Improving soil with chicken litter is an organic method for feeding your garden and a way to use your used livestock bedding.One of the perks of homesteading is that you can use waste from one area to enhance or grow another area.
We are excited to have Erica of Living Life in Rural Iowa as a guest blogger this week!
Most homesteaders struggle to find ways to dispose of all the waste that livestock can produce. One of the easiest ways to dispose of the waste is to add it to the garden. Gardening is fun, but gardening is a lot less fun when you are fighting your soil to grow a decent crop. Most gardens need soil amendments. Used bedding from your chickens and other livestock is a great way to amend your soil.
Where I live, we have heavy black clay soil. It doesn’t till well, hold a lot of moisture in the spring and early summer dries out during the summer into a hard brick and can be impossible to weed unless it is wet. On top of that, this soil doesn’t seem to grow good produce because root crops are fighting for space in the soil and plants struggle to establish good roots. The garden needs a good dose of fertilizer every year. I also find this kind of soil needs some acidity to balance the alkaline although the alkaline doesn’t seem to affect the growth of most plants.
The Perfect Soil Amendment
If you raise chickens or other livestock, you have the perfect soil amendment. Used bedding from the chickens and other livestock is one of the best things you can add to your garden to amend the soil. The used bedding acts as a fertilizer and a way to “fluff up” your soil. When you till in the used bedding in the spring, your soil will improve, becoming lighter while breaking up the heavy clay.
When to add Chicken Litter Bedding to your Garden
How do we go about this process? In late summer/early fall, as soon as we have an open spot in the garden, we start dumping the used livestock bedding in the garden. We make sure this bedding stays away from other growing vegetables because the fertilizer will be “hot” for a couple of months. If fertilizer is hot, it can kill your growing and ripening vegetables.
If you do not have a place to put the used bedding in the garden, you should start a compost pile and add the used bedding to it. I like to add it to the garden right away so the used bedding has a chance to start breaking down and the manure in the bedding has a chance to start penetrating the soil. I also used this a mulch in the open areas of the garden to keep the weed levels down in the late summer/early fall. However, I have had to start compost piles for it and add the bedding to the garden at a later date.
Every time we clean out the chicken coop from September to early March, we add the used bedding to the garden. We stop in March because we don’t want to have problems with “hot” fertilizer in April and May. Since I live in planting zone 5a, I can start planting in May most years which means I need to have the fertilizer soaking into the ground by then and not killing my seeds and new plants.
Every May, we thoroughly till the garden. Before the garden gets tilled, I rake the used bedding into an even layer across the garden. I also spread any composted bedding I might have. Then the garden gets tilled. We have tilled anywhere from six inches deep to sixteen inches deep. A deep till has allowed us to get the bedding and fertilizer deeper into the ground. We had to rent a tiller to do this, but we had a very well-producing garden last year by doing this. I don’t think deep tilling is necessary every year, but can be very beneficial if you have heavy soil like we do.
Short on Materials? Ask Around
If you do not have easy access to used chicken bedding or other livestock bedding, see if you can find someone willing to share some of theirs. Usually, most homesteaders have more used bedding that they can use. Some people might be willing to give it to you for free or in exchange for some garden produce. You just have to ask around or post an ad looking for some used bedding. You will not regret putting it in your garden!
We have been adding used chicken bedding to improve our soil for the last three years and the difference in our garden has been tremendous. Our soil is definitely lighter. It doesn’t compact nearly as much, the weeds pull easier, we have fewer cracks in the soil when the garden is dry, and we have doubled our produce output. I am actually able to grow carrots and raise tomatoes and peppers. The difference in the garden has been truly amazing!
I encourage you to give this method of feeding your garden a try. Improving soil with chicken litter is an organic method for feeding your garden and a way to use your used livestock bedding. It will be cheaper than purchasing additional compost and better for your garden!
Erica writes about preparedness, homesteading, frugality, parenting, and life in general. A mom of four who has survived divorce, poverty, kids going to college, and teenagers, she is always keen to learn more about what she writes about. Find Erica at her website Living Life in Rural Iowa.