Posted by: Silver | October 14, 2010

The Miracle of Manure

It is almost a cliché to say it, but organic growing really does start with the soil: feed your soil, and your soil will feed you. And for the majority of all the hosts I’ve stayed with so far, keeping chickens is an integral part of this soil-feeding ethos: yes, they produce a welcome crop of fresh eggs as well, but – I was surprised to find – their manure production has actually been mentioned more often as the main reason for keeping them. (Of course, it may just be that my hosts thought the egg side of the deal was too obvious to mention, but then again, one of my hosts did relate the tale of a 16-year-old student who came on a farm visit and was utterly horrified to discover that eggs came out of chickens’ bottoms, so maybe it’s not so obvious to everyone…) Simply put a fence around an area you want both clearing and fertilising (round these parts, a fence over the top is a good idea too: remember my mentioning how blasé I was getting about the number of bald eagles I was seeing…?!), and your chickens will do much of the hard work for you.

But be warned: chicken poop is powerful stuff! If you don’t let it mature and mellow first, it will literally burn through your little plants, and, even when suitably composted, it is still fantastically full of nitrogen. Not that this is actually a bad thing – nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients a plant needs, essential for healthy leaf production – but, as my latest hosts found out, put a plant where once were chickens and it may get just a tiny bit carried away with its ‘healthy leaf production’…

My hosts' monster squash plant: somewhere, way in the background behind the stepladder, is the bed/former chicken run in which the seed was planted...

Specially for my friend Amy, who requested more pictures of the local fauna and flora, here is a liquorice snake sunning himself in my hosts' garden

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