Hot Topic: $oil Amendments

Sure, they are cute and cuddly. And when they grow up, they poop. LOTS. But you can convert their poo into compost tea. (Google: chicken compost tea)

That’s not an error in the title. I put that dollar sign up there on purpose.

And that’s because, unless you’ve got naturally rich, loamy soil in your yard, then you’ll probably drop some change on soil amendments during the first years of your garden.

As you become more accomplished, you’ll likely incorporate composting and things like cover crops–maybe vermicomposting–into your gardening skill repertoire, saving yourself some cash. (Need a book on this topic? I know of one.)

But that kind of composting takes time, something eager-beaver neophytes with visions of spring gardens don’t have.

Along these lines,  Meredith asked here last week:

Question: About soil. I’ve read a lot about it and think I understand the basics, BUT, all soil amendments that are necessary (I think) are costly. Unless you have resources, physical and otherwise, you have to buy manure, compost, garden soil, some kind of fertilizer. This really does add up. I know that over time, you can create your own compost, and I believe in the value of using all those bags of leaves people rake up for me :) as mulch to cut down on the need for watering, but … what do you think? How can we small home gardeners get around spending big bucks at the nursery for soil amendments and plant feeding?

To my way of thinking the two simplest, cheapest, most effective routes that I know to enriching the soil in a new garden are no-dig garden beds and compost tea. You can read about the former in a 2009 article that I wrote for a regional magazine. As for compost tea, you can purchase it or go DIY with this recipe. (No, you don’t have to get fancy with the hose system as illustrated. Remember: Gardening is an art. Feel free to tinker accordingly.)

Hoping to tap the wisdom of Twitter’s #gardenchat crowd (led weekly by @BG_garden), I threw out this question today:

3X this wk I’ve been asked re: “cheap, quick” soil amendments for NEW veg gardeners. Your advice? Post to follow.

Some responses:

From @yarnmaven: Guess it depends on the soil, but is there anything better than compost?…. [Compost]-tea is good and yes, will probably go further. You can make it or buy it…. One can spend a lot of time and money doing more and not get any better results. Compost is a broad category…. Fish and seaweed [emulsions] are second on my list – together [with compost tea] they are a triple threat!

From @Rosemont_Farm: Leaves free from neighbors; woodchips free from elec/ trimmer cos; free poo local farms; free coffee grounds Starbucks…. I grew up w my dad making compost tea from our rabbit poo, I always thought he was weird but boy did we have a garden!…. dad would let is sit for 5 days (about 1/3 full 5 gal bucket topped w water) then pour off around plants…. rabbit manure is very gentle to grow w, I used to make piles of pretty fresh poo & put squash seeds in – worked a-ok!

If your soil is really dreadful (rock hard or too sandy) you might want to explore bag gardens, too. (Personally, I’m a little leary of these in hot climates where that plastic may degrade and give off strange, unnatural stuff, but I wanted to bring it up anyway.)

Other ideas/suggestions for Meredith and other new gardeners, dear readers? Feel free to weigh in here, on Facebook or via Twitter.

Also, for further exploration on this topic–and for anyone interested in gardening for food on the cheap, I highly recommend Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community by H.C. Flores (Chelsea Green Publishing).


  1. I appreciate the blog and the many suggestions raised about soil amendments. The soil is complex and changes from region to regions throughout our country. BUT, it’s not just about dirt/soil. It’s about the complex eco systems that inhabit the soils. For someone who is just getting started, may I suggest a three prong approach. (1) Re-mineralization of the soils. (2) A semiannual replenishing of the microbial colonies that inhabit the soil. (3) Compost to create an safe environment that promotes #2 . #1 will feed the microbial activities and break down the compost. It also helps feed your plants as well. Depending on the size of the project, a person could expect to be out of pocket less than $80.00 per acre annually. If you have heavy clay soils, I would recommend an additional additive called expanded shale.

  2. Thanks so much for all these great ideas!! Mike, I’m not sure about the remineralization (what does it mean?), particularly since I know our soil here in San Antonio is very high in some minerals from the limestone base but probably deficient in others. I’ll need to try to find more info on that …

    Love the idea of compost tea and now I need to find some poop! My 2 large dogs would be happy to contribute but obviously that’s not a good idea 🙂 SO… where are these farmers who will provide the free chicken or rabbit manure? How does one find them?

    I’m going to try containers vs. raised beds this year because of the dogs, again. They don’t seem to try to dig in the containers, at least not yet. I saw an article on Mother Earth News about how to make self-watering containers which might be a good idea in the hot summers here.

    Thank you again —

  3. P.S. Sorry for the late response; I’d forgotten to check that box that tells me when comments on this thread are made so assumed there weren’t any. Duh.

  4. Meredith – Finding the free manure varies by community. Some resources include Craig’s List and Freecycle. You might also visit your local farmers market and chat up the beef and egg folks, see if they can help you out.

  5. I can see that it’s going to be part of my new plans to never leave home without a plastic bucket in my car trunk — just in case I encounter a source of free manure. Be Prepared!!

  6. Hahahaha. I should have mentioned checking the local feed store, if you’re near one. They might be able to connect you with someone.

  7. vahleagma, not sure what your question is? I am interested in the soil, I do market a product that restores minerals into the soil, but, it involves more than just giving you a better yield of produce. Mike

  8. Nice blog here! Also your web site loads up very fast! What web host are
    you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my site loaded up as quickly as yours

Comments are closed.