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Soil Test, Mulch, Manure


April 14, 2020

Soil Testing:  Could you please tell me where I can get my garden soil tested?  I am starting a fairly ambitious vegetable garden, and have been working a lot of amendments into some raised beds.  I am wondering if I am using the right stuff, and would like to make sure I’m not wasting time, energy and money!!

Mulch:  My tree trimmer gave me an enormous amount of freshly-chipped wood (mostly Doug Fir and fruit trees).   Does it need to be composted, or at least aged?  If so, how?  I thought I could use it as mulch immediately, but then read (online) that it will rob the soil of nitrogen, and potentially kill my trees and/or lilacs.  Bob Pennington at Agua Fria Nursery agrees that it is an iffy proposition.  I have a small mountain  of wood chips!!  I would like to use them as mulch around my pinon trees, if it would be safe, and helpful.  What do you suggest?

Fresh manure for fertilizer?:  We live in Eldorado, and the stables offer a ready, and abundant amount of manure - horse, rabbit, chicken, donkey (?).  How would I use fresh manure?  Does it need to be composted?  If so, how?


Answer by JZ: Your questions will be received by other master composter colleagues who may also respond. Here are my thoughts:

Soil test kits will be available at the BernCo. Extension Office, when it reopens, ( ? when?). The kit is free. The test costs about $35.00. We use the soil test lab at Colorado State Univ..  Of course you may use another soil test lab of your choice.  BernCo. Extension Office, 1510 Menaul Blvd., Ext. NW.  505.243.1386.

Finished compost outperforms any other high desert soil amendment. If you purchase compost, I’d suggest that you buy one which is locally made.

Wood chip mulch may be used on top of the soil around perennials, do not dig them into the soil, just place on top, then you will avoid the “nitrogen steal” situation. The chips will slowly decompose over time. As a mulch (3-4”deep) they will help decrease evaporation of moisture from the soil around plants.

You may also use the chips as a bulking agent in your composting setup. When you harvest the finished compost, just sift out the chips and use them again. 

All the manures you mention are useful.  The best thing you can do with any manure is to decompose it in a composting setup, before putting in garden soil. A fine composting method for manures is the hot process which destroys weed seeds and pathogens. This is described in our brochure Desert Composting under Composting Info in our website menu.

Fresh manure may be added to garden soil in the late fall, then allowed to decompose over winter months. Some fresh manures have a high nitrogen content which may chemically burn tender plant roots.  Best thing compost them first. 

Consider attending any of our composting / soil classes when we get the go-ahead to hold classes again. All will be posted on our website. 

Hope that this is helpful. This is a fine time to be gardening and composting.  Enjoy it. Let us know if you have questions.     Best.

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