By Diane Lockspeiser

After a normal cold and snowy Winter such as we had this year, one of the sure signs of Spring is that the chicken coop starts to smell. The pileup of soiled bedding that I wasn’t able to remove during the Winter months thaws out and emits its “lovely” ammonia aroma. To complicate things a bit, the garden beds, where I want to put the soiled bedding, are still completely covered in snow. For now, the stinking stuff has to be put into piles next to the coop.

As I’ve written before, the first gardening I did on our hill was mostly in hay bales. At that time, I also had easy access to aged organic cow manure to use in the planting pockets cut into the bales as well as to spread on the other areas of the garden. I find cow manure to be the best addition to garden soil, but I no longer have the access I had (the farmer moved) and I haven’t bothered to find another source because I now have an abundance of chicken manure.

I must admit to being lazy about soil testing, so I haven’t done it. But, I’ve read to be careful with using chicken manure in the garden because it’s very basic (high PH). Looking at a PH chart with examples given, I see that ammonia is rated at 11 on a scale of 0-14, so it makes sense that, just judging by the odor, the chicken manure would be similar. However, since I have stopped getting hay bales I’ve been using wood chips as bedding in the coop. Looking that up, I read to be careful with using wood chips for mulch because it’s very acidic (low PH). Well, it seems to me that they should balance each other out, right? Hopefully. Only time will tell, and getting around to testing the soil would help.

After learning last fall about the wood chips being very acidic, I bought a few extra bags and spread them around my blueberry bushes and strawberry plants, both of which love acidic soil and needed mulching anyway.

When we first moved to this beautiful mountainside and I found the gardening conditions to be so very different from those I was used to, I had told myself to just consider it a grand experiment. I have to keep reminding myself of that, not getting too upset when things go wrong, and being willing to keep trying different things to find what works best. Come to think of it, that philosophy might be useful to apply to all of life, not just in the garden!~