My father used to raise New Zealand White rabbits for meat production. Bud’s Bunnies was a smallish rabbitry, but it produced truckloads of rabbit manure. Those were the good old days before Dad’s shoulder replacement. I haven’t had a source of free rabbit manure for a few years now, and, the quality of my garden soil has been increasingly disappointing.
I’ve been fertilizing with bulk seed and alfalfa meals. It’s just not doing the trick, though - not like an inch or two of rabbit manure, anyway. Aside from being a high nitrogen fertilizer, rabbit manure makes excellent mulch at first, and high quality compost as the season goes on and it decomposes. It’s a perfect source of organic matter for the soil, and encourages earth worms and hosts of other beneficial soil organisms to flourish.
I’ve been using the most readily available localized source of organic matter for mulch in place of rabbit manure, tree leaves. Living in a forest means lots and lots of leaves to clean up each Fall. They are amazing for weed suppression, as they end up in flat layers like a deck of cards. Eventually they do break apart and decompose into nice, fluffy, earthy-smelling leaf mould, but at a much slower rate than manure.
I think the combination of cottonseed meal, soybean meal and alfalfa meal in addition to leaf mould will eventually make good soil, but it’s not keeping up with the heavy demands of gardening - not like rabbit manure did. So this year I’m changing a few things. First thing: lots more leaves – a deeper mulch. Deeper mulch means better water retention and fewer weeds in the short term, and more organic matter for the soil in the long term. More high-carbon material like this does call for more nitrogen. Which brings me to the second change: apply more nitrogen (than I have been). I get a soil test done once every two or three years, and they always have one recommendation in common: add more nitrogen. I’m not sure yet if I’ll address this in any way other than to increase the nitrogen sources I’m already using. I did grow some hairy vetch in combination with other fall cover crops, but considering how late it got planted, the amount of nitrogen it will have added to the soil by the time it’s turned under in a few weeks will probably not be tremendous.
Also, I hope to be trying at least one new product this year for foliar feeding. More on that to come...