The chickens and goats on Bramblestone Farm create one of the main ingredients for growing great produce. Composted animal bedding makes an incredible difference in garden productivity, especially since we fertilize naturally rather than chemically. I learned about natural vegetable production early – it was the way my grandfather, who’d grown up farming, raised vegetables every summer to feed us.
Annually, grandpa grew a bountiful garden that provided produce all year-long. He started by adding composted horse manure (what he called “garden gold”) from the neighbor’s stable to the same sunny patch of land each year. Then he’d plant his favorite varieties, often saved from the previous year’s harvest. Subsequent plant growth was rapid and lush, there were few disease or pest problems, and what wasn’t consumed fresh was canned or cellared for later use.
His system didn’t require chemical fertilizers, insecticides, or herbicides. The horses processed hay and grass into manure; and when that manure was composted and returned to the soil, it returned fertility and friability. The fertile, friable soil promoted quick, healthy plant growth; and healthy plants seldom succumb to pests and disease. Grandpa used crop rotation which further minimized the chance of pest and disease problems. And by saving seeds from his favorites each year; these varieties slowly developed local disease and insect resistance while gradually becoming better adapted to local climate and soil conditions. Grandpa learned his system from his father, who’d had it passed down through countless ancestors before him. Instead of adding costly chemical inputs, they used processes that mimicked nature.
Since our goats and chickens are producing “garden gold” for us, we’re gardening the same way my grandpa did. Each fall, as winter approaches, I add composted goat and chicken bedding to the garden beds. Then we add a thick layer of chopped leaves, and let nature work over the course of winter. In the spring, I plant my seeds and vegetables directly into the garden beds (we don’t till the soil), add more composted bedding around the individual plants, and then cover the beds with grass clippings (we also use only organic lawn products).
When we first started gardening here, the ground was compacted clay, and our produce struggled. But after several years of using composted manure, letting the vegetable roots create airways in the soil, and using leaves or grass clippings to conserve moisture, the improvement in the soil and produce production is incredible. The soil has become fertile and friable – I never used to see worms or insect life in the soil, but now every shovel full contains worms and insects. The plants grow quickly and we seldom have any issues with disease or pests – we used to have issues with many pests (flea beetles, potato beetles, squash bugs, cabbage loppers, etc.), but by following grandpa’s methods, they’ve gradually disappeared. So, crop rotation, saving seeds, and mulching to conserve moisture are all important elements in growing a great garden, but the one thing that is really crucial is improving the soil. And for that, my grandpa was right, and compost truly is “garden gold”.