Follow up on use of spent brewer’s grain as amendment


The location is in Toronto. It is a city allotment plot 24′ by 40′.
For the past 25 years this plot has been amended only with cow manure. Every spring it was rotovated. This is now going to cease.

One side of the plot is amended with chicken manure, bone meal, and composted sheep manure with cocoa hull as mulch. This side has not been tilled at all. The plants were cut down, weeds pulled by hand and a cover crop was planted. Unfortunately little creatures plucked out all of the Winter Peas and Winter Rye. The Brassicas are doing very well.

One half of the other side of the plot is being amended with brewers grain, coffee chaff, and a neglible amount of coffee grounds. This is the part that was disturbed with the cultivator and will have cow manure topped with coffee chaff.

Even though the coffee chaff is very light, it is staying in place.

The other half has not had any disturbance and also has chicken manure, bone meal, a layer sheep compost on top with coffee chaff as mulch.

The soil base is clay. The claw is only being used to turn in the amendments. It has not been used anywhere else. Some digging was necessary to remove bindweed. It was only very apparent that it is clay base when I dug down at least 8 to 10 inches to remove Bindweed roots.

Next year each side will have the same types of crops planted.
Peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, chard, garlic, onions, etc. The only fertilizer that will be used is the granular Promix Organic for vegetables.

My own plot is no till since 2016. I only apply chicken manure, bone meal, all the green leafy material at the end of the season, Fafard sea compost top dressing with cocoa hull mulch. The soil is absolutely fabulous. The place grows a jungle and is hugely productive. It is still full of green plants right now because I do successional planting. Each bed produces two to three crops.

The other plot belongs to my friend. I do not want him to do any tilling so the way things are, it’s an experiment to see what happens. Maybe I can convince him to stop rotovating.

My understanding is that the amendments will decompose rapidly in the soil and by next spring there will not be any visible sign of barley or anything else. It should just be soil. Because of the temperature now the barley did not smell bad at all after being left on the surface for a couple of days. The garbage bags, that’s a different story. They are now inside out to dry.

I entirely agree that destroying soil architecture is a bad practice.
Hopefully the amount of disturbance I am doing right now is the last of it. The soil is moderately compacted.

There might be space in the back corner to make a compost pile.
If I have enough leaves I’ll mix them up with barley and chaff, cover with a tarp and see what happens by next spring.

I will follow up next year.


Dear gardener, I read your posting with extreme interest. It sounds as though you have much to teach other gardeners on soil amendments. Please keep us informed on the experiment that you and your friend are conducting with different soil treatments. That would be fascinating. With thanks from the Toronto Master Gardeners.

Oct. 1/2021