I’m a huge fan of using manure in the garden. It’s an excellent source of nutrients for soil and helps with soil fertility and structure. It’s also usually free and easy to source, so it seems like using it is a no-brainer.
However, there are a few important steps and things to consider before layering on the manure in your garden.
Aging Your Manure
‘Use aged manure’ is a sentence you’ll read or hear from any gardener who uses it. But what exactly does that mean?
Well, fresh manure straight from the horse’s
mouth, well, I mean bottom, isn’t going to benefit your plants.
Firstly, it’s strong and fresh and can easily burn tender seedlings. Secondly, fresh manure will be full of weed seeds. These seeds will readily germinate the moment they get some sun and water on them.
Lastly, pathogens and diseases can be present in the manure and potentially contaminate your plants.
Age your manure for at least a year. It will turn this smelly, potentially pathogen ridden poop into a dark, nutrient-packed mix. Ageing it means just letting it rot and break down.
If you don’t have a year to wait, why not try…
Composting your manure will break it down faster than just letting it sit and rot away. If your compost gets hot enough it will also kill the weed seeds in the manure.
You can just add it to your already made compost heap, the worms will LOVE IT. Or you can make a compost pile just for manure, along with a little carbon and nitrogen. It’s the addition of those that will turn it into a hot, productive compost heap.
You can make a quick ‘manure compost pile’ by alternating layers of manure plus a little fresh greens and browns. Greens can be freshly mowed grass or cut spent plants. Brown materials are leaves, wood shavings, shredded paper, or straw. Aim for a ratio of about 1 part green to 2 parts brown.
Build your pile about a meter high on top of uncovered ground. Choose an area where you’ll have room to turn the pile over.
Lightly dampen your pile with a hose and cover it with a sack, tarpaulin or just another layer of hay/straw.
Turn the pile over every couple of weeks to allow oxygen in. I usually shovel it from one area to the next which in turn, turns it upside down.
Once your pile has broken down and turned into a dark crumbly humus, it is ready to use. This will take a few months.
Manure for next year’s garden
Manure works great when preparing a no-dig bed.
If you have a spot of land that you want to turn into a garden, manure can help! It can prep the bed without you needing to do any hard work. Plus you can use fresher manure.
First mark out the bed. Don’t worry about weeding it! Then spread out the manure thickly along with a helping of carbon (leaves, straw, hay…).
Cover with thick black plastic sheeting for at least 6 months. The worms will break down the manure for you.
If you’re using horse manure this won’t always get rid of the weed seeds. Once you’re ready to plant in your bed, cover it with a thick layer of compost and mulch. This will help to stop the seeds germinating.
What animal manure to use?
Technically any manure from any animal can be used in the garden but some are more tricky than others.
Herbivore manure is the best. This is from horses, cows, rabbits, donkeys or goats. This manure can contain pathogens but not as many as from animals that eat meat. A home compost rarely gets hot enough to kill pathogens present in manure from meat eating animals.
*Chickens are a bit of an exception as they eat such a varied diet which can include meat.
I still use chicken manure in my garden but I compost it twice. This is to avoid pathogens and because chicken manure is very high in nitrogen. Fresh it is too strong for most plants.
I let my chicken manure sit in a burlap sack and age. Every 6 months or so I’ll tip the bag into the compost for it to break down again.
How do you use manure in your garden? Comment below or tag me on Instagram! @home_grown_happinessnz