Friday, April 4, 2014

Manure, it is not created equal.

My cousin and I had a discussion about manure and gardening. Shall we say a difference of opinion occurred. He said basically that I was doing it wrong but who can argue with results? In the soil we were struggling with at the old house the plants grew far better than any other garden in the area according to my observations, the neighbors, and the UPS man who runs all over the countryside?

My cousin said he has been gardening for five years and I for close to 40 and I'm sure we both could learn from each other. He gardens in a different environment than I did in the other house though I have gardened in this area I now live when we were first married. Yet my specific gardening spot I have not gardened in and it will have unique needs. I also gardened as a teenager on the other side of the mountain from where we presently live besides doing some work in the farmer's fields.

 Basically methods my cousin uses could be vary helpful or would not necessarily work for me in our past garden. I've seen methods that work for one person and not for another in the exact same garden. We don't argue when a customer says a big knife is best for skinning and another says a little one is. They are both getting the same results but one knife doesn't work for one and a little for the other. We are all different and can make different things work for us. There are some standard rules such as too much salt is not good. But one gardener has a method of leaching those salts out and it works for him where the other gardener doesn't get enough salt leached out and the same manure does not work for him.

 There are some things my cousin said like the only manure you should use on a garden is horse that I can't find any statistics on to substantiate. He said it is because it is lower in salt but the science studies state clearly otherwise. Diet of the animal is the key to salt content according to research. Yes, cattle do have higher salt levels but only in commercial settings where a higher salt content is in their diet. I'm guessing it was someone's experience and opinion that he is basing his information on because horse manure varies tremendously just like any other manure so you have to know the diet of the animals to which you are getting the manure from. If the grass or hay they were fed is high in salt then the manure is high. If they were grained or how much they were grained and it was high in salt then you have a high salt content. Or if simply the animal was supplemented heavily with salt then you have a problem but salt itself is not bad. Soil needs salt to properly function just not too much salt. 

My cousin was emphatic about using only composted horse manure with no bedding and really poo pood using wood shaving from pine or straw but the research says otherwise. In fact that bedding is key to boosting the nutrient factor in manure. How much pine is used is the key for we are trying to create a balance using materials available in our area. We had absolutely no wood in our past area that was not pine. In this area we have more options. Keep in mind it is the urine that has 50 to 60 percent of the nitrogen and potassium. Yes, the straw and wood shavings does tie up the nitrogen for a time and that is why it is a PART of what you put into the garden. In and by itself it will not create a balance but just a piece of the whole. Let's call it a food storage program. You try to put into play nutrients for this year and those that the good guys in the soil are processing for next year.

Yes, your manure should be aged at least 6 to 10 weeks and applied in the fall not spring. I used manure a bit older for spring applications than that I would use in the fall. I would put manure/straw or wood shavings from the goat shed in the paths versus the beds if it was fresher. My paths are not permanent and become next years garden bed. The experts say that goat manure can be raked from the pen routinely and put right on the garden without composting. Those dingle berries are not the same as cow or horse poop. Dingle berries also do not have a tendency to draw flies or host maggots. Goats process their food far better than a cow or a horse so that changes the manure.


The older the manure the less fertilizer it has in it. If manure was composted under high temps then it has little fertilizer quality. The bags of manure from the store are heated at high temps to kill weed seeds and it also removes the fertilizer quality of it. It also concentrates the salts too and high salt levels are a no, no in a garden. They said to be especially aware that Colorado bagged manure is very high in salt content.

If you need an amender then you are using manure as a amender and if you need a fertilizer then you are using it as a fertilizer. People for centuries have use manure as a fertilizer. It was shipped to farmers on boats because it was the only fertilizer to be had besides blood and bone and a few other things that comes in smaller quantities. It is where the word shit came from. S.H.I.T. which stands for ship high in transit that was stamped on the shipping manifesto. Manure burns very well and smells so it was in the upper decks of a ship.

I believe a garden should be looked at as a evolving process where you are working to improve things years into the future. A few years back I attended a holistic ranching lecture. It was amazing the difference in the pastures but the process of transforming a ranch to holistic took years and years. I saw the change in the Buffalo ranch that was near our old home. They had species of plants that were once native that they had not introduced but years later after beginning the process had suddenly appeared because the environment was right.

I believe that gardening is a process where you create an environment where the micro-organisms flourish and you are assisting the earth to form a rich habitat. It is why I can't wait to add green manure and chickens to the equation since now I will have more gardening room. It was proven in holistic ranching that ground that is not grazed will become desolate in comparison within ten years. The disturbing of the soil and manure deposits are critical to its health.

As for the e-coli question he poised, yes it is a risk factor but there studies have also been done. It comes down to the diet of the animals in which you are obtaining the manure from. If the animals were sick, the manure will be sick. Also if the animals were fed a corn diet then their digestive systems will be acidic. Acidic digestive environments are rich grounds for disease. That is why commercial operations are at higher risks for e-coli. They feed too much corn which is not something cattle or horses or any other animal should have high levels of.

So what is the best manure? Manure from animals in which were fed a natural diet. Manure from healthy animals. Manure that has the bedding mixed in with it.

One more factor. Manure that has been rained on excessively or wetted down too much will have the nutrients washed away. It is why sand is a problem as a garden soil. A certain amount of leaching is good though since it washes away excessive salts. Balance is the key.

Chicken manure is great except if too fresh it is especially high in ammonia and that burns plants. Laying hen manure can also raise the pH of soil due to the calcium supplements but it is great on tomato plants that need lots of calcium. Too much bad. Too little bad. Used on the wrong plants bad. Used on the right plants good. A simple answer of chicken manure is bad doesn't do it of cow manure is high in salt doesn't do it. The answers are far more complex.

The following site was great for charts and information. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/242.html
"The nitrogen in manure is not all available to growing plants the first year as much of it may be tied up in organic forms.  Organic nitrogen becomes available to plants when soil microorganisms decompose organic compounds, such as proteins, and then convert the released N to NH4.  This process, known as mineralization, occurs over a period of years.  [TManure contains small amounts of plant nutrients and micronutrients.  The nutrient composition of farm manure varies widely depending on bedding material, moisture content, exposure, and aging, even for the same species of animal.  Where manure is routinely added, garden soils will likely have adequate phosphorus and potassium.  Manure is a great source of micronutrients like zinc.  The table below gives approximate amounts of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash.able 2]"
Research shows that cattle fed a corn diet have a greater risk of shedding E-coli because corn is not a natural food for cattle changing the environment in the rumen to less acidic. e-coli is sensitive to acidic environments. We know that our bodies too become diseased when they switch from a acidic to a alkaline.

Feedlot manure is often high in salts if a salt additive is used in the livestock diet.
 Salts can be concentrated during composting as moisture is lost and volume is reduced.

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