Monday, January 28, 2013

Feed My Garden

The relationship I have with my garden is a bit dynamic and complex – especially with my summer garden. I expect some relatively simple things from my winter garden as I am able to take care of it with an average amount of inputs. In contrast, my summer garden primarily consists of plants that are more heavy feeders and, as a result, requires a lot more. After growing out two generations of cucumber-melons, huge purple hyacinth bean vines, Sunchoke, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and over 120 pounds of sweet potatoes I could practically hear my garden say “Feed me!” Perhaps I could not literally “hear” my garden speak to me, though the drop of 8 inches in my previously 24 inch soil depth says it all.

Sheep Manure compost is great stuff

This winter’s compost diet consists of palm tree waste, a few bags of 2-year-old leaves and a truckload of 3-year-old sheep manure (thanks to my friend Beryl from TOG). After unloading the truckload of sheep waste I found it difficult I not to combine the terms “high-quality” and “manure” in everything that came out of my mouth. Having worked with well-processed sheep manure it would be difficult to revert to composting the horse manure I settled for in the past.

Using the Summer Garden for Winter Pit Composting

As stated in an earlier post, my summer garden seconds as a compost pit in the winter as my winter garden does in the summer. This allows me to fallow the unused garden as well as build up structure in the soil from the material and nutrients that result from the composting process. In more literal terms – I give my garden what I expect – I feed it well because that is what I expect from it. For the most part this works out pretty well.

After turning the compost the sheep manure looks better

There is a balance to the bacteria and fungus that reside in living soil. I strive to provide a balance of both nitrogen and carbon rich food to my garden – though I did notice that this last summer’s garden did a lot better on last winter’s carbon rich diet than it did two years ago on a nitrogen rich diet. I have read that carbon-rich diets promote fungus decomposition while nitrogen-rich diets promote bacteria decomposition. This is definitely important to keep in mind when thinking about what plants will do best in a given garden environment. I will plan on keeping this summer’s heavy feeders closer to this winter’s nitrogen-rich finished compost.


  1. I love learning more about soil and you gave me food for thought...

  2. I really like the idea of using one garden as a compost bin while the other is cultivated. I must make better use of my parents farm - they have sheep and i've never thought to collect manure from them.

    1. Dear Liz,
      Thank you so much for the reply! Sheep manure is incredibly useful.

  3. Just wondering ....If the carbon-rich soil performed better, why are you opting for nitrogen-rich this time?

    1. Thanks for that excellent question, b-a-g!

      The reason why I am working sheep manure into my summer garden is because I want to see if I can balance out some of the bacteria that currently reside in my summer plot. The majority of the garden diseases that I have experienced in the past have either been from soil (mostly bacterial) or from a carrier (such as a diseased plant or an insect). I would like to experiment to see if sheep manure can be incorporated without causing the ill effects of bacterial diseases that can sometimes result from somewhat fresh horse manure that I used to apply.

      At the same time, I feel it is wisdom to diversify the compost inputs that I can so that my garden retains a healthy balance of bacteria and fungus. Over the area in which I am now composting I will be planting my cucumber-melons, which require more nitrogen and are less disease prone than plants like tomatoes. Meanwhile I will be planting my sweet potatoes, which do not demand so much nitrogen, in areas with less of this winter’s compost. I am still incorporating leaves and other browns into my current compost – though not in the huge quantities that I did with the wood chips I used last year.


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I look forward to learning more about gardening with you. Your comments help me recognize that gardening is a life-long journey.

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