We can never have too much organic matter dug into the garden particularly in the vegetable garden. Whilst in the humus (half decomposed state), it acts as a sponge in light soils to retain food and moisture; in heavy clay it provides a drainage filter between the soil particles.
When preparing the beds for vegetables the organic fertilizer should be added at a rate of two bucketfuls to the sq. yd.
Well-rotted animal manure is one of the finest by-products that are available to the organic gardener. It may sound like a messy and an unhygienic substance to handle but in this form it looks completely different from the fresh product. It doesn't smell, in fact it resembles rich, brown, crumbly compost, which of course it is. However, when handling any type of composts and fertilizers it is sensible to wear gloves.
Farmyard manure is a mixture of the droppings of horses, pigs or cows, including their urine and the litter used for their bedding. Cow manures are wetter, colder and lower in nutrients than horse manure, and decompose more slowly in the soil, which makes them more suitable for sandy soils. Likewise, pig manure is slow acting but long lasting, as it is slow to ferment, this too is a cold manure and therefore unsuitable for the making of hot-beds. Bullock manure is not recommended because many are fed a composition diet to build up tissue and body weight, therefore the residue could be transported into their manure and which might not necessarily be beneficial to us.
One ton of farmyard manure will give about 10lb. Nitrogen, 5lb. Phosphoric acid and 10lb. Potash, much of which is accessible to the plants soon after application.
Not everyone lives in the country or close by riding stables but many of the animal manures can be purchased from good Garden Centres or from suppliers with web sites who can deliver to your home. Manures are generally good all round balanced fertilizers with amounts of nitrogen as well as a little of many other ingredients. It must always be used when it has matured, fresh will harm the plants by "burning" the stems and roots. If you are able to collect it from source let it rot for about 8 weeks but do make sure that you cover it to stop the rain-washing away all the nutrients. In autumn dig lots of manure into the vegetable plots it will ensure that the plants have a really good start in the following season. Besides root crops prefer soil that has been manured the previous season.
Chicken manure is often sold in pellet form so it is easy and cleaner to handle. It is very rich being high in nitrogen but it is lacking in almost all other nutrients. However it is very useful when used combined with other fertilizers. Chicken manure must never be used fresh.
Spent hops are useful for improving the physical condition of the soil, however they have little if any nutrients.
The term "compost" is generally thought to mean a mixture of soil, peat and sand, which is used in potting and often called potting compost. There is another medium, which is vegetable waste of all kinds, which has been thoroughly rotted down and formed a blackish-brown crumbling material very near to humus.
I think everyone is aware of the benefits of composted plant waste. Rich in all the necessary ingredients including micronutrients and micro organisms it is one of the best if not the best products we can use on our soil. Whether it is a simple worm bin or specially built container, anyone who is keen to grow his or her own food must have a compost source. Not only will it be a place to dispose of the grass cuttings but you can add lots of other waste too:
5. Shredded branches and twigs.
6. Cut flowers.
7. Comfrey leaves.
8. Tea leaves.
9. Coffee grounds.
10. Egg shells.
11. Banana skins.
12. Fluff from the vacuum cleaner.
15. Shredded paper.
16. Vegetable waste
If you live near the sea you can add kelp (a form of sea weed). Never add kitchen scraps because it will attract vermin. Other ingredients that should not be used are dog or cat manure (their worming treatment will kill off the composting worms); don't use citrus peel either its too acidic for worms and don't use diseased plants it could mean that you run the risk of spreading the disease all around your garden.
To help the compost to rot down an activator should be used. This can be manure, bird droppings, urine or a propriety activator; in dry weather it should be watered.
In a properly made compost heap the temperature will rise to 180deg. F. (82 deg C.). It is then that the actinomycetes break down the more resistant proteins and carbohydrates. As the temperature begins to cool and this could take about a month, the bacteria will begin their work to complete the breakdown process.
It will take roughly about 12 months for the pile to break down properly into compost. If your container does not have a lid it is a good idea to cover the top with plastic sheeting or a tarpaulin weighted down to reduce the amount of rainwater from leaching out the nutrients. It will also keep in the heat to allow fermentation and a quicker breakdown. It's a good idea to give the pile a forking over from time to time this will accelerate decomposition. Another tip, chop-up the waste as it will take less time to break down. Vary the type of material making layers of the different ingredients this all helps to speed up the process, turning it with a garden fork from time to will also help.
