Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spreading It to Improve Fertility

Yesterday's entry described the farm chore being pursued when the idea for this blog name occurred. Today I have some pictures and text describing the specifics of how we spread the mule manure in the garden and on the pasture to naturally improve soil fertility.

Little Girl's manure is collected on a daily basis into a wheelbarrow and transported to a 6 x 18 foot compost pile. The compost area uses 4 foot high welded wire and t-posts to contain the manure piles. In one end of the compost area, the manure is piled high. This causes the manure to generate plenty of heat in the pile and break down into thick, rich compost which is applied to our garden plots. Here is a picture of Little Girl with my wife, who is 6 feet tall, to give you an idea of her size.

Here is a picture of the compost area that we use to collect her manure.

After the garden is harvested in the fall, and then again a couple months before planting in the spring, composted manure is applied to the garden plots. About 3 or 4 wheelbarrow loads are dumped onto the garden bed and then spread out evenly. We will leave the manure on top of the garden bed for a period of time so that the manure will dry out some and make it easier to till into the underlying soil. Here is a picture of wheelbarrow loads of manure being dumped onto the garden bed.

Here is what the garden plots look like after the manure has been evenly spread out. A couple weeks later we will use the rototiller to mix the composted manure with the underlying soil.

The resulting soil is naturally rich in nutrients which generates a bountiful garden harvest. This past year we grew several different varieties of both squash and tomatoes, along with potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, hot peppers, and green peppers. We also grew sunflowers, marigolds, and several other annual varieties to attract bees and other helpful insects.

The total property area on our small farm is 10 acres. About half of that is pasture area. Of those five acres, two are used for rotational grazing, and the other three for hay production. The two acres used for rotational grazing are divided fairly equally into four paddocks. At the present time, we just have the mule and one goat named 'Bambi' who need to graze. Once they have grazed down one of the paddocks, they are moved to the next paddock and manure is spread onto the paddock that has been grazed. This provides natural fertilizer to enhance the soil and help the pasture grass regenerate. We also spread manure on the pasture area set aside for hay production right after a cutting has been made.

To spread manure on the pasture, we use a farm implement called a Newer Spreader made by a company based in Florida. We use our lawn tractor to tow it. This particular spreader does not do well with highly composted manure like we use for the garden. Highly composted manure is very dense and it clogs the manure spreader. Therefore in the compost area shown earlier, a second manure pile is generated. This one is low and flat so that the manure tends to dry out. It has a lighter and fluffier composition which allows it to be spread out very evenly along the ground using the Newer Spreader.

Here is picture of the Newer Spreader at the compost pile. This picture was taken at the end of spreading manure on the field. I should have taken one beforehand to show the low, flatter manure pile that dries out and is more compatible for manure spreading with this implement. In the area of the compost pile where the Newer Spreader is parked, the manure is dumped just one wheelbarrow-full high at a time right next to the previous day's dumping until that entire area is covered with manure about one foot deep. This takes about 2-3 weeks of manure collection to fill that area. That also happens to be the perfect amount of manure to spread on a half acre paddock.

The Newer Spreader pulls behind our lawn tractor. It takes about four or five Newer Spreader loads to cover a half acre paddock. This picture shows the mule and goat grazing in the background. We use electric polytape to delineate the grazing paddocks.

The manure is crushed and spread very evenly behind the Newer Spreader.

Stripes of spread manure run in one direction as shown here, and then in a perpendicular direction, provide thorough manure application to a grazed paddock. With a week or two, especially if we get some good rains, the manure is absorbed into the soil and the grass greens up very nicely.

Hopefully this gives an overview of how we spread mule manure here on the farm to naturally imrove the soil fertility. If you have questions about what we are doing, send a comment or drop us an e-mail using the contact options provided with this blog.

No comments: