Here's the Poop on Manure Ilona Erwin Mar 31, 2009 6 Comments

In all this talk about raising urban chickens and growing organically in city allotment plots... it was bound to raise the topic of manure. After all, it is no secret that this is a big part of life (albeit not spoken of in polite company;), and gardening is all about life.

So in my search queries this question came up:"how much manure to put in garden". It is not so much the amount as the type and the condition of it. First, let's talk about "hot" manure. The reason we have this definition of types of manure is because when it is high in nutrients, it is also likely to "burn" the plants. You can burn plants with too much chemical fertilizers, too. So more is definitely not better, but "fresh" isn't so good either.

The general ruleDon't put raw manure directly on garden soils

Certain types of manures have certain chemical makeups. It is the NPK that is quantified. Poultry manure is the highest in nutrients and the most likely to burn plants. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't use it; on the contrary, the Amish ladies hereabouts use it to grow very lush gardens. The thing is that it must be "aged" in some way. The farmers who have dairy herds, etc, spread manure on the plowed fields in the fall, which gives it time over winter to age and then it is deeply incorporated with 'deep' late plowing and again with the spring harrowing.

Composting speeds up the process and hot composting will also kill weed seeds and pathogens. Yes, we are talking E. coli here. OK, now I'm scaring you...but remember that E.coli is all around (and even inside you) - it is how food and food growing is handled that is important.

So what is important to remember?

  • All animal manure should be aged for at least 6 months

  • Poultry, horse,sheep manures are "hot"
  • Green manure and cow manure are excellent

  • Don't use pet, pig, or human feces- those produce disease and parasites

Adding manure is a time tested way of conditioning and rebuilding the fertility of the soil, it is natures way of returning nutrients an a cycle of life. We, as husbanding the earth, just need to learn to manage and use it properly. These skills are part of how we garden wisely: sanitation practices, composting, rotating crops, cultivation practices... all are part of the art of gardening. It can be simple to learn, while the science behind it might be complex.

"Getting back to the land" is a skill set, and one that has provided good food, and good health for time immemorial. It is better practiced than idealized, though. I hope this post helps in that endeavor.

You can see, too, that it is in the interest of public sanitation that city chicken flocks be limited in number, and that the manure is handled properly, much like we have regulations for pet poop. We can all live happy and healthy as long as we respect one another. That has to be some natural law, somewhere or another.

This is a good place to append J's posts:
Green manure #1
Mcadditives, green manure #2 (little play on words there0

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by Ilona Erwin

A gardener, blogger, writer, who has been blogging here since 2004, and writing for my website, Ilona's Garden since 1998.

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  1. the best manure i have ever used was from a friend"s rabbit/worm farm set-up. it fits into most city
    livestock laws without a blink.
    he kept several rabbit cages with
    a 6"wooden raised bed underneath.
    the rabbit manure fell into the beds, he always fed the beds with coffee grounds...the worms came in droves. every so often he dug out the wormbed, collected worms, and his excellent compost was
    enjoyed by all. this is a VERY
    sustainable small system to earn extra money and have beautiful ongoing compost, with the work
    done for well as yummy bunnies ( sorry, sad, but true)
    if i didnt have beloved "killer" border collie, i'd have rabbits.

  2. i did too post a comment, it's
    e-mislaid i suppose.

  3. Interesting article. I have never used manure personally, but I have heard that it works wonders in the garden. I know that you can even buy manure at garden supply stores. I have always wanted a chicken in my garden, but I don't think the city will allow it :(

  4. to zach: try the rabbit setup.
    they arent seen as livestock in city ordinances,they're more like pets. their manure is very rich and composts naturally without much effort in the raised beds. and you cant cuddle a chicken...%) J-lea

  5. Hi Ilona

    It's a beautiful thing, usually.

    There's been a scare in the UK recently. Some pasture land has been treated with aminopyralid, a selective, hormone type herbicide which when subsequently grazed has left chemical traces in some 'farmyard' manure.

    This manure has caused deformation and in some cases failure of some food and ornamental crops.

    Distressing when we manage to screw up the original, all natural product like this.


  6. Rob, I had not heard of that... and it would be distressing. The warnings against weed seed dispersal are similar: the quality of what comes out depends on what goes into the animal.

    We do pave the roads with good intentions... and it is a pity where that ends up!

    I wanted to tell you how very much I enjoy your interaction here, along with all the other great commenters. It took awhile for the garden community to interact on the blogs but it is some of the best conversation on the net recently (I think, but am biased towards talking about garden topics, etc)


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