Build Compost Pile and Spread Horse Manure

It is clean up time in the yard.  We mowed the lawn with a mulching mower that chops and gathers all the leaves along with the grass.  The compost pile was basically flat, so now is the time to build it up before winter.

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It is still sunny and windy enough to put a few clothes on the line, but time to pull in the clothes line soon.  You can see how much the house casts a shadow and we still have 6 weeks to the winter solstice.  In the back you can see the compost pile starting to form, and the dark brown color on the garden from the horse manure.

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I know this is not a beautiful picture, but I am always trying to understand what makes good soil.  I understand that organic matter is a reservoir of nutrients and water in soil.  It aids in reducing compaction, and it increases water infiltration.  Humus is what you get when the compost is completely decomposed so that is not going to decompose much more and has become stable.  That is the black stuff that looks like good dirt that is the end result of the compost pile.  In researching the value of manure I read that it adds nitrogen and helps the soil food web by encouraging microbial activity.  All of this improves soil structure.  I think I will need to study how soil works a lot longer to really understand it.  I went to the local horse stables where they have horse manure and straw in various stages of decomposition.  I shoveled up the most decomposed stuff and stuck it in buckets in the car trunk and brought it home for free.  Maybe I will do it again in the spring.

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The top leaves on the brussel sprout plant.  Really cold weather is projected later this week so I might have to eat or harvest the brussel sprouts more quickly.

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I finally got a shot of a chickadee in the crabapple tree.  I have been hearing the chickadee song all week and seeing them every day in the yard.

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Viburnum dentatum – Chicago Lustre.  The viburnum bushes are just starting to turn color and are currently hosting a flock of sparrows, though other birds fly in and out, too.  We planted two small bushes in the fall of 2009, I think, so it has been 5 years.  They were planted with the centers about 6 feet apart, with the idea that they would grow together to form a large bushy area.  They can grow up to 8 to 10 feet, I understand, which was the goal, but they get kind of leggy, and in the spring I will need to prune them to keep them growing nicely without falling down on the lawn.

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I dug back in my old photos and found a picture of the two small viburnum bushes against the back fence in the spring of 2010.   They were a little over 3 feet tall and now are maybe 7 feet tall.  The garden has gotten messy since then, but I have had a lot of fun experimenting!

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Fall color on fothergilla bush.  I don’t know if you can see, but there is a branch in the bottom front with larger leaves.  That branch grew from below the grafting line and is a different cultivar.  The color is redder and the leaves are bigger.  I am not sure whether to cut the branch off and hope that a new branch will fill in from higher up, or just leave it as is.

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Miscanthus ‘ morning light’ seed heads.  I was looking at this grass more closely today and saw that the red seed heads were turning into the fluffy white stuff that the sparrow like so much for their nests.

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Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘little bunny’ fountain grass.  This is the largest the little bunny grass has gotten over quite a few years.

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Here is what little bunny looked like in August with rudbeckia – black-eyed susans.

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Almost all the plants have been cut down in the bed by the patio, except for this huge parsley plant!  Now we will be able to see the yew bushes from the kitchen window throughout the winter.  Under all the leaves is dragon’s blood sedum ground cover.  I need to chop it back some as it starts to cover the patio….

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Hicksii yew bushes.  This is a shot from when they were planted in the yard in September 2011.  You can see how much they have grown since then, in three years.

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I am not that fond of house sparrows, but it is interesting to watch their social behavior.  How many birds can yet get in a bird bath?  I can count at least 6 here.

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Finally, we went for a walk on the newly paved Cal-Sag bike trail this morning and came across this hornet’s nest.  Dan told me a story of when he was a little boy and took a hornet’s nest to school.  Once it got into a warm classroom the hornets started to come out and they had to get it outside quickly!

2 thoughts on “Build Compost Pile and Spread Horse Manure

  1. Very nice photos-especially of the birds. I like the hornet nest story. =-) For the manure, putting manure on in fall/winter is good. Any stage of decomposition is fine as it will decompose more over winter/spring and be ready for planting. If you put manure on in spring/summer, make sure it is well composted and not fresh, otherwise it can burn the plants. Also, you may want to check the pH of your soil. In Wisconsin near Milwaukee it was often recommended to add lime to the manure to balance the pH. Here in Colorado the soil is more alkaline, so lime is not needed when adding manure. I’m not sure what kind of soil is in your area of Illinois. You could contact the University Extension for your area and ask them. They often have very good advice and give the advice for free. In our area we had them come evaluate some trees for us that were not doing well, and the people from the Extension were very helpful.

    • Thanks for the great information! In general, our clay soil is alkaline, so I don’t think I need to add lime. The manure is pretty well composted. I think I heard that it was good to add in the fall, so that’s why I made the effort now. I sent in a soil test when we first moved to this house, but have not done it since. I have added a lot of compost over the years, but then we have grown a lot of vegetables, too!

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