to do. It keeps yard and garden refuse out of the landfills, and the soil is enriched with the finished compost. We live in the city. Our compost pile is mostly browns, like shredded leaves, and sunflower stalks. We don't compost manure of any kind. The pile does not smell, and I have never heard any complaints about its odor, from anyone. Your friend is composting 40 tons of bedding per year. Does he do this in a rural area? Are there any neighbors within a mile or so? How does he decide when the compost is finished, and ready for the garden? His well water is very likely going to test out at high levels of nitrogen. There could be pathogens like E. coli, as well.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

He lives in the country but has neighbors.The land out there is in 5 and ten acre tracks.He uses a Kabota tractor to turn the compost and after it heats three or four times(aprox.@ 2 months time)he puts it in the garden.He is at the head waters of a seasonal creek and we are concerned that since the water is so shallow there(as little as 30 feet down in that area)That the down stream people might be getting contaminated.The rock formation is volcanic basalt and he thinks it will filter it out,but I try to explain to him that all filters get saturated and fill up eventually but his filter can't be changed.The local rainfall in that area os aprox.30inches a year.The smell in the first stages of composting before the 2nd heating is hoorific,but is gone after that 2nd heating.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Well, that sounds like too much compost to me! Seriously, though, you needn't worry or argue about possible contamination to neighboring well waters. Test the well water and then you'll know.

My gut reaction would be that the farmer is correct. The earth is an unimaginably huge biological filter. I myself grew up drinking spring water that was just down hill from a cattle barn. The barnyard was solid manure and urine, and just about 20 yards away and maybe ten feet down a hill was our spring house. As much as my mom freaked out they first moved there, and although naturally the barnyard run off mixed in downstream, our spring water always tested pristine.

I'd think the farmer might have the occasional rain on a fresh pile that could leach out urea/nitrogen to his own well. And I'd think it would be easy to put a bunch of incompletely composted bedding into a garden and tie up much of the nitrogen in 'finishing.' The sheer volume of a single ingredient compost replacing mineral soil would concern me as well. Mineral soil does what the name implies--provides minerals.

In the end, we can all guess and conjecture until the cows come home, or the mice come home. Test it and know for sure.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 27, 09 at 20:08

I am guessing from your original post that the facility where the rodents(lab rats?) are housed is not where the composting is done. The used bedding is being trucked to another location, where the piles are being set up and maintained. Given the volume of material being processed, here in Wisconsin, that operation would likely be classified as a CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operation. I know there are some special rules and regulations that apply to these operations, but that is not my area of expertise. There might be similar rules where you live, or, there might not.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Keep in mind that the garden is 150 ft X 150 ft. That's more than half an acre.

He applied 200 tons of compost over a period of 5 years. That amounts to about 3.5 lbs of compost per sq ft per year.

I routinely see recommendations of 1 cu yd of compost per 1000 sq ft of lawn, which gives a layer of compost about 1/3 to 14 inch thick. I've seen estimates that compost weighs about 1000 to 1600 lbs per cu yd. So that means that he has been adding about an inch of compost per year (more or less).

200 tons of compost sounds like a lot. And it would be too much on my garden. But spread out over 5 years on a garden that covers more than 1/2 an acre, it doesn't sound like all that much to me.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Whether there might be too much compost or not depends, what is the humus level, residual organic matter, in the soil now? If between 5 and 8 percent there is not too much but if much over about 10 percent it can be approaching too much.
How does that soil drain? Organic matter in clay soil can open that up so moisture drains better than if there is none and organic matter in sandy soils can aid in holding water in the root zone so plants have access to that mositure, but too much organic matter can also hold too much water in the soil and that soil then becomes water saturated and then the plants roots cannot breath or uptake nutrients or the moisture necessary to move those nutrients through the plant.
One 4 x 4 x 4 compost bin will produce 1 ton of compost.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Hello Kimmsr.He has also added 8 yards of sand from a nearby creek.When he waters his garden with a hose,the water goes straight in without even making a small splash on the ground.When it rains alot the water hits a clay pan line about 2 ft down and runs down hill and stops at the bottom and it looks like a giant oil slick and has a pungent alchohol smell.I forgot to mention his garden is slanted at a 22 degree angle.He has fruit trees that are 5-7 yrs old and not producing.I checked the varieties for him and they should have started a couple of years ago according to the variety and rootstock.A local retired agronomist suggested he not give any of his produce to infants because of the NPK levels are 11 times what they need to be.His PH is around 6.8 if that means anything.He doesn't drink his own well water because of the smell and algae,so he put a well upstream to get his water.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

"most all his plants are spindly and low in fruit and vegetable production"

Used rodent litter is very high in nitrogen. He's basically over-fertilizing them.

