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The Straight Poop on Manure – Stockton, Ca

Written by Bill Stoermer on April 15th, 2014. Posted in Blog

Manure is a by-product of the live-stock industry. Manure is organic matter used as fertilizer in agriculture. Manures contribute to the fertility of the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Manure replenishes the soil with essential elements and adds humus to the soil.
Although there is a lot of variation among animals and feed, in general about three fourths of the nitrogen, four fifths of the phosphorus, nine tenths of the potassium, and one half of the organic matter is recovered in the voided excrement (poop). Depending upon how quickly the poop is collected, treated and bagged, only about one third to one half of the nutrient value of manure is actually realized in your garden. Nutrient value is lost to volatization (drying) and leaching (rain water/irrigation).

All manures all sold with a value for the three primary ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Manure must be considered primarily as a nitrogen fertilizer and, to a lesser extent, one of potassium. Modern manure is now treated before sale to the consumer to minimize introduction of unwanted by-products the animal may have chomped on in the barn yard. Treatment includes drying the product out to minimize water content and adding beneficial ingredients to increase its effectiveness.

Nitrogen allows plants to produce the proteins needed to build living tissue for green stems, strong roots and lots of leaves.

Phosphorus helps move energy throughout the plant.

Potassium aids plants in adapting sugars needed in growth and is especially helpful in root crops.

As a rule, chicken manure has a much higher nutrient rating than cow manure. Because it absorbs quickly, it is used primarily on “short term plants” such as your seasonals/annuals. Because cow manure takes a much longer time to absorb and break down, it is excellent on “long term plants such as trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Manure is used a rich soil amendment that can also be used as a soil conditioner or clay breaker. It is frequently used as a top dressing to help protect roots and soil from temperature damage.

Manure is suitable for all flowers, veggies, plants and trees.

Because of its generally safe nature, manure is safe to use in unlimited quantities for soil fertility, soil conditioning and breaking up clay soil ( real problem here in Stockton).

Cautions: Because of its higher nutrient content, chicken manure may burn more sensitive plants, vegetables and root crops (roses, grapes).
Up to 50% of the nutrient value of fertilizer can be lost to volatization and leaching so it is a good practice to till it into the soil on the same day as application. (If it is being used as a top dressing for root protection, there is no need to mix it in.)

In Stockton, California? Learn more about fertilizing your garden at Fremont Plaza Ace Hardware.

ace hardware chicken manure

Everything You Wanted To Know About Dirt – Stockton, Ca

Written by Bill Stoermer on April 15th, 2014. Posted in Blog

A soil amendment is any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties, such as water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration and structure. The goal is to provide a better environment for plant roots.

To do its work, an amendment must be thoroughly mixed into the soil. If it is merely buried, its effectiveness is reduced, and it will interfere with water and air movement and root growth.

Amending a soil is not the same thing as mulching, although many mulches also are used as amendments. A mulch is left on the soil surface. Its purpose is to reduce evaporation and runoff, inhibit weed growth, and create an attractive appearance. Mulches also moderate soil temperature. Organic mulches may be incorporated into the soil as amendments after they have decomposed to the point that they no longer serve their purpose. Cheap, inexpensive mulches breakdown faster, fade in the sun and are usually made from cheaper products.

Quick Facts

In clay soils, soil amendments improve the soil aggregation, increase porosity and permeability, and improve aeration, drainage, and rooting depth.

In sandy soils, soil amendments increase the water and nutrient holding capacity.

Permeability – The ability of soil for fluids to flow through.

Infiltration – the process by which water on the surface enters the soil.

Aeration – the process by which air is circulated through soil.

Organic vs. Inorganic Amendments

There are two broad categories of soil amendments: organic and inorganic. Organic amendments come from something was ALIVE. Inorganic amendments are either mined or man-made. Organic amendments include sphagnum peat, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, biosolids, sawdust and wood ash. Inorganic amendments include vermiculite, perlite, tire chunks, pea gravel and sand.

Organic amendments increase soil organic matter content and offer many benefits. Over time, organic matter improves soil aeration, water infiltration, and both water and nutrient holding capacity. Many organic amendments contain plant nutrients and act as organic fertilizers. Organic matter is an important source for bacteria, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil.

Wood Products

Wood products tie up nitrogen in the soil and cause nitrogen deficiency in plants. Microorganisms in the soil use nitrogen to break down the wood. Over several months to years, as microorganisms complete the rapid decomposition process, the nitrogen is released and again becomes available to plants. This hazard is greatest with sawdust, because it has a greater surface area than wood chips.

Compost wood products before using them as soil amendments or allow Ace Hardware to provide you with products already composted! Do not use uncomposted wood products or sawdust as a soil amendment; it is slow to break down, ties up nitrogen, interferes with seedbed preparation, and interferes with soil and water movement through the soil profile.


Fresh manure can harm plants due to elevated ammonia levels. To avoid this problem, use only aged or composted manure.

Human pathogens, including E coli, are another potential problem with fresh manure, especially on vegetable gardens. Aged manure refers to manure that has been piled for at least six months. Excessive ammonia will have escaped; however salt levels may be higher as the salts concentrate in the decomposing material, or may leach out with high rainfall. Weeds will still be viable.

