About Manure – Awesome Stuff
“Manure, the dung and urine of animals, is the most important single ingredient in the compost heap. It is difficult, although not impossible, to make a good compost pile without it.” The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener.
ALL ABOUT MANURE
Manure is great, but many new gardeners are understandably reluctant to deal with it until they have an opportunity to learn all about it. It can be a bit daunting. I guess we are culturally conditioned to keep our hands out of it and to never actually admit it exists, just like worms and slugs and other less than conventionally attractive beings.
In the garden, however, it is something we should use with enthusiasm as it is truly a fantastic weapon in our armoury of materials that can help us to produce top-grade soil, vegetables and flowers. Returning animal waste to improve the land, (where practicable) is one of the most important things we can do in our efforts to reduce the amount of waste that is left to pollute our surroundings. So here goes. Learn all about it and you will eventually lose your distaste and view animal waste as the wonderful resource that it is. (At least we can try!)
THE BENEFITS OF MANURE
The benefits of manure, the dung and urine from animals, have been used as a way to return nutrients to the soil since time began – or at least since life appeared on our planet. Applying it to improve the soil and to encourage plant growth is an ancient practice that is well-documented and if you have a good, clean source of supply, you are fortunate indeed.
This video comes from OneYardRevolution. Click the link to their YouTube channel where you will find many more informative videos about garden composting.
Although it is not quite as complete a fertiliser as garden compost, it is still an excellent, if variable, source of nutrients for plants and it does a fabulous job as mulch and as a soil amendment, adding fibrous material that helps in aeration and drainage and improving water retention where necessary. Manure’s main benefits in your compost pile, come from the abundant microbial life that it supports, the bacteria when added to your compost boost decomposition and help to speed things up. Finally, the bedding that often comes mixed into it can be an added bonus, adding carbon to the plentiful nitrogen and helping to aerate soggy or over-wet piles. The seeds that are often present in the dung-bedding mix will be killed by the hot composting process which is important if you do not want to be raising crops of unidentified plants everywhere you spread your compost in the following season.
ABOUT MANURE THAT IS FRESH
Dung and urine in its raw state is not usually considered suitable for immediate use in your garden. It is bursting with nitrogen, which can burn plant roots and leaves, especially if the plants are young. The nitrogen it contains is quickly leached away possibly contaminating water-ways, and your plants will gain little benefit from that. There could also be traces of anti-biotics, herbicides and pesticides, fungicides or hormones depending on the animals involved and the circumstances of their lives.
All of these problems multiply considerably if the source animals are not herbivores and generally speaking, handling faeces from meat-eating animals, like cats, dogs and humans is not recommended. This waste may contain pathogens that are harmful and which may transmit into the soil or be contracted directly by anyone handling it. It could contain parasitic worms along with any drugs used to eradicate them. In its unrotted state it will almost certainly smell less than sweet and your neighbours may decide to disown you right away! The litter of pets that eat meat should not be used in your compost either for the same reasons. There are ways of composting these wastes though. Click here to download a PDF file about dealing with fecal waste, produced by the City of Poulsbo in Washington State.
The way to make your fresh waste ‘user-friendly’ is to let it rot, or ‘cure’, before you use it. How you do this depends largely on how much manure you have to deal with. If you have loads, you can just hold it in a wooden bin, or in a pile stacked on the ground, preferably covered if possible. Your manure will lose nutrients but any imbalance can be rectified when you come to spread or dig it into your garden. Letting the manure stand for a year or so, protected from rain and wind by a tarp or a ‘lean-to’ is all that is necessary. Cover is important. Breathing in dust from dry manure can be bad for your health and wearing a mask in dry weather is a sensible precaution. Water that leaches out of the pile after rain can also be a hazard if it leaks into water-ways or vegetable patches, carrying residues of nitrogen, chemicals and harmful bacteria.
If you have only a little, you can incorporate small amounts into your regular compost – the nitrogen will send it wild! You can even feed it into your worm farm. I hear that worms love it. (However enthusiastic I am about composting, every now and again I still have a ‘Yuck’ moment!)
