Compost nerd recommends manure


HomeHome / Blog / Compost nerd recommends manure

Jun 22, 2024

Compost nerd recommends manure

Tenzin Botsford walks along a row of compost in various stages of the curing process. His goal is to take a livestock-bedding pack to finished compost in one year. Prior to making its own compost, Red

Tenzin Botsford walks along a row of compost in various stages of the curing process. His goal is to take a livestock-bedding pack to finished compost in one year.

Prior to making its own compost, Red Door Family Farm purchased expensive commercial compost along with other organic fertilizers.

Tenzin Botsford shows a tote of specialized compost he makes imitating the Johnson-Su bioreactor method. David C. Johnson is a molecular biologist and research scientist at the University of New Mexico. The method creates compost teeming with microorganisms.

A section of a windrow in the heating phase is too warm to touch comfortably. Tenzin Botsford said that's desirable and is part of successful compost formation.

Four cardboard air tubes are placed in a tote of compost for proper air flow, in the process of making Red Door’s version of Johnson-Su bioreactor compost. It’s essential the process be done aerobically.

The result of Tenzin Botsford’s efforts at using a modified-Jonson-Su bioreactor-compost method is a product that's fungal-dominant. Botsford meters it out at 2 pounds per acre using a paint-strainer bag while running a water hose through the mixture.

Tenzin Botsford uses compost on cover crops and also bulk spreads in the fall after crops are off for the season.

Tenzin Botsford says his goal is to have the farm he sources manure from do the initial composting phase to streamline the composting process for Red Door.

Tenzin Botsford shows different stages of compost from his windrows at Red Door Family Farm near Athens, Wisconsin, during a 'Focus on Conservatio' field day held July 19 at the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield Agricultural Research Station.

Red Door Family Farm has 180 different plantings in 2023. Tenzin Botsford explained that’s how many lines there are on the spreadsheet for this year’s vegetable production. That includes successions of certain crops like seven total broccoli plantings and 15 successions of lettuce.

Tenzin Botsford has been running his irrigation systems 24 hours every day since mid-May due to the drought. His current compost windrow is working at a less-than-ideal moisture level of 60 percent because irrigating vegetables is prioritized.

Tenzin Botsford says his long-term vision for Red Door Family Farm is to use compost to create disease-suppressant soil.

Tenzin Botsford says he’s not an expert after only two years of compost-making but he has things to share after deep diving into the process in the past 18 months.

Tenzin Botsford reaches into a compost pile in the mesophilic stage. It’s cool to the touch, and supports earthworms and a host of microorganisms.

Greg Galbraith

ATHENS, Wis. – Making compost from livestock manure is an important part of a soil-management plan for Tenzin and Stacey Botsford on their organic vegetable farm – Red Door Family Farm near Athens.

“It’s important to know your source for livestock manure if your goal is to convert it to compost,” Tenzin Botsford. “It’s a sawdust-manure combination we have hauled in from a bedded pack serving young stock on a friend’s dairy farm.”

It’s important to know the management practices used by outside manure sources, he said.

“If there’s a significant commercial-wormer presence in your manure it can affect certain composting processes,” said Botsford, who gets his manure during periods when worming doesn’t take place.

A tractor-operated compost turner does an excellent job of the necessary periodic mixing and aerating of compost. But it’s beyond the Botsfords’ scale to have that luxury. Instead he uses a tractor and loader to accomplish the task. He said one of the advantages of composted manure is the stability of the end product. Nitrogen, phosphorus and other micronutrients like boron combine with carbon through composting – making them stable rather than volatilizing or leaching.

“Conditions don’t have to be perfect for compost to be put on a field, and it can lie on the surface and not deteriorate or volatilize,” he said.

In terms of nutrient analysis, a properly composted manure will maintain and even improve its nutrient level in half the volume of the pre-composted amount, he said.

“You can haul the same level of nutrients in half the trips,” he said.

Because Red Door Farm grows crops like cauliflower, broccoli and tomatoes – along with a host of other vegetables – they place a priority on utilizing compost for its many benefits.

“I enjoy learning about and improving my techniques to make quality compost,” Botsford

During the busy season he’s not turning it and managing it as much as he’d like.

“But it’s very forgiving with the exception of a few key elements along the way,” he said.

The beauty is that the user creates a product that’s infinitely more valuable than the sum of its parts, he said. A big benefit of compost is the improved availability of its nutrients to growing plants and the microbial community in the soil.

“What we want is nutrients that are available but not soluble,” he said. “The solubility factor is what results in the runoff and volatilization associated with commercial fertilizers.”

Commercial phosphorous is at best 30 percent available and is fully soluble the moment it goes on the ground, he said.

“(So) you’re really looking at closer to 15 percent,” Botsford said. “When phosphorous goes out in your compost you don’t have to worry about it washing into the Big Eau Pleine River or any other body of water. And 60 percent to 70 percent of it stays plant-available and remains available throughout the growing season.”

From a practical perspective Botsford highlighted the importance of having a desirable moisture level of close to 60 percent in a working windrowed-compost pile. Red Door’s windrows start at a height of about 7 feet; the base is close to 10 feet wide. They have a simple watering sprinkler they can add moisture with. But this year that’s been a challenge to use because dry weather has them irrigating vegetables around the clock.

Botsford said he shoots for a seasoning period of one year, which allows thorough breakdown and formation of stable humates and the creation of a robust microbial community. At the most basic level humate is organic matter that comprises humus, the main organic fraction of soil.

“The real importance of humates in soil is their ability to hold on to anions and cations,” he said. “Consequently, both negatively and positively charged minerals can both be held in humates. This is critically important for delivering nutrients to plants.”

Despite the fact that Red Door buys its livestock manure, Botsford said the farm sees a huge cost savings by needing less purchased organic fertilizers. And they no longer purchase expensive compost.

“We’re also moving away from buying what is essentially mined inputs for our soil fertility,” he said.

It’s been 18 months since the farm began using composted manure; it’s been a rapid learning curve that Botsford said he’s embraced. The farm has always had a compost pile for the vegetable waste remaining after successive harvests. But he said he was hesitant to use it fully because of concerns about spreading disease if the pile wasn’t properly and adequately composted.

“Once I learned more about the science of composting and familiarized myself with the materials and processes of creating a quality product, my confidence in using it went up exponentially,” he said. “My long-term goal is to create disease-suppressant soil. I want our soil health to be so good that the plants rarely have disease and pest problems.”

Judging by the volume of plant matter germinating, growing and being harvested daily at Red Door Family Farm during one of the most challenging growing seasons in memory, the Botsford composting efforts are already a worthwhile pursuit.

Botsford spoke at the “Focus on Conservation” field day held in July by the University of Wisconsin-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the UW-Marshfield Agricultural Research Station near Stratford, Wisconsin.

Visit and and for more information.

This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit for more information.

Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.

Twice daily updates on markets.

The United States has had 363 weather and climate disasters since 1980. That’s resulted in damages and costs of about $1 billion, according to…

The number of farms globally will shrink in half as the average existing farm size doubles by the end of the century, according to a new study…

NEOSHO, Wis. – With sheep, chickens, pigs and turkeys to tend, Jeanne Telderer doesn’t have time to travel the world. Instead the world comes to her.

Smoke returned to the skies of northern Wisconsin after mid-August. The smoke was from hundreds of fires burning in boreal forests across nort…