If the composted waste takes up an area of at least 12ft. x 12ft. it is a good idea to include a ventilation shaft that will help with decomposition of the material. This is done by inserting a post in the centre of the heap, piling the waste around it layer by layer until the pile reaches a height of about 6 ft., then the post is removed, leaving an air shaft through the middle; this will ensure that the waste does get a balanced airflow.
It is easy to see when the compost is ready; it will be rich and dark brown, crumbly, loose, in fact it resembles the potting compost that comes in bags from the garden centres that are ready to plant into. It will have become the perfect product to return to feed the soil.
Compost when properly made, can be more valuable than dung for it contains plant food and it is alive with millions of micro organisms for the health and well being of the soil. It will contain most of the minor minerals or trace elements all vital in good, healthy crop cultivation.
When the compost is ready to use it can be added all around the garden but especially the vegetable plot. It will improve the soil just dig in between 1 - 2 inches of compost. It can be use as mulch, or as an extra boost during the hungriest part of the growing season when the fruit are developing. You can even mix some compost with water to make a liquid feed.
A compost bin can be constructed using four wooden pallets, each stood up on its side with the topside of the pallet, which has all the slats, facing inwards so that the extra slats made good compost retention. Through the centre of each pallet to retain the position, two stout stakes are driven vertically into the ground. When the compartment is full up, three more pallets can be joined to the side, making a second chamber. After this too is full, a third one can be erected and eventually a fourth; the total number of pallets required is twelve. By the time the fourth is filled, the first compartment will have compost ready to be used around the garden. Access to each compartment cannot be easier; either of the outward walls of each bin may be simply lifted over the stakes for the removal of the compost. If the pallets are first painted with wood preservative they should last for a quite few years, after which they can be replaced either individually or completely at very little cost.
There are so many things that you can make up into a liquid feed. Comfrey leaves put in a bin with water and allowed to rot down make a very good liquid feed. However, other ingredients such as manure, blood and bone meal, a capful of concentrated seaweed fertilizer allowed to stand for about a week, make up a very fine brew. It must be diluted at a ratio of about 1 parts liquid feed to 4 parts water. As you draw the last dregs from the container, it is wiser to dilute a little more, as the mixture becomes more concentrated at the bottom. Worm bins produce very good liquid feed and just as the previously mentioned brew, must be diluted before use. When using the liquid, water it onto the soil around the plants avoiding the foliage as much as possible. This feed can be administered about every 2 - 3 weeks throughout summer.
Green manure has been used for thousands of years for mainly vegetable crops; it is a way of replenishing organic matter into the soil, especially soils that have been impoverished by chemical fertilization. It is a sustainable enrichment of soil by incorporating un-decomposed green plant material that will benefit the soil in many ways:
Increase soil fertility
Increase biological activity
Nourish subsequent crops
Reduce soil erosion
Reduce nitrate losses
Soil structure improvement
The annual lupin is extensively used as a green manure crop as is Crimson clover (Trigonella foenum graecum) and Mustard (Sinapsis alba). These will add organic matter and really improve the soil as they rot down. One key ingredient in green manure is legumes, which fix nitrogen into the soil. This is a good practise especially in soil where hungry feeders have been grown.
Green manure For more information visit: www.mrsgreenfingers.co.uk (You need an Internet connection to visit this site)
However, green manure does not give quick results as it is slow to activate - and the reason why it is not often used in ordinary home gardens. It usually takes at the very least six months for the vegetable waste to rot down. When crops are dug into the land in a fresh condition, the soil organisms have to get to work on the green plants and break them down. In doing so they starve the land of nitrogen during the time the waste is being broken down. Therefore green manure method is generally applied on land that is to have a season of rest. Besides there are other factors, which come into play in order that the best results are achieved. The land should be properly drained so that sufficient air is present; it should be adequately limed so that it is not acid, and the soil should be warm.
Terry Blackburn. Internet Marketing Consultant, living in South Shields in the North-East of England. Author and Producer of blog http://www.lawnsurgeon.blogspot.com Author of "Your Perfect Lawn," a 90 Page eBook devoted to Lawn Preparation, Lawn Care and Maintenance. Find it at http://www.lawnsurgeon.com
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Terry Blackburn - EzineArticles Expert Author