Using Manure as Fertilizer for Gardens

Fertilizer is a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium used to add nutrients to soil and plants. Fertilizing increases the quality and quantity of a plant’s production.

Processed fertilizers usually come in either liquid or granular form. But the oldest form of fertilizer comes in pellet or pie form. Rabbit, and cow, that is. Chicken, sheep and horse manure fertilizer can also be used with great success.

But before you start scouring the countryside for farms that can supply you with a load of, let’s say… crap, there are a few things you need to know to make your garden the envy of even ‘Mary the Contrary’.

Manure Fertilizer

CC flickr photo courtesy of AntoniO BovinO

1.     All manure fertilizer is not created equal. Untreated manure is really nothing more than a pile of poop. It can be used in its ‘purest form’, but weed seeds and pathogens can be present. Look for dry “aged” manure, or compost the fresh stuff yourself for several months before using.

2.     The primary benefit from manure for gardens is nitrogen. Ranking them in order from highest to lowest in nitrogen content would go something like this: rabbit, chicken and sheep (tied), horse and cow. Other factors that contribute to the amount of nitrogen in the soil include urine concentration, the type of feed the animals were fed and the amount of forage and/or bedding mixed in with the manure.

3.     Adding manure to the soil boosts the soils aeration. The better the aeration (or ventilation) of the soil the better it absorbs water and nutrients.

As was briefly mentioned above, rabbit, sheep and poultry have the highest levels of nitrogen. Rabbit droppings also contain high levels of phosphorus which helps to produce exceptional blooming flowers both in quality and quantity. And unlike other forms of manure, fresh rabbit droppings have no foul odor.

OK, so now that you know the whys and wherefores of using manure for fertilizer, you need to know where to find it. After all, when’s the last time you saw sheep poop or chicken litter in your local garden center?

Here are a few possible resources to find manure for gardens:

1.     Your county extension office will be able to direct you to local farmers who would be happy to help you out.

2.     The local 4-H Club leaders can give you contact information for children who have animal projects.

3.     Contact your state’s department of agriculture to see if they have a value-added agriculture program. If so, there will be a group of farmers who are processing the manure from their livestock for sale.

4.     Visit your local farmer’s markets and get to know the vendors. They can help you out as well.

When applying manure to your garden’s soil, it’s very important to work it into the soil. For large areas you will most likely want to use a garden tiller to do so. For small areas, using a shovel and pitchfork will do the trick (and give you a work-out, as well). If you do use fresh manure, spread it in the fall to avoid ‘burning’ or over-feeding the plants and to allow any pathogens present to die. If you’re using dried manure, you can work it into the soil at the end of the growing season or a few weeks before planting without fear of over-feeding. NOTE: Greater amounts of manure will be used the first year, with decreasing amounts the following years. This is because a) the organic matter in the manure improves the quality of the soil and b) some nutrients are carried over from year to year.

When it’s all said and done, manure fertilizer is an economical, efficient and reliable source of fertilizer for both flowers and vegetables. Happy gardening!

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