Commercially composted manure has been through multiple active heating cycles and turned mechanically in between. Heated above 145 degrees F, it will kill pathogens and weed seeds. In composted manure, the organic matter is stabilized (through the rapid decomposition process) making it an ideal soil amendment.

In Stockton, California? Learn more at Fremont Plaza Ace Hardware.

French Drains in Stockton, California

Written by Bill Stoermer on August 23rd, 2012. Posted in Blog

In a previous article, I discussed how excessive ground water can collect around our homes in Stockton, California causing soggy messes and potentially causing structural damage. That article recommended redirecting the water away from our homes with simple applications of plastic hoses or rain gutter extensions. In some situations it is impossible to redirect the water with simple solutions and we must turn to more sophisticated measures such as a french drain system.

Contrary to popular belief, french drains have absolutely nothing to do with France or the French. Back at the start of this country, a Massachusetts farmer, named “French”, made a fortune buying unwanted and soggy bottom land, digging a series of trenches that allowed the excessive water to collect in the trenches which he in turn redirected down into creek beds. Over time, farmer French filled his trenches with broken roof tile which kept them from falling in on themselves and yet still allowed the water to drain. Eventually he covered the tile with soil, eliminating dangerous open trenches and effectively reclaiming even more acreage! With time, his system became known as “French Drains”. Henry French went on to become an attorney and Assistant US Treasury Secretary. His design was popularized in his book Farm Drainage.

A French drain is also known as a blind drain, rubble drain or rock drain. It is simply a trench covered with gravel or rock that redirects surface and ground water away from an area. The common French drain today has perforated hollow pipe along the bottom to collect the water as it seeps down into the trench. Usually, the perforated pipe is then covered with gravel to prevent dirt from clogging the system. The system is directed by sloping it in any direction you want. Even the most subtle slope allows the water to be redirected great distances. The most common application in today’s subdivisions in Stockton are to simply redirect the water away from the house and out towards the street/gutter where a simple “bubbler” will allow the water to flow off into the street gutter.

In some severe situations it may be necessary to install a collection system and a sump pump which will enable you to pump excessive water away. In the typical system I install, I use a 30 gallon polypropylene tank which I bury in the ground and install a simple sump pump inside. As the tank begins to fill, the pump is triggered by a float valve – much the same way as the ball inside a toilet tank. Pumps are able to transport water through small PVC pipe great distances and are much less trouble to install than digging trenches all over your yard!

All the parts needed for designing and installing your French Drain are available in Stockton, California at Fremont Plaza Ace Hardware.

Bill Stormer

Excessive Ground Water – Solve Stormwater Runoff Problems

Written by Bill Stoermer on February 8th, 2012. Posted in Blog

One of the most common problems encountered at this time of year in Stockton, California is excessive ground water. This condition leaves our lawns and gardens a soggy mess and can even cause structural damage to our homes if left unchecked. Excessive ground water is caused by the ground becoming saturated with water and losing its ability for the water percolate down into the subsoil area.

Excessive ground water is a major problem in the central valley of California where we have a layer of clay just below the surface that is nearly water impenetrable. This layer of clay is know as Adobe Clay and can vary in thickness from a few inches to over six feet! Water percolates down through the top-soil, hits the layer of Adobe Clay and then simply collects there – unable to penetrate through the dense clay. I have seen situations where water percolates down through several feet of top soil, hits the layer of Adobe Clay and then “travels” along the top of the clay layer “looking” for a crack or simply finding a low spot in which it collects.

The most common cause of excessive ground water is poor redirection of water run-off, especially from our rain gutters and downspouts. The most common situation I encounter as a contractor in and around Stockton is rain gutter downspouts that simply empty at the bottom and allowing the water to get trapped against the footing/foundation of the home. Over time, as leaves decompose or we add soil amendments or landscape; we actually make the situation worse by trapping the water behind little hills and against the footing/foundation of our home. This causes a new problem as the foundation of the home settles in the wet soil causing structural damage to the foundation and our home. In one severe case, a landscaper had brought in yards of dirt to create mounds in the front yard of a new home. Unfortunately he trapped all the water behind these mounds and the water super saturated the ground and was actually being wicked up into the house where it caused mold problems and structural damage.

Fortunately, redirection is one of the easiest problems to fix. We simply redirect the water away from our homes! Fremont Plaza Ace Hardware has a variety of products designed for this, from the simple plastic hoses we connect to the bottom of the drain spouts, to gutter extensions that we can install that can redirect the water several feet away from our foundation. Some of the plastic hoses come coiled like a spring which uncoils as they fill with water and then recoil out of the way when empty. Rain gutter extensions are more permanent but can sometimes create a trip hazard if not installed correctly. Another solution growing in popularity with the rising awareness of ecology is to installed rain barrels to collect rain water for later use in gardening. The problem here is the limited amount of water a barrel can accommodate, usually between 30 and 50 gallons. In a heavy rain storm, a barrel can fill in only several hours. You then need to redirect the excessive water away from your barrel and your foundation. It is commonly recommended that you redirect water at least 2-3 feet away from your foundation.

In a future article, I will write about what to do in really severe cases of excessive ground water that leads to intrusion into our basements, garages and homes.

Bill Stoermer
Fremont Plaza Ace Hardware