This post is an in depth guide to manure fertilizers. It is probably more than you would really want to know about manure but I don’t know an organic gardener who would be without piles of the stuff to fuel the vegetable gardens!
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It’s been quite a while since I last posted, I’ve been busy in the garden and on my YouTube Channel making videos of the garden’s progress and writing in my garden journal of what is growing well (or not) and how I have been caring for the garden. Anywho, enough with my chit chat and babbling, you came here because you wanted to know about manure fertilizers!
Manure is great stuff, it comes in a variety of forms; fresh, matured, dried, deodorized, granules, powder and liquid! The options available can be overwhelming for the new gardener and I remember being in those shoes a few years ago.
I’m glad to see that organic fertilizers are on the rise as awareness and demand from the consumer drives manufacturers to meet the public’s needs. We can drive the change by choosing organic and natural in the grocery aisles, garden centers and nurseries.
The Good Stuff
Let’s be realistic, a post all about poo may be revolting to some but it is the natural part of the lifecycle and decomposition process. Manure fertilizers provide the basic nutrients needed for plant growth and some manures can add humus to the soil which helps improve the soil texture, water retention capability and helps to stop erosion.
Animal manure is pretty easy to come by. Most cities where I live make horse owners pay to dump the manure so lots of people give it away for free. In the picture above I got a truck bed of fresh manure and bedding to rot down over winter before using.
Bird manure such as chickens or ducks and rabbit manure also relatively easy to come by. Try asking on local Facebook groups especially those about homesteading or gardening and try looking on Craigslist and local classifieds.
Manure for all!
There is a manure for almost everything and they will have varying levels of the main nutrients or elements for plant growth: N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus) and K (potassium).
- Nitrogen is what plants need for vegetative or green growth.
- Phosphorus is what plants need to flower, fruit and root development.
- Potassium is what plants need for vigor and increasing resistance to disease.
- Calcium is necessary for building cell walls in plants.
Manure can turn ground like this:
Into a dark crumbly loam which plants thrive in.
Below I’m going to take you through some of the different types of manure available and how you can use it to help out in your garden.
This manure is pretty easy to come by. It usually contains lots of hay or grass in it making horse apples pretty light and airy. Horse manure was a recommended soil amendment to help improve drainage on clay soil by opening up the texture of the soil.
Let horse manure mature or rot before using it on the garden as the high levels of nitrogen can burn your plants.
Bunny currants are a great slow release all round fertilizer. You can use them straight on the garden or compost them with the bedding from the hutch.
People that use rabbit fertilizer rave about how great it is especially that you can put it the garden around your plants with no nitrogen burn. I’m also told that rabbit poo makes a great liquid fertilizer too!
Goat and Sheep
The lovely hills of Cumbria and the Lake District in England dotted with sheep….and manure! Sheep manure in particular is relatively low in nitrogen. In some parts of the world such as Australia and New Zealand I have heard of gardeners using sheep manure as mulch!
Goat and sheep manure are high in phosphorus and potassium which support plant growth, blooms and is low odor which is great if you are gardening in urban or suburban settings.
Goat manure may be higher in nitrogen sources than cow or horse manure so make sure you compost that manure before spreading it on your garden.
Both sheep and goat manure is quick to breakdown and compost. Pastured animal poop (i.e. those which graze in fields) is best composted to kill any weed seeds.
Bat manure or guano seems to be more common with hydroponic growers but can be used as a tea or side dressing throughout the growing season for prolific flower and fruit production.
Indonesian bat guano is high in phosphorus with no nitrogen or potassium whilst Jamaican bat guano has minimal nitrogen and potassium. Both of these bat manures and can help with flowers and fruit formation on your plants. For fruiting vegetables, more flowers means more veg to harvest!
Bat guano can help your orchard trees as well as your flowers and flowering perennials.
Chicken manure is something I’m not short of along with plenty of other backyard chicken keepers! I often use chicken manure to make a liquid fertilizer as well as composting it.
Chicken manure is one of the highest for nitrogen content so don’t apply it fresh to the garden otherwise your plants will burn. It also contains a high level of phosphorus.
Composted chicken manure can help your garden become lush with green vegetation and is a key component in growing my squashes and towering sunflowers.
Chicken manure is easy to find and if you are willing to compost it yourself, plenty of backyard chicken owners will let you take it for free or a low fee.
Seabird guano or manure is high in nitrogen and phosphorus. It is a good choice for boosting soil microbial activity and has nitrogen and phosphorus readily available for the plants. Seabird guano is a great all round or all purpose fertilizer for the beginner gardener.
Worm poo is more affectionately known as worm castings and is a great benefit to your soil as well as your plants.
Worm castings can add more beneficial microorganisms to the soil which help provide more nutrients to your plants. Worm castings also improve soil structure and texture.
You can buy worm castings or produce your own in a worm bin from kitchen scraps and even cardboard! If you are interested in worm composting you should check out the London Worms & Garden YouTube Channel where they are making worm castings from cardboard and worms! It’s pretty amazing stuff!
Cows seem to be all over but cow manure seems to be more allusive to find! Back in the 1930’s and 1940’s good old cow muck was the soil amendment of choice with fallen leaves to help improve light and sandy soils to hold more moisture.
Sticky manure which helps to bind light, sandy soils together just like cow manure. Pig manure can be on the stinky side and needs composting well. Pig manure might not be great as a fertilizer for urban and suburban gardeners just because of the smell but this stuff is great at building up sandy soils!
Pig manure has a higher pH meaning it is more alkaline and can help reduce acidic soils but no good for fertilizing blueberries, cranberries or other acid loving plants like rhododendrons.
There is some concern with pig manure and transmissible pathogens you can hot compost the manure if you are comfortable doing so or leave out the pig manure for the farmers to handle.
A word of caution in using manure from an outside source: some people put insecticide on manure to stop flies, other people have given their animals fodder which was sprayed with herbicides and/or insecticide. These chemicals are tough to break down and can cause problems in your garden at planting.
Ask if they treated their land or manure before you go ahead and part with your cash. It might cost you on the long run.
Pesticides are not the only thing to be concerned about with manure. The effect of antibiotics on soil microorganisms has been studied as early as the 1950’s and back then antibiotics were inhibiting the growth of symbiotic bacteria which produced nitrogen for the plants. Some antibiotics are taken up by plants and can be found in stems or leaves.
Now before you start panicking, as a gardener you can choose what you put into your garden and veggies. Don’t be afraid to ask if you are buying locally. Many backyard farmers and homesteaders don’t treat animals or crops.
If you are still hesitant, you can raise animals yourself, stick with worm castings or use sustainably and responsibly harvested wild manure.
If you have manure available which has been sprayed or the fodder was sprayed, you can leave it composting in a cool, bacteria driven composting pile away from planting areas. You can then spread the manure in a year’s time on the grass or lawn away from your edibles or perform a bioassay as outlined in this article from Oregon State. You can then decide if you want to try planting edibles using the manure compost or not.
Do you use manure in your garden? How do you like to use it and what sort I’d love to hear in the comments!
If you have any tips to share with me or other readers please share them in the comments or at the Misfit Gardening Community Forum, we would love to hear your ideas and tips.
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