There is such a thing as too much rat pee and poop for a plant's health.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

One local Master Gardener told him to plant cover crops and haul them off or give them away instead of tilling them in.His compost is carbon type material but the urine ,feces and leftover grains account for the high nitrogen.The cell walls of plants contain lots of phosphorous and thats the source for that.When you put some moist soil from his garden in your hand and make a ball out of it and it dries,it is like a light weight brick.It is hard to break up, but light as a feather.what should he do to make it more friable???


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Is he composting it before putting it on, or is he simply putting the bedding on the garden?

It sounds like he's just adding the bedding and considering it compost.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

He is composting it first and says its ready before he puts it into the garden and then he tills it in and tills and tills and tills.He says the soil needs to be areated for better microbial life to establish.I know nothing about this.I have watched him till this 150X150 garden 2 hrs straight and he has done this every saturday for the last 3 months.It looks like good soil but it doesn't smell anything like soil.It kind of smells like musty wood like when you turn a wet rotting log from the woods over.He has a huge grasshopper problem and lots of flea beetles.He uses Nolo Bait,but in his opinion to no avail.I like Nolo Bait myself and have had good results,but do not have the infestation level he has.I just want him to have a good garden,but he seems frustrated that nothing is working so he does even more thinking more is better.I compost a little once a year and have consistent good crops in a 20X80 garden.Maybe he's just trying too hard in my opinion'but I'm not an expert,I just plant,tend,grow and harvest like I've always done.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Do you know how long he composts it before using it?

He'd probably be better off if he didn't till it. Aeration is needed for the microbes to create the compost, but once it's compost, that's not necessary. Many people use a no till approach and let the soil microbes and worms carry the compost into the soil.

By tilling so much, he may well be creating a hard packed layer just beneath the tiller blades (like the hard clay layer you mentioned). If he just puts the compost on top or if he lightly turns it in, he'd probably get much better results.

You also mentioned that he uses compost tea. Is he creating aerobic compost tea or is he just soaking compost (or worse, unfinished compost) in water and using that? Aerated compost tea is used to increase the microbe population. But with the amount of compost he's adding he doesn't need to do that. If he's using runoff from the compost, that's usually considered leachate and isn't considered as beneficial.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Wow. I consider no amount of compost too much, as I grow a lot of my vegetables in raised beds that are almost 99% compost. I fling in a little soil for good measure. However, I have many types of input to my compost and raised beds, mainly leaves, horse manure, weeds, and old produce of incredible variety and quantity, with a little wood ash thrown in. So the stuff growing in my almost totally compost beds are huge and very prolific.

I would say he needs a little more variety in his compost. Sounds like there isn't enough of everything for his plants. Would recommend bringing in something else to compost, maybe neighbors' grass clippings, produce leftovers from a farmers market, whatever. I think it is the variety in my compost that makes it such a great medium for vegies, flowers in pots, whatever I do with it. But mine started out full of bananas, strawberries, melons, grapes, pears, peaches, kiwi, you name it.

And stop the darn tilling! What is that about? I don't till anything. He is probably chopping up all his worms and destroying all the air and water channels that develop.

Marcia


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RE: how much compost is too much???

What ever else your friend needs to contact your county office of your state universities USDA Cooperative Extension Service about having a good, reliable soil test done to find out more about that soils pH and the nutrient load, because he does have a nutrient imbalance that is adversly affecting his plants ability to grow strong and healthy.
These simple soil tests can also be used to learn more about the soil he has,
1) Structure. 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. 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 drains 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 you 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.
and what more needs be done to make that soil into a good, healthy soil.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Thanks for all the advice guys and gals.Kimmsr,you sure gave me a lot of good things to go on and saturday I will help him do some of these things.He has had a soil test and as I mentioned before,everything was 10 to 15 times what his averager should have been.Led Zep;he has aereated his compost tea,but his compost is very one dimensional.He added horse manure in the past but killed a huge number of his worms because the horse owner used Ivermectyn and Batyl on his horses.For those of you who don't know,if a horse,goat,pig or whatever uses a dewormer on his animals it can be passed into the manure and your compost and after adding the compost to your garden it will kill the worms and some benificial bacteria.This is what a local parasitologist told us.He tills excessively in everyones opinion.I do a low till and he hates how well my garden looks and says its different in a larger scale because different rules apply to different sizes(Hog wash if you ask me)I have all sorts of plants growing in my compost like Led Zep in his raised beds.I'm thinking of doing a raised bed of my compost like Led Zep on his.My compost variety is much better than his and I have worms and grubs in my compost.We are trying to get him to do a soil test outside the garden were the original soil was,just to see what it started out as.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

