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This year I made a pretty big mistake with my garden. My garden has been struggling a bit more than usual with the weather this year anyways, but the mistake that I made with using chicken manure in my garden made things even worse.
Last year around this time I got three adorable baby chicks. They were so tiny and cute, and I wish that I had gotten more pictures of them when they were younger but I was more focused on just taking care of them at the time than I was on taking lots of photos and videos of them. They grew so fast, though, and they went from being tiny babies to outgrowing their brooder box in just a few weeks’ time. (You can see a few pictures of them in the video below.)
Chicken Manure as an Added Bonus of Backyard Chickens
All three of them are hens, and they are all laying eggs well now, and that was one of my main reasons for wanting backyard chickens. But along with collecting their eggs, another thing that I was excited about was being able to use their manure as fertilizer for my garden. I was thinking about how great it would be to get free fertilizer as an added bonus of having backyard chickens and about how it would be so nice not to have to buy any extra fertilizer. Fertilizer in general is more expensive now than it used to be, and I like to use organic methods in my garden, so that would make buying a lot of organic fertilizer even more expensive, and I loved the idea of having a free and natural source of fertilizer right out in the backyard. So whenever I would clean out the chicken coop it would feel like I was collecting fertilizer for my garden rather than just doing a chore.
Composting the Chicken Manure
I gathered their manure and shavings that I cleaned out of their coop in a pile so I could let it compost some before adding it to my garden. Chicken manure is sometimes called a “hot” manure, so you can’t just add it to your garden right away, and you have to let it compost first. I kept collecting their manure and shavings until the end of December, and then I stopped adding to that pile and created a second pile so I could add new manure to that pile whenever I cleaned out their coop and then let that first pile compost over the winter so it would be ready to add to my garden in the spring. I don’t usually plant anything where I live until around the middle of April, so I figured that that would be enough time for the manure to compost enough for me to use it.
When the spring came, though, I noticed that not all of the wood shavings from the chicken’s bedding had broken down and that there were still a lot of bigger shaving pieces, but I just was hoping that it would still work well for adding some fertilizer and organic matter to my soil. I added some of it around the base of my plants and in the hole that I dug when I was putting in seedlings. And when I was making hills for my squash, and cucumber, and melon plants, I put some in the hills and also around the base of the plants once the seeds sprouted.
Problems in the Garden
I noticed that everything was growing very slowly, though, and at first I just assumed that it was because of the very rainy and cloudy weather in June slowing things down. And I think that that was probably part of it, but once we got into July and my squash and melon plants still didn’t seem to be growing hardly at all I knew that something was wrong.
I’ve had trouble with growing squash and melons in the past for different reasons. And some years it was a groundhog eating my plants, some years I had them in a place where they just weren’t getting enough sunlight, and my soil quality is something that I’m still working on improving each year because it’s very sandy. But this year was the worst that I’ve ever seen my squash and melon plants. They look completely pathetic and I’ve stopped even bothering to water most of them at this point because they just don’t seem to be growing at all, and I’ve just let the weeds take over with the hope of keeping up with them better next year or maybe trying to add some more mulch to block them out. The corn I tried to grow is just as pathetic. It’s barely even past my knees when I stand next to it, and if I get any ears of corn growing at all they will be very tiny ones.
The place where I’m growing my squash, melon, and corn plants is a newer garden space that I just started last year for the first time. It’s the only place in the yard that gets even close to full sun, but I found out last year that it also has pretty terrible soil, too. It’s so sandy that last year when we had a drought I could actually see the top layer of soil washing away when I tried to water my plants while the soil underneath was still dry. So I know I definitely need to keep working on improving the soil, but since it’s a decent sized space and it would take a lot of compost to fill that whole area, I decided this year to try just putting some compost in the areas where I really needed it and then gradually start adding more over time.
My Plan for Using Compost and Chicken Manure
Since I was going to be planting my squash and melons in hills spaced apart anyways, I thought I could just make a big pile of compost and chicken manure at each hill to plant my seeds in. That way I could make the compost that I had stretch a bit further since I was leaving a few feet in between each hill anyways and I didn’t really need any compost in the pathways where I was just walking in between. So I made some hills using some bagged compost from the store and some of the composted chicken manure from my chickens. The problem I had was that the bagged compost didn’t really have a lot of fertilizer in it. I think the ratio was about half a percent each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
So, I was hoping that the chicken manure would add lots of good nutrients to my soil especially for the squash and corn plants since I know that squash and corn tend to like a lot of nutrients. And since the chicken manure is such a strong fertilizer that it could even burn the plants if you add it straight to the soil without letting it age first, I figured there would be plenty of fertilizer to help my squash and my corn plants to grow even if the bagged compost that I added didn’t have a whole lot in the way of fertilizer in it.
The Wrong Ratio in My Composted Chicken Manure
But the thing that I wasn’t thinking about was how little manure was actually in my pile in comparison to the amount of wood shavings. I didn’t start collecting any manure from my chickens until they were a couple of weeks old because I was using paper towels in their brooder at the very beginning. And then when they were so little, their droppings were so tiny. And even when they got bigger and they were a couple of months old, they still weren’t full sized yet, and their droppings were still smaller than they are now that they are a year old. And since they were having a lot of fun when they were young with making mess in their brooder and knocking over their water dish, I had to clean out their brooder a lot which means that I was adding a lot of those big wood shavings to the pile with only a small amount of chicken manure. And since I stopped adding to the pile at the end of December when they were just four months old, the amount of manure that I collected in their first four months just wasn’t a large enough amount in comparison to the amount of wood shavings that I had in the pile, so the ratio was off.
An Unintentional Experiment
I think that some of the nutrients from the pile that were there might had seeped into the soil over the winter, too, because I planted a tomato plant right near where I had kept the pile and it seemed to be thriving the most of any of the plants in my garden. The leaves are starting to get yellow now, but for awhile it was so lush and green and it still has a lot of tomatoes waiting to ripen and I’ve already harvested several off of the plant already.
So there clearly must have been some fertilizer in that pile since the tomato plant was doing so well compared to my others, but it just wasn’t enough for the squash and corn plants I guess. I think that what happened is that I was basically just adding wood shavings to my squash and corn plants and my melon plants with maybe just a tiny amount of chicken manure fertilizer that just wasn’t enough for those plants to thrive.
It ended up being a bit of an unintentional experiment this year because I could clearly see a difference between the squash, melon, and corn plants and the tomato plant that I had put right near where the compost pile was. So I think that since some of the nutrients from the pile had seeped into the soil over the winter, this year I’m going to try spreading some that manure out over the garden area this fall and winter rather than just leaving it all in a pile and adding it to my plants in the spring.
I can see from my tomato plant that chicken manure does work as a fertilizer since that plant was doing so well compared to my other plants, but I think that the big mistake that I made was just not realizing that I didn’t have enough of it since my chickens were so young last fall.
This coming year I’m looking forward to trying chicken manure in my garden again with hopefully much better results this time, and I’ll also be continuing to work on improving the soil quality with more compost and maybe with some leaf mulch, too.
If you’ve had any successes or failures with using chicken manure in your garden, I’d love to know what your experience has been in the comments section down below.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.