Yard “waste”, weeds, kitchen scraps, picnic remains… if it’s organic and will break down in a reasonable amount of time, throw it to your hens.
When you prune trees you can take the entire pruned branches and toss them into the chicken run. When all the leaves fall off, pull the branches out again and throw them into a hugelkultur mound, turn them into biochar, or use them for rocket stove fuel.
The leaves will be turned into compost by your birds, and then you can use that compost in your garden.
This mother hen and her chick started tearing into the leaves and garden “waste” as soon as I dropped it in the coop:
Chickens want to work for you if you give them a chance.
Today you’ll learn how to make homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.
My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe
If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:
First, you’ll need a place to work.
I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.
Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:
1. Rotten Wood
Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.
Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.
If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.
2. Aged Cow Manure
I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age for a few months.
Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”
If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.
I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:
I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.
You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.
I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.
Mix It All Up
Now all you need to do is get mixing.
Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.
As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.
If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.
Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil
If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do.
Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.
Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful.
Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.
When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.
Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.
Did you enjoy this article? Share it! Here’s a Pinterest graphic:
“I found this out almost by accident in the FL sand-pit where we live. I’ve been gradually building a garden by digging a pit, throwing in a layer of charcoal, and then dumping in all the kitchen scraps until it was full. Then our drains started going glug glug glug, and the pattern of plant growth in the septic drainfield changed markedly– looks like a partial drainfield failure, but we can’t afford to replace it yet :/ So we are nursing the septic system along by using our charcoal pits for greywater processing, too. We haul the greasy dishwater out in buckets and dump it in with the kitchen scraps. Next thing you know, urine was going there too, and boiled chicken skins, and dead fish carcasses I hauled home from the beach. When each pit is full, I cap it with another layer of charcoal (I’ve started adding animal bones to the burn barrel), throw on some mulch and topsoil, and plant something. We’ve had some nice lettuces and sunflowers this year, and the cherry tomatoes are just coming in, sweet and delicious. Pretty good for white quartz sand! Not quite brave enough to start throwing poop in there– I’m nervous about not being able to get far enough from the well on our lot– but I’m kind of obsessed with not letting usable nutrients leave the property in trash bags now.”
As they say, the “grass is always greener over the septic tank.”
Steve Solomon recommends you add clay to compost piles, especially if you have sandy soils.
Putting Clay in Compost
Since I pretty much do everything Steve Solomon tells me to do, I started putting clay in compost piles some time back… but now I’m really getting serious. You can see me adding clay to the compost layers in the video I posted yesterday:
“The heaps made with clay, so long as they contain a reasonable amount of coarse material to enable some air movement, do not need to be turned. The ingredients all get to soak and mix in a thick clay soup before stacking (putting a pile of food and drinks in every pantry) and the heaps seem to stay moist for a very long time. I recently opened up a heap I hadn’t touched for three months and it was still moist and generating warmth. A reasonable compost can be made by simply wetting the materials with clay slurry as the heap is built but remember that only the material which decomposes in association with clay particles is going to become durable humus/clay complex. A heap built this way will probably need to be turned and re-watered too. Think of the difference between a dish that’s been marinated compared to one that’s only been sprinkled with a dressing. Clay is made up of very fine particles so the combined surface area of all the particles in a peanut sized clod might be equal to a tennis court or three Clive Palmer skins or some such mind boggling factoid. No wonder, then, that it can hold so much water. Also these particles carry a negative charge so each one is capable of forming bonds with positively charged particles (ions) like many of the essential plant nutrients. They gradually fill up with waste, sticking fast and firm to walls, floors and ceilings as the food in the pantries is consumed. The resultant compost is packed with nutrients which are more or less available depending on how complex the chemical bonding with the clay is. What we have here is humus in close association with clay, a long lasting, water retentive material in which plant roots and soil organisms can find all the nutrition they are looking for. A material which will keep carbon, not only locked up, but also doing a great job for years to come.”
Putting Clay in Compost is Good For Sandy Soils
In sandy soils organic matter burns up a lot quicker than it does in clay soils. Clay is capable of hanging on to the good stuff for longer, binding with organic material and increasing its persistence.
