Chicken manure and compost “bricks” are the secret to the incredible productivity of our vegetable gardens
A lot of people would look at this pile of dirt and see, well… a pile of dirt.
But this is no ordinary dirt. This is a magical mixture of partially composted straw and chicken manure — aka plant super food.
At the beginning of each season I line the chicken enclosure with straw and leave it to the poultry to stomp it flat over the course of the next few months. As the straw gets packed down, I add more fresh straw on top, and the chickens stop that down too. After a couple of months or so, the straw combined with the chicken poop and an occasional spritz of water creates a packed, partially composted organic layer that can be scored and dug out in a sort of “brick.” It’s a lot like how they dig peat out of a bog.
After digging it out, the stuff is still pretty high in raw nitrogen potassium and phosphorus. Plants love it, but at those levels it’ll burn them, so I need to let it finish composting before using it in the garden. Rather than moving it all to a compost pile to finish, however, I take it directly to the vegetable garden. There I dig out previous season’s spent raised beds and line the bottom of the beds with a 4-6-inch layer of these compost “bricks”. Then, I shovel the soil back on top, level the bed, and let it rest for the next three months or so.
While the bed is resting, the compost bricks break down, releasing that organic matter into the soil. When the bed gets re-planted the following season, the new plant’s roots reach down and hit a mother lode of rich, loamy soil packed with good organisms and plenty of all natural plant food.
I can always tell when the plants have hit that organic layer at the bottom of the bed because they turn a really rich green and practically double their pace of growth.
Bonus: pest control
Beyond providing food for the plants, this compost brick method offers one other advantage: it helps deter tunneling pests like ground squirrels and gophers. I’m not sure whether it’s the smell or taste of composting chicken manure, or the hard pack the bricks make, but I know that given the choice between a bed with no bricks and one with them, the varmits always choose the bed(s) without.
Organic, sustainable and easy
The next time you’re re-charging your raised beds, consider using the “brick compost” method. It’s not only 100% organic and no-waste, but easier that spreading compost or manure too.