Breaking It Down: Tim King Talks Compost
Tim King can talk about dirt for hours. This makes sense, since healthy soil is at the root of vegetable growing.
Good dirt is good business and using compost is a great way to introduce vital nutrients back into the soil, releasing them slowly so plants can use them in every stage of growth.
Soil health is the key to creating the high quality and nutrient-packed produce that the Kings specialize in producing. Tim has spent years working to build up his soil on land that had previously been exhausted and depleted of vital minerals and nutrients.
Rebuilding soil health is a long-term process. Soil is composed of mineral particles, organic matter and pore space. Use of heavy tractors and heavy machinery can compact the soil, reducing the space for water and air movement within the soil.
Minerals within the soil are depleted when the same crop is grown year after year. Also, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides makes the soil vulnerable to erosion by weakening the root system of plants. Compost also improves the texture of the soil and strengthens root systems, which helps to prevent erosion. Beneficial bacteria, fungi and earthworms thrive in soil that is amended with compost. So do healthy plants.
Right now, the Freedom Farms John Deere tractor pulls a manure spreader, which sprays a mixture of composted horse manure on the fields.
“We try to spread composted manure at the very end of winter or early spring, when the ground is still hard enough that running the tractor over it doesn’t compact the fields,” Tim says. “We are lucky to have a horse stable close to our farm so that we can utilize their waste. It’s a win-win situation. They need that manure gone, and we need manure to fertilize our crops. It’s a good relationship. “
When using compost, timing is important. The manure that Tim is spreading today has been composting for a full year. He says, “With all manure, you want to let it break down. We pile up manure from the tables and let it sit until breaks down into usable fertilizer. Fresh horse manure is extremely hot and it’s not good for most plants. If you apply it too soon, the carbons will break down in the soil and pull out available nitrogen to help that process.”
Tim says that the timing of the application is also important.
“You can’t spread it too early, or the snowmelt will create runoff into the surface water,” he says. “Also, the closer the manure application is to your planting time, the more nutrients are available for your plants. We’re hoping to buy a side-discharge spreader soon so that we can apply our manure closer to our planting date without worrying about soil compaction.”
Tim’s final tip for composting:
“A general rule of thumb is to spread roughly ½ inch of compost over your beds in the spring. This will build up the soil health. After two or three years, you can cut back to using ¼ inch of compost. You should notice a big difference in soil health. I know that we have.”
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