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Nature's Gold

Cliff Hibbitts creates high-quality garden compost, thanks to the daily donations left by the horses at his stables—and then he gives it away.

From the time his mother first took him horseback riding at the age of 4, Cliff Hibbitts has loved being around horses. 

"I went without a horse just for a short period of time, and I didn't like myself," says Hibbitts, who co-owns the with his father, Frank. 

For the past six years, Hibbitts has also owned the Hibbitts Family Stables in San Jose, where he keeps his seven horses and boards a few dozen others. He visits the stables daily, gives riding lessons by appointment, and does it all in addition to his full-time day job and a family life that includes four kids. 

The stables are on a rustic 15-acre property that has housed stables for the past 55 years. It is adjacent to Coyote Creek, and Hibbitts leases the land from the city of San Jose.

During a tour he gave for this article, Hibbitts brought along his horse, Rio, for the walk. 

"Rio was sold to me for a nickel by a lady who said to me he was 'no good,'" Hibbitts says. "That was because he's smart, he'll out-think you and he'll learn how to buck you off. Anyone who says horses are stupid doesn't have one." 

The 11-year-old Rio behaves himself, now that Hibbitts has trained him. 

Hibbitts regularly composts his never-ending supply of horse manure and gives the finished product away to grateful gardeners. Well-composted horse manure can turn even depleted soil into fertile land in a short time—and it doesn't have an odor if the composting is done correctly. As avid organic gardeners know, it also makes the perfect top dressing. 

At one end of the property, four tall mounds of manure are in varying stages of being composted. The first mound contains the newest droppings from 27 well-fed penned horses. It shrinks considerably as the temperature inside the pile reaches about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, through decomposition, thus killing any pathogens. Turning the mound over regularly is part of the process, as is careful watering. 

After three months, that manure is moved to the second section, and the other piles are also moved along toward the compost finish line. More manure is then added to the first mound.The oldest mound is at least 12 months old and has the texture of crumbly soil, ready for a garden.

"Most horse stables now haul [horse manure] to the dump, which is a pity," Hibbitts says. "It's a waste, but it's hard to compost, because they're afraid of it leaching into water systems." 

At Hibbitts Family Stables, however, a dirt berm around the dish-shaped area containing the manure piles was approved by the city of San Jose years ago for the previous stables' owner. If the creek ever breaches the property, the berm will keep the moving water away from the piles. 

Examples of horse manure magic on crops can be found at the bountiful that is behind the and adjacent to . Hibbitts began delivering manure to the garden after the church's then-associate pastor, Matt Turner, mentioned to him at the barber shop that the community garden soil was poor in spite of rototilling and soil amendments. Hibbitts told him horse manure would do the trick, and he would provide it for free. 

"He has made several deliveries of the precious material regularly for over a year," says Steve Spitts, who oversees the 27 community garden plots. "Hope gardeners snatch it up for their plots immediately, each time. Cliff's kind charity has been a major factor in the fruitfulness of the Hope Garden." 

For charities or nonprofit organizations, Hibbitts delivers the composted manure for free. He says his fellow help him deliver it, as it weighs a lot in its composted form. He charges a nominal delivery fee to other individuals. 

For further information, visit hibbittsfamilystables.com/. Admittance to the Hibbitts Family Stables is by appointment only. 

About this column: Each week, Susan Wiedmann will write about nature or outdoor activities enjoyed by local residents. Susan is a longtime freelance writer and photographer with a passion for capturing wildlife through her camera's lens. Please leave any comments about this article at the bottom of this page. You can contact Susan about possible topics at Susan@UpCloseWithMotherNature.com or at UpCloseWithMotherNature.com.

Eva Wong September 05, 2011 at 09:02 PM
What an amazing person. Thank you for sharing.

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