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I am participating in a WSU compost trial this year. I received 40 yards of donated compost, which happened to come from Cedar Grove (though there are other participating compost companies as well). The idea is to apply it to about an acre of pasture grass, adjacent to an untreated section, and compare the results. The overall goal of the project is to facilitate the pairing of farms and municipal-waste compost product (read: this is kitchen and yard waste from the City People); and to investigate and overcome barriers to these pairings happening more frequently.

Our compost was delivered several weeks ago. They wanted to send a large truck which can deliver 50 yards of compost; but decided they couldn’t get it into our field driveway, because it slopes quite a bit from the road. (This is apparently one of several reasons why compost and farmers don’t pair more often).

 

So, they sent a smaller truck with a transfer box. This works well at our place, because there is a comfortable place to park on the shoulder across the street. The truck driver can drop his trailer there, dump the first load, pick up the transfer box off the trailer, and dump the second load. Even this was a smidge dicey in our muck soils in the field, however. We had some monsoon rains the week prior to the delivery, the soil was very saturated, and his tires sunk pretty good. He had to empty the second half of the second load in the driveway, because he just didn’t want to maneuver in that mud any more than necessary. The delivery was being filmed as part of the project, so that would have been awkward if a truck-stuck incident happened!

There were some logistics to be worked out for spreading the material. We don’t own a manure spreader. Good-sized ones are expensive, and we don’t produce enough barn waste to justify buying one. Luckily, the Snohomish Conservation District has one available for loan, with a requested donation to offset the costs of transporting it.

But, the spreader was broken the week before my reservation. I waited a couple of weeks for the part to be ordered so it could be fixed. Finally, last week it became available again.

imageThe spreader is a smaller, ground-driven one. It can fit several yards of material, and can be pulled by an ATV. This worked well, I drove it around with the ATV, and Kirk filled it up for me with the tractor. It took about 48 seconds (counting in my head) to empty the spreader, which was one long (roughly 520’) row in our far pasture.

imageThen, three loader scoops from the tractor to refill it. It took us a couple of hours to get it spread. With this size of spreader, it’s definitely a two-man, two implement job. It would be ridiculous to hitch and unhitch it from the tractor to load it for every minute of spreading! It also makes is so that you definitely want the compost dumped adjacent to the spreading area. (This is apparently reason #2 that compost and farmers don’t pair very often: it’s a lot of labor to spread compared to conventional fertilizer or grazing animals spreading their own manure…)

Yesterday I ran the drag harrow over it, twice, to help the compost reach the soil. It was spread over recently-grazed, then mowed grass, and got rained-on good last week. So I’m hoping it’ll start benefitting the grass right away.

The compost amount we received would normally cost over $1,000 to purchase. Though I fully expect it to improve the soil fertility and grass yield, I cannot imagine there is a good return on investment at $1K/acre for pasture land (reason #3 that farmers and compost don’t pair very often). But, I’m keeping an open mind, and am curious to see the results. I appreciate the donation, anyway, and the chance to try it out! Maybe if compost becomes more ubiquitous, its price will come down, and make it more feasible to use on farms.

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