Compost nitrogen takes it slow…

Notes on: Improved compost mix great on the pad, but slow to deliver in the field – From NewFarm.org

This study was mostly inconclusive. There was so much variability between test plots that is was difficult to conclude much after just one year of research. Agronomic research must be a pain.

The only thing they could say, statistically speaking, is that poultry manure is awesome. Well, they didn’t quite say it that way. They said that poultry manure compost improved soil-carbon levels so much that they’re allowed to statistically say so, despite the crazy variability that prevents them from saying much else. Soil carbon generally translates into soil organic matter, and organic matter is awesome, thus poultry manure is awesome. They didn’t quite explain why it worked out that way, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that Albrecht knew why: Because you can’t retain carbon in your soil unless there’s enough nitrogen around to entertain it, and poultry manure is high in nitrogen.

The study also mentioned that these figures might improve in two years when the nitrogen that’s currently tied up in the compost decides to come out and play. Apparently, nitrogen feels quite cozy in the compost and doesn’t budge unless microbes get involved. The study suggested that a farmer converting from chemical fertilizer to compost apply a faster-acting nitrogen source for the first two years until the lazy nitrogen in the compost can catch up. I was surprised they didn’t mention that the same farmer should take steps to stimulate microbial activity.

(Note to self: If I were to ever write a soil book, I think I’d title it “Start a slammin’ party in your soils”.)

They also noted that, with further studies, SPAD chlorophyll readings might prove to be a good way to gage a plant’s nitrogen needs through the season. This is probably something worth keeping an eye on.

Questions I was left with:

  • what do they mean by “finished” poultry compost?
  • when they said raw poultry manure dissolved more solids into the soil water than other treatments, what kinds of solids were they talking about? …and is this good or bad?
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