Learn how to compost
Innovative Livestock Systems will give away free finished compost from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, at its Barton County and Pawnee County locations.
“If it’s really successful, we’ll do it again,” said Heather Donley at ILS Communications.
ILS will have staff on hand to operate a skid-loader to help load compost into trucks or trailers, but gardeners with smaller projects can also bring buckets or tubs to scoop up some of the rich, black amendments.
Donley is new to gardening, but looking forward to giving it a try this year. She and her daughter are looking forward to picking up a supply of ILS compost for their own use this coming Saturday.
Once gardeners bring this ILS compost home, here are some ways they can use it:
• Spread it over the garden and till it in. This increases fertility and improves the structure of the soil. Use between 1 to 2 bushels (50-100 pounds) for a 10x10 foot space.
• Add when planting. Add some to the bottom of a trench or planting hold, and it will provide slow-release fertilizer.
• Make soluble fertilizer by mixing it with water, making a tea. Water plants and then add solids to soil later.
• Mulch in order to keep weeds down by spreading it 2-3 inches thick along a row of veggies or flowers. This also helps hold water where roots can access it.
• Spread lightly and evenly over lawn for fertility. Compost can also be spread and incorporated before starting grass.
• Mix equal parts with sand and soil to make a potting mix for container plants.
For more detailed information, and to learn more, read KSU Horticulture Report “Making and Using Compost at home,” available at through the Barton County Extension or online at www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF1053.pdf.
Norbert Schneider, vice president of administration at Innovative Livestock Services, is excited about the new industrial compost turner at the ILS feed yard. It breaks down waste from cattle and turns it into a valuable compost product that increases the nutrients and water-holding capacity of soils. Not only is it increasing the efficiency in recycling natural resources, it is providing a new way the company can give back to communities where it operates.
“It’s basically a big rototiller,” Schneider said. The machine starts at one end of a large row of manure, and grinds through it, increasing the surface area exposed to oxygen. This allows the raw material to quickly heat up to 160 degrees, the temperature needed to kill weed seeds and harmful bacteria. The process is repeated four to five times over a few months, cutting the time it takes to produce finished compost by two-thirds. In the end, the smell is gone and it looks like dirt, Schneider said.
Taking a drive to the ILS feed yard north of Great Bend recently when the new equipment was delivered, we observed some surprising details. First, the sheer amount of manure being processed was eye-opening. Several rows, each over 100 feet long, stand side by side at the north end of the lot. Some had already been processed once, while some looked relatively fresh. Steam rose in patches off the newly processed rows, indicating the cooking had already begun. Looking down the rows, the unmistakable waves of heat reminded us of looking down the highway on a hot day. This stuff was really hot.
Innovating what already works
ILS is a large cattle-feeding and integrated farming operation headquartered in Great Bend. Composting is its latest project in becoming more sustainable. Using a closed-loop nutrient cycle, the associated farms produce high quality feed for cattle, and the cattle return carbon to the soil through manure. This returns nutrients and helps improve the soil’s structure and ability to retain moisture. But large amounts of manure are filled not only with rich nutrients, but also water.
“It’s heavy, and it costs a lot to transport it,” said Heather Donley, ILS Communications. That was the challenge the company tackled when it began looking for ways to innovate the process. Before, piles were turned with loaders, and it could take several months to break them down enough to be useful.
Composting concentrates the beneficial nutrients and eliminates some of that water. Donley said the project to enhance composting practices began last year, and so far has proven successful.
“Thanks to the new turner, particles are smaller and finer, spreading more easily, and with better distribution so each little plant gets a more equal dose,” she said. Lighter loads, too, require less fuel for loading and transport. This, she added, has increased the operation’s sustainability. “We try to get better every day about how we recycle and reuse the valuable resources we have.”
Sharing the wealth
Another important goal of the company, Donley added, is finding ways to give back and make life better for the community. In recent years, the popularity of gardening has been on the rise. Sales of annuals and perennials at garden centers continue to go up each year, according to Garden Center magazine, and Fortune and Time have recently reported on the popularity of locally grown food. It follows that more people are trying their hands at gardening, either in ground or in pots.
This prompted ILS President and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Kuckleman to share the company’s new carbon-rich wealth with the community. ILS employees know first-hand that it can be hard work to produce food, and the compost they make works for them.
“We wanted to try it, and we hope people come out and use it for their gardens,” Donley said.