greendumb -
From your description, he has mostly semi-composted rodent litter, not dirt, so naturally it compacts into something like paper mache when it dries.

You do NOT need to till for three hours a week for three months! It disrupts the plant roots and the soil insects.

The guy sounds a little obsessive.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

He is very obsessive compulsive.He was told almost exactly what you just said by a local master gardener.One thing I noticed about his transplants of squash, peppers and other transplants was that the roots would not venture out far from were they were planted.I don't know if thats a soil problem or plant problem.His entire garden was planted in May and it was a combination of direct seeding and transplants and by July he was not satisfied with the plant quality and took everything out and has started the adding of more compost and all the other actions in this thread I have mentioned.It seems unanimous that he 1)needs to stop adding compost and let the compost become soil usable. 2)Stop tilling so much. 3)Maybe listen to the experts that have the knowledge and experience. I am going to him with all this advice and then some.Lets hope reasoning and willingness to pratice the advice of experts prevail.Thank you all for the support and kindness that we all hope to recieve in any forum.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

I doubt if he's going to listen to anything you say (or we say) and will continue to do just what he's been doing. If he won't listen to a Master Gardener....?? I don't think he wants help; he wants to keep doing what he's doing, but get different results. I wouldn't waste a lot of energy trying to get him to change.

Deanna


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re: how much compost is too much???

BTW, I'm wondering if his pH might be a tad high and that's why some of the plants aren't happy.

Deanna


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RE: how much compost is too much???

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Tue, Sep 29, 09 at 22:57

I'm not sure if this thread is about gardening, or about finding a way to get rid of 40 tons of small animal litter, annually. There is no question that the material can be successfully composted. I doubt that any experienced gardener would even attempt to add this much compost to a garden plot that measures 150' by 150'.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Your right ericwi.But as a friend to him,when I see his frustration,I want to help him as a friend.Some friends take things readily and others don't.I will say he is pationate about gardening but after knowing him for 24 years I have found he requires a lot of proof and expert opinion too change his thinking and I believe that has been obtained in this thread and I believe(hope)he will yield to unbiased opinions and thoughts and if it takes a little more than most to change his thinking than I will give it an honest effort.Thanks to all that have given their thoughts and opinions and I will give it a go and hopefully have positive results to share later.


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Too much nitrogen

I have made the mistake of applying raw, unfinished compost to my garden soil. Small seeds would not germinate and transplants did not thrive until the soil got warm enough for the compost to finish.

Then, of course, the plants pretty much bolted.

If that were my garden bed, I'd apply shredded leaves to the beds and let them sit fallow for a year. Or, try just growing corn, and maybe melon transplants, in the bed. Either way, stop adding 'compost' and allow the soil to recover.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

We hope he will leave his garden alone for a while.He seems to be accepting some of the advice he's recieved from this forum and local professionals.From what I have been told,when wood shavings(aspen)are composted,it can take up to a year for it to become proper Humus or Compost.He actually didn't take a load this week up to his garden.He's going to plant winter rye and till it in at a certain stage.His tomato plants were really weird.They were super long and stringy but did produce a couple of tomatos.Another question is:If there is too much N and P will that prevent flowering???


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RE: how much compost is too much???

The reason the roots didn't spread is because he's tilling between the rows. Any root that sticks into the path of the tiller is chopped off. Any tilling after plants are in the ground should be very shallow, just for weed control.

Too much nitrogen will reduce flowering. Too much of any nutrient can make plants develop poorly.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

green dumb,
if I were you I would leave my friend alone because I think he is doing exactly what he means to do.
It doesn't appear that he is interested in growing a garden,
to me he is just finding a way to get rid of 40+ tons of waste a year without having to pay to cart it away.
Good for his business
maybe not so good for his garden.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

In a way I think your right.He was paying $250.00 a month to have it hauled away.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Idaho-gardener said, "I have made the mistake of applying raw, unfinished compost to my garden soil. Small seeds would not germinate and transplants did not thrive until the soil got warm enough for the compost to finish."

