We have been working hard to get our soils back in tip top shape and I thought i would share with you a  rather easy and cheap way of getting calcium into your soil.

Calcium is an important element in any soil food web and without it plants cannot function to the best of their abilities. Therefore it is crucial that we focus on getting our calcium levels up.

A process avaliable to most home gardeners is as follows....

We save up all our bones from soups, broths and so on and put them in a big air-tight bucket until it is full.

When it is full we make a big fire and throw the bones in - this part of the process is very smelly! you leave them on the fire untill they are all broken down and then store them in a container for use.

 

The best way to use this bone ash is to put it straight into your compost as you build it, on the carbon/dry material layers. That way it will compost down with all the other goodies and be in a better form for your plants and soil micro-organisms to use it. Easy as that!

 

Many people use egg shells on their garden hoping that this will provide for their plants calcium needs. Eggshells take a very long time to break down and wont be avaliable to your plants for many years to come. We dont have time to wait around for this, so burning your bones and applying through the compost is a sure fire way that the calcium will be avaliable to your plants immediately.

 

Although we are not scientists, home gardeners are patrons of the soil and the more we can find out about ways to deliver to our plants their basic needs, the better our soil will be and the healthier the food we eat will be!

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Comment by Bridge Scully on October 19, 2011 at 10:08pm

THat biochar idea sounds good earl. We tried making biochar (essentially charcoal) with a fairly big fire in a hole that we had dug. We got the fire going really well and then covered it with corrugated tin and dirt....when we uncovered it, we found many logs that were upburnt so we felt there was a bit to learn in terms of size of wood and how long to wait to cover it. Your can trick sounds good, you could just put a bit in every night while the fires going, and before long you would have a good stash. We have been using biochar on all our new garden beds.

Ros, I have heard of many healthy trees growing from dead animals put in the hole at planting time. It certainly doesnt seem right waste all those minerals. I have buried bones too deep under plants, however putting it through the compost in the form of burnt bones means the calcium is readily avaliable for our plants. Im unsure what your soil is like, but we had ours tested and the calcium levels were very low...it seems this is a pattern in NZ soil, so at this point its vital to be getting calcium back in the soil in the most readily avaliable form. Its amazing the difference you can see in plant growth just by insuring you have enough calcium avaliable to them.

Comment by Ros Smart on October 6, 2011 at 4:32pm
Call me old fashioned if you like, but we just bury the left-over rats and mice and birds that that cats bring in. We usually bury them under a fruit tree. The fig tree has one of our cats under it and you should have seen the lovely figs we got the following year. We do try to make sure that everything is buried deep enough to stop it being dug up again - not by us but rather by any roaming dog. The cat we buried at about 1/2m and then we have added a large stone which ensures that we don't accidentally dig it up ourselves. Sometimes I throw left-over chicken bones into the compost (soup bones are too hard) and then bury them in the ground when they emerge in the compost at planting time. They break down slowly and there is no danger of overdoing it.
Comment by Earl Mardle on October 4, 2011 at 10:46am
BTW, I suspect doing the same with the egg shells would work as well. We dry ours in the oven after I have baked then grind them in the food processor before adding back to the mash.
Comment by Earl Mardle on October 4, 2011 at 10:45am

A slight twist on that. I have a wood burner enclosed fire and caught both a rat and a mouse a whiole back. I'd heard about the idea of burning the bodies and mixing the ash with water to spray around the place as a deterrent.

Whether it works I don't know, but I needed to burn the bodies without them getting mixed in the wood ash so I pout them into an old paint tin and stood it in the fire once things were burning well (ie, it was pretty hot).

The pot produced flames for a fair while as the organics burned off and next morning the tin had some ash and a few, easily crushed, bones.

So maybe you could do the same with the food bones. The wood fire is very hot, the organics (smells etc) will burn in the heat.

I'm also thinking of using the same method for producing biochar next winter, but in a closed tin with just a few air holes to let the gases escape without burning the contents. Anyone else tried this?

Comment by Peter Riches on October 2, 2011 at 9:00pm

Fascinating idea. I particularly like the way you feed the (presumably now much more soluble) calcium compounds through the compost heap to re-bind it with organic matter. This will make it less likely to leach out of the soil, whilst still making it available to the plants and other beneficial soil life. I reckon the calcium in eggshells could be freed up in the same way.

For a vegan, though, who would not have bones or eggshells, perhaps a mineral (lime, dolomite) or vegetable (seaweed) solution would be a good bet. I like the seaweed option because the calcium cycle rests in the sea until the tectonic conveyor belt drags it back up into the mountains. Are there any problems, though, with salination? If you compost the seaweed, does the calcium get grabbed whilst the salt washes on through? That's what I'm hoping.

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