You are what you eat, and so are the vegetables in your garden. Veggies are only as healthy as the soil that feeds them. What manure is best for vegetable gardening? Keep reading to get the scoop on the best poop to create garden soil that is filled with the things your plants love.
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Soil implementation is an important part of land stewardship – taking care of the land so that it’s an effective growing medium for your vegetables year after year. In recent times, we’ve seen this stewardship neglected. The land has been overused, producing crops that are not as healthy as they once were. This has led to the high use of synthetic fertilizers to amend the soil and the need for humans to take vitamin capsules to ensure proper nutritional intake.
Manure can solve this problem. Since the beginning of time, humans have used manure to fertilize their gardens and crops. Manure improves soil quality and increases its ability to hold water. It also contains microorganisms and bacteria that are beneficial to the soil. Manure can even come from surprising sources.
Manure can reduce or eliminate your need to use a universal potting soil.
What Manure is Best for Vegetable Gardening?
The best manure to use in the vegetable garden is manure that you have access to and one that has been properly composted.
Manures are an especially rich source of nitrogen. Plants need nitrogen for growth and development. If they don’t get enough nitrogen, plants grow slowly or stop growing altogether.
Some manures, such as sheep, goat and rabbit manures, are easier to compost and spread because of their pellet size and the shape of the manure.
Manures that can be used in the garden include:
- Rabbit – Rabbit manure might be the best manure to use in the garden. It has twice as many nutrients as chicken manure and almost four times more nutrients than cow or horse manure. Rabbit droppings, affectionately called “bunny berries,” can be used immediately without the need to compost. They have low doses of plant nutrients that fertilize your plants without overwhelming the plant’s roots. Their small size makes them easy to spread evenly around the plants as a top dressing.
- Chicken and Poultry – Another good manure to use in a garden is chicken manure. It’s a very “hot” manure, however, and should never be applied without first composting and aging to make it safe for plants. Chicken manure is high in nitrogen and ammonia which will burn plant roots if used uncomposted. Uncomposted, it’s best applied in the fall and overwintered or, after it has been composted, applied in the spring. Composted chicken manure is especially good for plants that are heavy nitrogen feeders. Chicken manure can take a year or more to fully compost. Rhubarb is the exception to the rule and can be fertilized with uncomposted chicken manure. All poultry manures should be treated as you would chicken manure.
- Cow – Although some people say that cow manure is safe to use fresh, it tends to be filled with weeds and grasses; therefore, it should be composted to kill these seeds. It’s also high in nitrogen and ammonia, although not as high as chicken manure. Composted soil products containing cow manure are frequently referred to as “black gold.”
- Horse – Due to its larger size, it takes longer to break down horse manure in the compost pile. Additionally, the seeds in the manure take longer to age and compost. Seeds inherent to the horse’s feed, such as Johnson Grass, can become especially troublesome in a garden and hard to eradicate once established. Horse manure can take four months to compost (six months is better to kill the weeds); however, if it contains wood chips, it will take longer. Even after composting, it has a strong manure smell.
- Sheep – Sheep manure is high in nitrogen but lower in other macro-nutrients. It should be composted before use. Due to the size of the pellets, however, it composts quickly. Because it’s low odor, many people use this compost as a top-dressing in their garden beds.
- Pig – Pig manure contains lots of pathogens that make humans sick, such as parasitic worms, salmonella and E. coli; therefore, it must be composted well and for long periods to make it safe.
- Llama or alpaca – When composted, “alpaca beans” decompose into a material that is similar to peat moss.
Most animal manures, especially that of pigs, should be composted well, making sure the compost reaches higher temperatures that will kill the pathogens that can make humans sick.
Non-Animal Sources of Manure
If you don’t own animals and don’t have access to someone who does, or if you want a vegan source of manure, these options make it possible to take advantage of the benefits of manure in your vegetable garden.
If you want to avoid the byproducts of what animals have eaten, such as chemicals and antibiotics, that is then part of the manure, you might want to consider green manure. Green manure involves growing a cover crop and then turning or tilling the plant matter back into the soil. This process uses the plant matter, soil and microbes to create a natural fertilizer. Plants commonly grown for green manure include clover, alfalfa, annual ryegrass, comfrey and winter wheat.
Worms can be used to compost vegetative matter. Vermiculture utilizes earthworms to convert organic waste into compost. After eating the compost, the worms poop. This creates a rich dark compost filled with worm castings (worm manure).
Composting Animal Manure Is Important
Related: Compost for Container Gardening
Plants, domestic pets and livestock are all sources of manure that can be used in a vegetable garden. Each type of manure requires certain handling to make it safe for use. Uncomposted animal manure, called “hot manure,” should be used with caution. Uncomposted animal manures may contain weed seeds and diseases; therefore, animal manure needs to be composted to:
- Remove harmful pathogens
- Kill unwanted seeds that have passed through the animal’s system
- Break it down to make nutrients accessible for plants
Since animal manure is a waste product, it must be used with care. Raw (uncomposted) manures may be used; however, they have certain challenges which may include:
- Flies are attracted to it
- Can cause plants to grow too quickly, resulting in thin and leggy plants
- Too “hot” for plants, causing damage to roots
- May inhibit germination of seeds
If raw animal manure is used, it should be worked into the soil late in the season, giving it time to break down before the next planting season.
For optimal composting, to break down manure sufficiently, and to kill seeds, the compost pile must reach a temperature of at least 140° F (60° C) for an extended period. This time will vary, depending on the season, outside temperatures and moisture levels.
Raw or “hot” manures can be composted by:
- Adding manure to an existing compost pile and mixing it with grass, leaves and kitchen scraps
- Creating a muck pile that is left to decompose until it stops producing heat and no longer smells
- Working the raw manure into the soil at the end of the growing season and overwintering
- Row or trench composting
Manures that Should Not Be Used in a Vegetable Garden
Some animal manures should not be used in your landscape or vegetable gardens. These manures may contain drugs, diseases or have other potential problems.
Dog and Cat Feces
Dog, cat and other carnivore’s feces can take two years or longer to decompose in the compost pile and should never be used for food crops even after composting. The risk of disease being passed to humans is too high.
Human manure, sometimes referred to as humanure, shouldn’t be used in the vegetable garden. Although some people have composting toilets that produce humanure, viruses, bacteria and other pathogens are not effectively removed by standard home composting processes.
Best Manure for Gardening
The best manure to use in a vegetable garden may depend on which you have access to. All of them will be beneficial to the soil. It’s important to remember that all animal manures should be allowed to compost for at least six months before use. Alternatively, you can add it to the garden raw in the fall after harvest is complete, till it into the soil, and allow it to rest until the next growing season in the spring.
Most farm animal owners are more than happy for you to take all the manure you can carry.
If you are an organic gardener, ensure that your source of manure is organic as well. Manure from animals that consume non-organic feed will contaminate an organic garden.