Sunday, November 2, 2014

Composting ! Fall Farm Stewardship Meeting Report

          On October 13, 2014, the Maryland Horse Council Farm Stewardship Committee held its fall meeting with a focus on composting.  Rain threatened but about fifteen people came to lovely Brooke Grove Farm in Olney to learn more about composting.  Farm owner Dr. Charles Mess is an avid composter.  He has about fifteen stabled horses and twenty field-boarded horses on 203 acres of pastures and hay fields.  Brooke Grove is one of the now twenty Certified Agricultural Conservation Stewards horse farms under the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP). 

         The meeting was held at one end of the indoor arena.  Refreshments were sponsored by Piedmont Insurance, represented at the meeting by Matt Curran. Thanks again for this sponsorship!  Jane Thery, Farm Stewardship Committee Chair, opened the meeting with a review of the data on Maryland horse farms and the Chesapeake Bay watershed areas.  She noted that modern composting of horse manure not only makes good use of a local and natural source of soil nutrients but keeps these nutrients out of the water system.  This reduces the algae bloom that damages aquatic life. 

        Mollie Bogardus, Equine and Agricultural Specialist of Green Mountain Technologies, presented a new technology called "Earth Flow" to convert stall waste into reusable bedding.  Her sample of the final product looked something like dark mulch.  The system is being installed as a pilot project at Days End Farm. 

        Dr. Mess explained his composting operation. He has three piles which are about thirty feet long and three to four feet high.  The first pile has fresh stall waste.  The middle pile has actively composting manure and bedding.  This pile was aerated as it was moved.  The internal temperature reaches 140-170 degrees Fahrenheit which kills seeds and pathogens.  The third pile is compost ready to be used.  The composting piles are on a large cement pad separated from the stalls by the indoor arena but with easy access for stall cleaners.   Dr. Mess spreads the final compost on his hay fields using a finely-calibrated spreader.  He uses the hay he produces for the horses on the farm.

        Eddie Franceschi, Equine Resource Conservationist, Montgomery Soil Conservation District, explained the cost-sharing programs through his office, including support for the composting pad.  He noted that technical assistance is also available for soil testing and effective compost application.

        A special thanks to Dr. Mess for hosting this meeting on his impressive farm.