That is totally the opposite of my experience. I grow my best vegies in lasagna beds, a.k.a. raw, unfinished compost. The transplants grow incredibly well, and tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos come up from seed all over the place. Those are fairly small seeds. I have also grown lettuce very successfully in the raised beds, I know those are very tiny seeds. At the end of the year I find lots of identifiable components still hanging around (clumps of leaves, horse manure lumps, etc.) with the roots of my plants going right through them.

Marcia


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RE: how much compost is too much???

All unfinished compost is not equal. Wood shavings require large amount of nitrogen to compost over a long period of time. Wood doesn't release much in the way of plant nutrients as it composts, being an almost pure carbon source.

Leaves and horse manure are a different story, as both degrade more quickly than wood and both release plant deliciousness out the ying yang.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Thu, Oct 8, 09 at 10:04

I also wonder if the method of composting also has something to do with it. An "unfinished" hot composting system versus a cold, let it lie and rot system such as a lasange bed.

I've read numerous articles about the phytotoxins(sp?) and organic acids present in some hot composting systems to believe there is something to it. There is also talk about oxygen consumption in a hot system that wouldn't be as pronounced in a cold system. In fact one method of determining compost maturity is the respiration rate.

With this in mind, it is possible that there may be many other factors than just "finished" or "unfinished" that might be considered when answering a query such as this one.

Lloyd


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RE: how much compost is too much???

What it comes down to is all this blather about how this soil benefits what is growing in it.
The water in the well tells a great story....its being poisoned by something....and the farmer doesn't know what it is.

You can guess until the cows come home about how much is too much, how much of this benefits the quality of the compost or is what is being added not a benefit at all, its a hindrance to what is being tried to grow.

Without a proper, and widespread soil test, the farmer is guessing....farmers' don't usually guess...its their livelihood to know what they are putting on their fields.

Aspen is widely used as a bedding material...its usual name might be "excelsior"....not much good for anything else. Is such waste good for composting....I've looked, cant find any definitive answer. So the use of it as an addition to any compost is of unknown quality.

So the water in the well is bad...so what's the farmer doing about it....evidently nothing.

To suggest that a raised bed can be benefited by the adding of raw horse manure for vegetables.....well, you gotta take that with a grain of salt.....lots of salt to kill the pathogens that is giving the ingester the runs.
Hopefully, diarrhea is the least of anybody's problems of eating such vegetable from such addition. Personally...I don't believe a person would do such a thing....but then, who's to say what strange behaviour is the norm in the family.

The farmer needs to have somebody with expertise of land management come in and tell him what is wrong and how to fix it.....if it ever can be fixed in time before the children come to grief.
A half acre is not that big a piece of land that, with proper care, couldn't be brought back to goodness of its soil.
To suggest that just because such compost is being layered 1/3" to 1/2" over a span of 5 years is doing something FOR the soil--with that kind of compost and possibly as well, not finished, is also GUESSING about its quality.
I rate it as of poor quality....very poor quality and the future, it seems, will not be any different.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

before you read my answer, remember I know zip, nada, Nothing about gardening beyond this year,as in the UK, dig a hole plant, water (not much as we really do get rain), bit of compost now and again, and you get stuff?
but few things stand out in this post, first post, the friend had had a soil test, I thought that recommendation's where made by the extension office?
he sounds like a good friend which is why his friend cares, but I agree, he is either OCD or trying to by pass business environmental disposal and his obsessive tiling is in a vain hope to get rid of the smell, and he can't admit to his mistake?
In the UK this would be illegal, in this country, I am sure it is in most States, small scale recycling is fine, but this sound like all one product from a business...
And stuff can get thought to the water table, very easily. and why he is using his water from up stream.
I use anything and everything I can for my compost, moderation in all things...
lastly giving the chap the benefit of the doubt, a quote from my old boss, who had previously been a British Army Captain (I don't think it was original?) "if you do what you always did, you get what you always got"
it becomes a bit wearing after 8 years 2 or 3 times a week, but it is a very true statement.


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RE: how much compost is too much???

Honestly??? He sounds like a wacko from a Twilight Zone episode. He really does. He sounds like a freak !!

Goodluck !!


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