Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Manure Pile

Look at it.  Just sitting there.  All that fertility.

My neighbor cleaned his feed lot and put together a big-ole manure pile.  The stuff that dreams are made of.  I’m sure he’ll spread it on his fields this fall without really letting it compost but that’s just how most people do it.

My other neighbor, my dad, keeps horses.  There is a fair manure pile at the barn made from the manure of one of the horses.  I …erm…liberated…some portion of that manure for my garden and hope that dad doesn’t mind.  I mean, it’s his manure.  He needs it for his hay fields and his own garden.  Maybe if I put in some extra effort to keep all three horses bedded and keep the manure composting he won’t mind…

I have a few cows.  We rotationally graze them so there is no cow manure pile.  I have a lot of chickens…same thing.  No manure except in the old hen house.  Pigs?  No manure pile.  I keep rabbits and the breeders stay put.  Well, that’s what I’ve got.  Rabbit manure.  Well, rabbit manure and what I clean out of the hen house each spring and fall.  Well, that and what I clean out of the greenhouses in the spring.  But I need compost now.  Like…NOW!  Ugh.  What to do?

I guess I could head to St. Louis Composting to just buy compost.  For $25 I can buy a pickup truck load but why would I do that when I could spend a month shoveling, raking, sifting and hauling to end up with a lesser quality (though herbicide-free) compost for free?

And even if I had my neighbor’s manure piles and even if I had the energy to turn them all by hand or a heaven-sent front-end loader to turn the piles for me would it be enough?  How much finished compost could I haul home at $25/yard?  When would that be enough?  If I had 50 yards of compost sitting in a pile on the farm ready to be used would I still look over the fence wishing that manure pile was my own?  Is there such a thing as enough?  Am I a compost miser?  Do I hoard manure?  Are my eyes bigger than my stomach?

How much is enough?  I don’t know.  I just know I need more and I need it right now.  And again in the spring.  And again in the summer.  And again next fall.  Does anybody else have these problems?

Fast Compost

In a recent post on compost I mentioned a fast compost method of turning the compost every day for two weeks.  I put it to the test.  I brought home a truckload of horse manure, built two bins and filled one bin.  I wanted to give it plenty of air so I also mixed in two well-rotted bales of straw that sat in my garden all summer.  As I built the pile I sprayed it down with the hose.  This pile measures 4x4x4 and is made of an old roll of fence a friend gave us and some boards my father in law gave us.

For two weeks I turned this compost pile.  Sometimes before work, sometimes after work.  But almost every day it got turned.  There were a few days when hot steam was rising out of the compost pile as I turned it at 5:30 in the morning.  A light breeze carried the steam right in my face.  I guess it could have been worse but it wasn’t great.

Two weeks.

Two long weeks.

Two long, miserable, tiring weeks.


Each day the compost pile heated up.  Each day I turned it.  The pile stayed pretty hot the whole time.

We’re at the end of two weeks.  Now I’m sifting the compost out, mixing it with a few other ingredients and starting a new pile.  The finished compost is being mined out of the right.  Anything that is not finished (doesn’t pass through the screen) gets placed on the new pile on the left.  The pile on the left is mostly another truckload of horse manure I hauled from the barn on Sunday.  I would guess about 60% of the bulk doesn’t fit through the screen and needs to compost further.  This could have been improved if I hadn’t put the straw bales in or if I had chopped the material to start with.



I mix the compost in the wheelbarrow with a bit of crushed char from the fire pit and either a coco coir brick or well-rotted sawdust.  This gives me a good bedding medium but it still needs to cure before planting.  It’s just too hot.  Please ignore the grass growing in my greenhouse.


So I guess that’s that.  Fast compost.  I’m not sure I’ll do that again.  I’m a little sore.  I think it’s far better to just plan ahead.  Or buy a tractor with a loader on it.