The speed of the process is dependent on whether or not you are hot composting or cold composting and on the type of manure you are treating. Be aware that it soon loses a portion of its nitrogen if it is not handled properly, so dung and bedding should be added to your compost as soon as possible while fresh. Add heaps of extra ‘browns’ as well to deal with the added nitrogen boost, so keeping the Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio in balance.
USING YOUR MANURE
As a general rule, manure, once rotted, is applied to the soil neat. You can use it as mulch, or you can mix it into the soil. It is rich in nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and a range of trace elements, the relative amounts of each element varying according to the animal, its physical health, its age and its diet. This is a real example of ‘what goes in comes out’. Animals with a poor diet (old and dry hay, for instance, rather than fresh spring grass) have dung that is lacking in potency. Sick animals are the same and their waste should be avoided. Manure from young animals that are still growing is less valuable than that of older beasts as they need all the nutrients they can get to develop bone and muscle.
A balance can be achieved, though and if there is a short-fall of any element it can be rectified through the addition of a suitable organic fertiliser such as blood and bone, seaweed meal or one of several others that are available.
MAKING MANURE ‘TEA’
Turning solids into ‘manure tea’ is an excellent move. Just half-fill a bag with manure, tie the bag at the neck and dunk it in a large container of water. Keep it under for about two weeks when the water should be a dark brown. This can then be applied neat to your garden with a watering can. Make sure you water your garden first so that the ‘tea’ does not run off or fail to soak in properly. A big advantage of applying manure in this way is that there is only a limited quantity of the major nutrients available, but heaps of trace elements.
WHEN DO I USE MANURE IN MY GARDEN?
Dig into to the soil in autumn or winter. Apply it as a mulch in the spring.
WHAT SHOULD MY MANURE LOOK LIKE?
Rather like finished compost. Brown and crumbly, with a subtle ‘earthy’ smell. Very nice with absolutely no ‘yuck’ factor.
TYPES OF MANURE
Horse manure: Probably the one we can most easily obtain. Nitrogen rich. Do not use fresh as it will burn foliage and roots. Usually mixed with bedding straw which may be contaminated with herbicides. Will rot in about 2 months, but may need up to a year for the straw to come clean. Labelled a ‘hot’ manure because of the level of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus it contains.
Chicken manure: Really strong and definitely not to be used neat. Compost in thin layers with straw bedding or other high-carbon materials before using. Be wary of hormones if you are sourcing from a battery or chicken farm. These will take at least a year to dissipate.
Cow manure: This is a ‘cold’ manure, so called because of its lower nitrogen content. Contains an abundance of extremely beneficial micro-organisms because of the cow’s digestive system.
Pig manure: Best used combined with other types because of its high concentration. It tends to take longer to rot down than other manures.
Sheep manure: Another ‘hot’ one. Very high in nutrients and great for making a manure ‘tea’. The Pocket Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, says that “half a sack-full (of sheep pellets) will make enough liquid manure to last the average-sized garden a whole year”
Rabbit manure: Very powerful. An ideal product that can be used in small quantities. Use like chicken manure or set up a system using worms to process the rabbit droppings. Some gardeners say that they apply rabbit manure directly on to the soil when it is still fresh. They are confident that it does not damage their plants. This could be an interesting experiment!
Each place will have its own animals that supply dung. Those above are the main ones for us. However, if you have a local zoo, it may be worth making enquiries about what is known as “Zoo-Doo” The zoo in Auckland, New Zealand processes and sells this as part of its excellent waste disposal system. Such fun! I am sure this happens in many places around the world and maybe, near you!
Well, I found these ‘new-to-me’ facts about manure and composting really interesting. In ‘the day’ when I was a child, I remember buckets of dirty looking water sitting around the place – sheep pellets soaking ready for use. My dad also used to go to the local chicken farm and pick up a load of chicken manure which he always praised highly. How he treated that has faded from memory, but I’ll bet it was in the simplest way possible. Nothing fancy there. Gosh – that brings it back. He used to grow lupin crops, too and dig them in to the beds he was preparing for vegetable crops. Green manure…….now there’s another story.