I recently attended an advanced soil workshop organised by Lane Cove Council. Led by the very knowledgeable Peter Rutherford, senior Ecologist, Kimbriki Eco House & Garden and his lovely wife Alison, the overall message was summed up with a quote;
“The plant always eats at the second sitting; the plant only gets what the microbes give it. Feed the soil, not the plants!”
Professor William Albrecht (WALTERS – 1979) father of soil fertility research.
One of the most important things we gardeners can learn is how to look after our soil by adequately nourishing, watering and mulching. Getting the physical structure of our soil right is to get the nutrient levels right. If we correct the nutrient content of our soil, the structure of the soil — the ‘glue’ and porosity — will also be correct. And if we correct the structure of the soil, we will maintain the right amount of air and water for that particular soil.
Including diverse organic matter: improves the health of your soil; increases water infiltration; decreases erosion losses and supplies plant nutrients.
When feeding a variety of animal manures to your soil it is always best to age them either in your compost or separately in heaps before applying. Fresh manure often contains ammonia (from the urine) that, if applied, can burn seedlings or small plants. If you are lucky enough to visit a farm – collecting manure from barn animals has the added benefit of including the urine in their bedding, this increases the Nitrogen content. Nitrogen (N) allows plants to produce the proteins needed to build living tissue for green stems, strong roots, and lots of leaves.
Fresh manure can actually have an adverse effect on the mycorrhizal fungi that help to supply nutrients to your plants. Add the manure slowly to your compost pile over several days or weeks, allowing plenty of air to circulate in the compost bin. Add other organic matter like grass clippings and leaves to break up the manure and speed curing. If the compost heap is accessible turning the compost regularly will help aerate it. Stop adding the fresh manure about 6 – 8 weeks before you plan to use it in the garden. This will allow harmful chemicals to break down, nutrients to grow and minimises the risk of E. coli bacteria.
You’ll know the manure is well composted when it produces no heat and loses most of its objectionable odour when dry.
All manures from herbivores (animals that eat mostly grasses, seeds and plants) are usable. Manure often contains large amounts of organic matter, the bulky, fibrous material that comes from the undigested plant fibres and it is beneficial to the structure of your soil. Keeping the PH levels neutral with the addition of lime keeps your worms healthy and their castings (poo) are pure humus.
Purchase organic packaged manure from a reputable source.This manure is ready for use and already aged and composted. Cow, sheep, goat, horse pigeon, duck, rabbit, geese, chicken, pig and mushroom ……be diverse in your soil’s diet. For example dairy cow manure increases soil potassium faster than phosphorus and is a good source of carbon and nitrogen. Potassium (P) aids plants in adapting sugars needed in growth and is especially helpful in root crops.
Pig and poultry manure increases soil phosphorus faster than potassium. Phosphorus (K) helps move energy throughout the plant, especially important in maturing plants.
During the non-growing season or when resting beds in crop rotation a green manure crop will help to build the humus levels whilst some varieties will be nitrogen fixing.
Well-fed plants ensures well fed humans – Bon appetite!