After gardening on a zero lot line property for over 30 years, I was very excited at the unlimited possibilities of gardening on 20 acres.
Gopher’s, Deer, Sand
The reality hit me really quick: first it was the sand. We are talking pure sand. Beach kind of sand. Great for drainage. Nutrients in the soil, not so much! Then we can talk about the gophers. Sometimes you can look out at the field and it looks like an old world war two practice bombing field. Craters everywhere. Then deer. We love deer. They are so sweet to look at. People come out to visit and we tell them we have deer and and they ask if they can come shoot them. We say sure, as long as it is with a camera. But seriously, they can really hurt a garden. So bad soil, gopher’s to eat the roots and deer to eat the tops. Great garden potential.
Solution One: Gophers
So the first line of defense is raised bed garden, with a 1/2 inch hard cloth underneath..
We treated the wood with the Shou Sugi Ban Method to hopefully make the plywood last a long time.
Raised Bed garden with Shou Sugi Ban Plywood
Solution Three: Deer
To keep the deer and birds at bay I will building a structure like the chicken run with deer netting. It will be enclosed on all sides as well as the top. It will be next to the run and they will share a wall and I will have a door from the garden to the run. When the garden is done at the end of the year, I can let the chickens in to clean up the old plants. Treat for them!
We have started with two raised beds, but I will be enclosing enough area for a total of 5 large beds.
I got my soil test results back and I guess the easiest way to describe it is,
“I screwed up!”
Those of you who have been following me know I have talked about the benefits of composting. I have not changed my mind about the necessity of composting. What I am changing is how to use compost to its most productive result.
I have included my soil test results from the University of Mass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory, and I was shocked by what I did to my little raised bed garden.
When I was researching the “how much to add to a poor quality soil” I read everything from add 1” to 2” of compost every year (good advise), to grow your vegetables in straight compost (bad advice). In my mind, I thought that a 50/50 mix of soil and compost should have tremendous results.
Off The Charts
As you can see from the soil test results I am well over optimal levels for most of the micronutrients (and NO, more is not better in this case). One of my biggest problems is my phosphorus is off the chart. This is going to inhibit the intake of some of the other micronutrients.
Dead Seedlings Make Me Sad
According to the lab people who did my testing, I may get great plant growth but no fruit or I am going to get stunted growth or no growth in other plants. Another problem that I wasn’t able to recover from, was I started this years tomatoes in my compost, that I sterilized first. They got very leggy then stopped growing. This week they all died. Thank goodness I got the test result at the same time, so I knew what had happened.
After speaking at length with the Lab, I was informed that you should add no more than 1” to 2” inches of compost at a time. Gardens do better with an organic level of about 10% to 15% total. Mine is closer to 50%.
Everyone Composts Differently
That being said, it is generally recommended to add 1” to 2” each year to help replenish nutrient depletion, depending on what the garden needs. Since everyone composts differently, especially with what is being composted, one should never assume to use a general rule of thumb without knowing what their particular situation requires. So I recommend having your soil tested every year. For the curious, my compost was comprised of oak leaves, 1 yard of coffee grounds and filters, 35 gallons of spent brewers grain, 25 lbs. of alpaca poop, and a small of amount kitchen waste.
Salvaging The Beds
The other 50% of my garden was bagged garden soil and bagged compost/humus. The other piece of information I was given is that they may have been over fertilized by the packager to make the dirt more attractive to consumers. I am going to try to leach out some of the phosphorus by flooding these two beds with water. Hopefully this will bring the amount of micronutrients down enough to salvage the beds this year. Since I am on top of red clay, the chances of it leaching into the water table, is very small.
Best $10 Bucks I Spent
The one piece of advice that I can give to anyone that is new to gardening or just starting a garden in a new area is to get your soil tested before you add anything to it. It cost me $10 for the test and I got a wealth of knowledge.
Let’s talk about composting. I started to get hardcore into composting about June of last year and have already used two large piles of “brown gold”. I decided to call around and see what a yard of compost would cost. In the Dallas/Ft Worth area it’s about $35. At first I thought that wasn’t a bad price until I was told that it was 60% compost and 40% sand. Not what I was looking for. Plus I found out that the “greens” were trash from landscapers with no regulation on what chemicals maybe mixed into it. I decided it would be much better to make my own.
What Are You Throwing Away?
Before I go any further let me give you some background on my experience with compost. Another reason I wanted to get into composting was because I started to look at what was being thrown away every week at my house. I realized that maybe I would be able to use some of that to improve my hard red clay soil, with very little cost. I have lived in my home for 30 years and have never had any success at growing grass in my front yard.
“New” Way of Thinking
In all of my research, looking for ways to change my ground situation, I came across an article/video/movie about a man who has started a “new”way of thinking. He lets Mother Nature naturally change the landscaping conditions. The man’s name is Paul Gautschi and his website is BacktoEdenfilm.com. The film is almost 2 hours but I highly recommend it and it is free. After watching the film I decided that it sounded like the easiest way to improve our unsightly conditions.
I didn’t have the money to spend for compost to cover everything that needed covering so decided to do this backwards. I called a number of tree service companies asking for their tree chippings. Within two weeks, I had 10 yards of ground up tree in my yard. It only took my wife, my 23 year old son and me about 4 hours to move all the pile. Don’t get overwhelmed by the pile, the first time you see it. A couple of tools that will make the job go easier: a long handled manure fork, a good wheelbarrow and a sturdy garage broom.
