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Making Compost on My 500 Acre Tree Farm

by Michael
(United States)

I own a 500 acre tree farm. We grow pine trees. We have a lot of deer and turkey, so I have left about 20 acres of the land to plant for these animals. The game is so abundant that we need more food for them. Instead of clearing more trees, I’d like to increase the productivity of the current fields. Our soil is sandy. I started by liming and adding more fertilizer, but realize that I need to improve the soil.

Truck loads of compost is not affordable, so I thought I’d try to make it on site. I have access to pine bark, chicken litter, and lime. I also have a bulldozer.

Can you advise in some form of compost that I could make and then spread over my fields?

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Feb 05, 2012
Making a Compost Pile – Part 1 of 2
by: Compost Junkie Dave

I spoke with Michael briefly after he asked this question to determine if he had access to a front end loader or skid steer. He confirmed that he has access to several tractors. The reason I asked was for the sake of turning, loading, and moving the compost.

Now to his question…

First of all, kudos for realizing the limitations of liming and other fertilizers.

If your goal is to increase the productivity of these 20 acres, I can’t guarantee that any ol’ compost will accomplish that. Why? Because this land may already have a good amount of organic matter (how long has it been fallow?) and the microbial life may already be quite abundant (what fertilizers have you used on the land? any pesticide use?). Nonetheless, you have some options, and the above comments re OM and microbes may not apply whatsoever.

I would begin by taking a soil test from the 20 acre plot. Send it to Logan Labs for $20 and have them run a Basic Test on it. This information will be priceless as you go forward.

After you’ve got your results, send them to me, and we’ll tailor your compost recipe to your specific soil.

A couple other notes – You’re working with sandy soil, so my comments above regarding organic matter may not apply. Have you ever done a simple sedimentation test on the soil in this area? It’s a ridiculously simple test, but can test us a lot about your soil texture. If you haven’t done one and have the time, let’s do that too.

The ingredients you have available for making compost will work great, however, based on the soil test results we may add or negate something.

Essentially, you’ll be layering your ingredients in the following manner: 2-3 parts pine bark and 1 part chicken litter. Do you have any clay on your 500 acres (subsoil, etc.)? If so, we’ll add in 10% clay (10% based on the volume of chicken litter you use). I’d also recommend adding 1% (by volume of chicken litter) humic acid to this mix. Time and time again, the addition of clay, humic acids, and calcium (discussed below) to compost have been shown to greatly increase it’s aggregation and nutrient-holding capacity.

continued below…

Feb 05, 2012
Making a Compost Pile – Part 2 of 2
by: Compost Junkie Dave

…continued from above.

When you say you have lime, I assume you’re referring to dolomitic limestone (CaMg)(CO3)2, is that correct? If so, we must be careful using this due to the alkalizing effects it tends to produce (compost is typically alkaline when cured). Then again this may be countered by the natural acidity of your pine bark (starting pH of approx. 3.5-4.5). We won’t truly know until you’ve made your first batch of compost and sent it to the lab for analysis.

The finer you can grind your pine bark the better. The more surface area, the more space for your microbes to work, and the faster your ingredients will break down.

Once you’ve layered these ingredient properly and ensured good moisture levels, you’re going to let it do its thing. Let the piles decompose on their own. If you want the compost to break down more quickly, then you can turn it based on temperature readings. However, the more you turn it, the more nutrients you’re going to lose. The more I learn about compost, the less I recommend unnecessary turning. A lot of people turn their compost for the heck of it, unknowingly losing nutrients every time.

One final thing to consider will be the addition of a compost inoculant, but I think the info above is enough to get you going.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


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