So how exactly do you title a post about manure?
Let me just tell you that I was so excited when Hubby and friend decided that it was time to take a trip to the farm for some wonderfully composted manure! I suppose this is one of the benefits of living rural: we know our neighbors, we watch out for each other, and we are all interwoven somehow within a community. The farm is owned by the sister of the neighbor, who is also our County Councilor, and is part of a community planning group that I facilitate…. they own cattle, and the farm has been in place for a LONG time, so there are lovely piles of manure….which, as they sit, decompose and become wonderfully healthy garden amendments.
So, 2 days ago, Hubby attaches the dump trailer to our truck, and off they go….3 hours later, after loading up, stopping for a bevvy, and a chat, they return.
Our ‘alley’ is not so much an alley, but a pathway that sometimes we can drive on. It was put in place by the gas company when lines were run for natural gas, and we
use it as an alley, but we also have reclaimed it is a part of our yard, as have all the neighbors on this side of the street. We are very rural as a hamlet, and the lots behind us are not serviced, likely never to be built upon….so we’re good. There is nothing much on these lots, except for some compost, manure, and bird feeders! We’re good.
Hubby and friend unload half of the trailer here, and half on friend’s garden! Meanwhile, I have started turning the soil in some beds in preparation for this lovely amendment. Thankfully, we still own a small Bob Cat loader that can fit between our garden boxes, so after 2 hand shoveled wheelbarrows and one hurting Mama, Hubby comes to the rescue….YAY!!! I could have gotten the Bob Cat myself, but he is a much better operator than I, so I was pleased.
He also has been working on the ‘list’ of spring chores, and has completed my ‘step beds’ within the terraced beds, and one of the trellises. As I write, he is working on the other trellis…..no, you can’t marry him….he’s mine!
So why manure? And what are the pitfalls?
First of all, garden soil is the basis of good gardening, as we all know. Soil is composed of mineral (clay/silt/sand), organic matter, air and water. Most soils are about 50% matter and 50% pore space, which is where the air and/or the water reside. Organic matter is the decomposed remains of plants, animals and micro-organisms. It acts as a temporary storehouse for nutrients that the plants require, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, etc. The little micro-organisms within the soil aid in breaking down the organic matter and releasing the nutrients for plant uptake.
Another function of organic matter is improving the soil structure, as it aids in holding together sand/silt/clay particles, and also creates necessary pore space, and good tilth. This is true of any organic matter, such as household compost, or purchased compost/manure. Ensuring good soil health will ensure good plant health.
There are, of course pitfalls to utilizing manure from a farm. Often, purchased manure has been heated to kill weed seeds, making it less likely to provide that extra work following application. When purchasing, it’s a good idea to see if the product tells you the ratio of manure/compost to soil, as many purchased amendments are not 100% organic matter….manure from the farm is USUALLY full of weed seeds. Why? Because cows eat plants, plants have seeds, seeds don’t necessarily break down in the gut, in fact some need to be consumed by an animal and released out to make them viable (true story!). Also, piles of manure sit in nature, where the wind blows, and the seeds fly, and…..so, literally, we take our chances with this stuff, and we know we will have to weed.
I like to get manure from a farm that I know the farming practices of: do they use
hormones with their cattle, what type of feed is given, and from what source? How much pesticide is used in their cropping (if any), and what type? Are they careful with managing weeds and quack grass (my fav!!) around the farm yard…..you may not be able to get these answers, but they are good to know.
A different pitfall of using farm manure may is it’s age. It needs to be well rotted/composted manure. 2 things happen if this is not the case: it can burn plants because it is too strong, and/or it can capture and trap the available nitrogen in the soil, because organic matter needs nitrogen to break down, thus creating a nitrogen deficiency in plants.
Also, it is necessary to take care when applying, and to blend the manure well with the soil….the idea is to plant in amended soil…not in manure. Generally, it is safe to add up to 3 to 4 inches of well rotted manure or compost to a bed, and work it into the soil.
All in all, using organic matter is a benefit. Follow common sense practices, making sure anything ‘looks’ like soil, not like the original product, and be prepared to follow up with a bit of weeding, but it is definitely worth the effort!