Many websites talk about mulching almost as if was a separate part of gardening. I have noticed that the natural mulches are almost considered an “after the fact” of the natural organic program. I would like you to think about a forest floor and how the trees drop their leaves to protect the soil, all the while, breaking down to feed the soil.
Ground UP Trees
When you are putting out all the wonderful free mulch you can pile it on high. We piled it 4″ to 6″ deep everywhere. Within 3 months it has settled to about 3″. One important note, if you put this around trees make sure you pull the mulch back about a foot. This prevents damaging your trees from insects and fungus.
You will notice that the soil will begin to stay moist. As the wood begins it decompose, the soil will become easier to work. As I said earlier I did this backwards. A couple of months ago I was reading about coffee grounds being a great “green” material for composting.
I started to look for a source for for the used coffee grounds. The first place I checked was a Starbucks in a local grocery. I was told that company (grocery store) policy would not allow the giving away of the coffee grounds that Starbucks has been known for. I continued looking for a source that had a large enough volume to make it worth my time to use it. As luck would have it, I found a coffee store 10 minutes from the house that was more than happy for me to pick up the grounds.
After talking to them about the best way to do this, I picked up four- 5 gallon buckets with lids (our name and phone number neatly written on them) from our local mega hardware store. You want to have buckets that look good at all times, because they may be in view of customers. I leave two buckets with them at time and pick them up every other day.
Doing a quick calculation, this averages out to be about one cubic yard of coffee grounds per month, free of charge. From what I understand, some municipalities refuse services charge by the pound for trash. This helps keep a great compostable product out of the landfills and may help a local coffee store save some money on their trash bill.
Some things to consider before embarking on a coffee ground hunt.
1. Will you be able to pick up the grounds in reasonable amount of time on a consistent basis. If not talk to them about your needs so that you can set the proper expectations.
2. This is a lot of coffee grounds each month make sure you have a place to store or use them. Remember you will be getting wet grounds if they sit in the bucket they will mold.
3. Remember to leave the pick up area better than you found it.
4. You will find coffee filters mixed in. Great, if you are using this in a compost pile just mix your filters in and they will become part of the “browns”
5. Coffee grounds are a great source for nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus
6. Coffee grounds will not acidify your soil. The acids in coffee are water soluble and leach out into your cup of coffee. That being said this will compost down to very close to neutral pH in your compost pile.
After I used up my first cubic yard of coffee grounds mixed with leaves I needed another usage area and that is where I decided to spread the grounds out on top of the mulch. This will help breakdown the wood chips and turn it into easy compost for my yard. I spread it around and then rake it out to make a thin layer so that it won’t mold. I will see if this helps keep the snails and slugs this spring.
For those of you who have found me, welcome. My family would describe me as “intense”. When I decide to do something, whether it be sailing, cooking, gardening, or raising my chickens, I try to do as much research as I possibly can so as to not make stupid mistakes (I make plenty without doing the stupid ones).
My dear, lovely wife came up with this great idea that I should write a blog about my different pastimes. She calls me the original renaissance man. So while this website is called TheChickenPoop.com, you may find something other than the aforementioned topic (at least I hope so or this could become a very boring website).
Now for my brief history, I am by trade a decorative concrete stainer who enjoys working with my hands. I have been doing this for 20 years and really enjoy it. It is awesome to take plain, boring concrete and make it look beautiful. I will never become a millionaire doing this, but I do provide for my family. I am ok with that. Being a small company, I choose to not have a big crew to manage, so that I can have more nonbusiness time to do things I want. That is where the idea for this website originated.
My wife and I have always talked about moving to the country with a few acres to do as we please. While we are waiting for that to happen, I have started researching different interests. About a year ago, I was reading somewhere how poor the quality our store bought eggs are. I decided I should raise chickens. I knew nothing about raising chickens, but decided I would learn.
Land Needed For Chickens
I digress for a moment; I live in a residential community on about 1/10 acre (small). My small backyard is completely fenced and has a 5 ft high flagstone retaining wall in the middle of it. By city ordinance we are allowed maximum six chickens and no roosters and no, you do not need a rooster for your girls to lay eggs.
In my readings the only real suggestions given for chicken real estate was 6 to 10 square ft per bird. My suggestion would be, the more square footage the better. Small areas will become a plantless desert because they will eat all of your grass. I know because remember ‘small backyard’.
That said, my girls seem to be very content. They have a number of distractions to entertain themselves, they have a wall to climb and compost piles to rummage through. I garden so when it is not planted they love to dig around in there for bugs. They also climb on the lawn equipment to play queen of the hill.
My wife tends to indulge my idiosyncrasies if I can reasonably defend my decisions. When I told her about this idea she wasn’t excited about it but wasn’t opposed to it. After about 5 months of researching I built a coop and run. I then purchased 4 girls, one Gold Comet, one Orpington and two Red Star sex-linked chickens.
Naming the “Girls”
The red stars were already named Mabel and Trudy so all we had to do was name the other two. My son immediately named the Orpington ‘Climb’ because as soon as we let them out of the crate she had to climb on top of the coop. This was while everyone else huddled together trying to figure out where they were. Since I am not that energetic about names the last one was named ‘Red’.
I now fast forward 8 months later, my wife loves her girls. Her office overlooks their area and when she needs a distraction they are always happy to oblige.