Using Manure to Fertilize Your Gardencomments (5) July 30th, 2008
I first became acquainted with the wonders of manure when my wife and I bought a small farm years ago. Not long after we moved in, we also purchased a horse—and all that goes with owning a horse, including, of course, manure. Mucking out stalls was a job I put off as long as I could, until I planted our first garden at our new home. I spent the winter dumping loads of the stuff into what the previous owners had said was an organic garden spot. By spring I had covered the entire garden with several inches of manure. By fall I realized just how potent the manure was when I begged neighbors to p-l-e-a-s-e come down and pick some of the beans before they took over the stable. That was 10 years ago, and ever since, I have been experimenting with different types of manure.
Today I own a different “Old MacDonald” farm that includes virtually every animal in the children’s song—ducks, geese, cows, horses, goats, sheep—plus a few more, like pigeons and rabbits. But for all the variety, these wonderful creatures do have one thing in common—manure. Gardener’s gold.
Manure consists of three basic elements critical to plant health: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Nitrogen allows plants to produce the proteins needed to build living tissue for green stems, strong roots, and lots of leaves. Phosphorus helps move energy throughout the plant, especially important in maturing plants. Potassium aids plants in adapting sugars needed in growth and is especially helpful in root crops. Together, these three elements form that magic formula, N-P-K, the backbone of all fertilizers, man-made or organic. Manure also contains large amounts of humus, a wonderful soil amendment. Humus is simply the bulky, fibrous material that comes from plant fibers and animal remains and is valuable in several ways: it gives better tilth to clay soils; supplies food for soil flora and fauna; preserves moisture during dry spells, while ensuring good drainage during wet times; and it is a storehouse for nitrogen in the soil. In short, humus acts like a reservoir, allowing nutrients to work.
Manure quality will vary from farm to farm and from time to time, depending a great deal upon the amount and type of bedding collected with it. Testing manure may be the only way to determine for sure what its nutrient content actually is. So, keep in mind that the references made here to nutrient levels in different kinds of manure serve as only a general guide.
posted in: organic, fertilizer, animals