Garden

I may have unwittingly stumbled upon an incredible soil amendment

While searching for ways to maintain and increase the acidity of my blueberry beds, I stumbled across cottonseed meal. It both adds nitrogen and helps to acidify the soils as it breaks down. Great…Get two birds stoned at once!

My only option to procure cottonseed meal is from the local feed mill right down the road. However as animal feed, not soil amending, is its intended purpose, it comes pelletized. At $13/50 pound sack, I figured I would try it out.

I applied 200 pounds to my 80 square foot blueberry bed and mulched with shredded hardwood. After the first rain was where the magic happened!

The pellets exploded in volume changing from tiny compressed cylinders to small poofs of cotton. As I was preparing to irrigate as the week following the storm had no rain, I pulled back some mulch to check the moisture of the soil. To my surprise, the puffy cotton meal was still significantly moist.

As a result, I am contemplating either mixing cottonseed meal pellets into my mulch, or laying down a thin layer below wherever I mulch. At the very least I may add some around plants in the summer when rain becomes scarcer.

However there is one downside to this story that I will post tomorrow.

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Cattle, Garden

Wintering Animals = Backbone of Soil Building

Pulling directly from Joel Salatin’s model at Polyface Farm located in the same valley as my own farmstead, the key to building soil will be through compost.

Have you ever turned onto a country road to be immediately hit by the stench of a chicken house or cow operation? What about seeing a huge manure lagoon, no matter how pretty the tank is dressed up?

Farms that smell are polluting by leaching nutrient-rich animal waste into the atmosphere or ground water. My main issue with industrial farming is that carbon is being pulled from the soil and not replenished whether it is by crop production or animal grazing. The agricultural world is slowly realizing that healthy soil and all of its micro/macro organisms need more than periodic injections of Petroleum-based Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) fertilizers. Most of all, soil requires organic matter, not to mention multiple other elements beyond the three provided by surplus explosives after World War I. Did I mention the inventor’s role in producing chemical weapons caused his perfectionist-chemist wife to commit suicide?

Back to my farm operation. The backbone of building soil on my farm is going to be the composting of animal wastes captured during winter in a carbon medium. Joel Salatin accurately refers to it as “A Carbonaceous Diaper”. Each cow will produce up to 100 pounds of nutrient rich waste a day. Thats a lot to capture and I will have to lay down fresh, dry carbon bedding pretty frequently! I will discuss the sourcing of carbon in a future post.

Every time I lay down additional bedding, I will toss in some goodies. Local corn, spent grains from brewing beer, old hay, etc. The cows will tromp down the manure/bedding into a pretty solid manure pack. The anaerobic decomposition process will start building soil while also providing heat for the barn and animals. After the cows head back to the pasture in the late spring, it will be time for the pigs to shine! They will be brought in to root up the compost to find the treats I left them. This process will turn the compost as well as aerate it which turns the decomposition aerobic, completing the process of turning the waste into the highest quality soil possible!

Stay tuned for a post on sourcing the carbon for bedding!

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