If you make compost in an area where clay is not part of the soil, it’s easy to put clay in compost via buying bentonite. Just sprinkle it in as you layer materials – you don’t need as much clay as I dumped in my pile.
“The application of clay technology by farmers in northeast Thailand, using bentonite clay, has dramatically reversed soil degradation and resulted in greater economic returns, with higher yields and higher output prices. Studies carried out by The International Water Management Institute and partners in 2002–2003 focused on the application of locally sourced bentonite clays to degraded soils in the region. These applications were carried out in structured field trials. Applying bentonite clays effectively improved yields of forage sorghum grown under rain-fed conditions.
Bentonite application also influenced the prices that farmers received for their crops. Production costs are higher, but due to more production and the quality of the food, clay farmers could afford to invest and grow more and better food, compared to nonclay-using farmers.”
Lots to think about. Make that compost stick around!
If you like this post – please pin it! Look, I made a nice graphic.
“An herbicide that tainted Green Mountain Compost last summer can no longer legally be used on Vermont pastures. But compost companies still worry the chemical will find its way into their products.
The GMC compost, made at the Chittenden Solid Waste District facility in Williston, damaged or killed some broadleaf garden plants, such as tomatoes, costing the district at least $800,000.
The cause of the contamination was found to be aminopyralid. That agent is found in Dow weed-control products Milestone and Forefront and it apparently entered Green Mountain Compost in manure from horses that consumed feed treated with aminopyralid products. Milestone is used to kill up to 85 plant varieties.”
Now to get other states to kick this toxin to the curb.
There is no excuse for this stuff. It contaminates manure, compost, garden soils, hay… it’s insane and it’s been costing gardeners a fortune and wrecking many gardens across the US.
Andre stopped by that post recently to share the good news:
Excellent. I’m not normally in favor of government bans but in this case I applaud their farsightedness.
* * *
In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord‘s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
Long-time reader W. R. sends in a composting field report:
“It is good to see you all are having fun in the tropics. I watch your videos weekly.
I haven’t been doing a whole lot of active gardening, but I wanted to give you a little update in photos.
I have two to 4’x 8′ raised beds next to each other that were left fallow since last fall. They were both recently cleared of weeds and grass, and here you can see the difference between them:
The left one is a native soil I started adding kitchen scraps to, but not for very long. It also was more exposed to the sun. The right one was a compost pile I threw kitchen scraps and coffee grounds in.
This bed had more growing in it, and the soil was more protected by the sun. The right one looks more like good soil, eh?
No pink flip-flops this time.”
Though her email had a sad lack of pink flip-flop photos, this is a great illustration of what in-bed composting accomplishes.
At the beginning of April 2016, we left our homestead in North Florida and headed south to Ft. Lauderdale, and then, after spending almost a month there, we headed to our new home in the tropics.
On the way out of town, I recorded this video with Sandy Graves of C-Head LLC:
That ended up becoming my third most viewed video on YouTube. Who would’ve thought that a composting toilet would be so popular?
Sandy is a charismatic guy and a great inventor – I’m glad we met. For a few years I had planned to visit his place and see his system and just didn’t get around to it.
It finally happened on our way out of town for the last time. As we left the Ocala area and drove east on 40, we came up on his office and I said, “Man, I never got to meet Sandy in person and see his setup… I should have done that… now I’ll never get to…”
Rachel said, “We could stop!”
“I suppose so, and I have the camera… well, what the heck!”
So I did stop. We had only been on the road for perhaps an hour, our van loaded up with clothing and children, the small trailer behind us hauling the remnants of our worldly possessions.
The crazy thing was really the trip, though. I still can’t believe we pulled it off. I sold my plant nursery, got rid of 90% of my book library, gave away tools and a piano, furniture and fencing, barrels and lumber. Years of homesteading accumulation – gone. I even sold my guns and some of my guitars.
Do I regret it? No – not a bit. We left behind a collapsing country and sociopathic relatives and now live in a level of freedom we never experienced back in the US. Sure, it’s hard to adapt to a new culture but it’s fun if you look at it as a grand adventure.
Soon it will be the one-year anniversary of our arrival here.
I’m planning a party.
* * *
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.
Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.
The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.