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Using Manure" Wisely"


Question. Mike: I have manure available to me—horse and chicken—and am wondering how to best use them as fertilizer. Both are mixed with bedding material (straw and pine shavings). Do I have to compost this, or can I put the manure directly onto the garden? And do I need to add any other fertilizer to balance it out? I know manure is high in Nitrogen, and I don't want to end up with a lot of lush greenery and no flowers! Thanks,
    ---Lena in East Hampton, Connecticut
Mike: My spouse and I are setting up a veggie garden, and have access to a hill of cow manure and straw (it's up to eight years old; no odor). We brought home several bags to work into the soil and have also begun filling a composter with the stuff, but it's gonna take a while before it's ready. Can we use the manure as compost? Thanks,
    --Benjamin in Bass River, NS, Canada
Will composted manure burn plants like chemical fertilizer? I have access to cattle manure that's been processed for a long period of time at a facility near here.
    ---Kathy in Albuquerque
Answer. Thanks all three of you! I've wanted to do a detailed piece on "manure" for a while now, and you asked just the right questions to propel me along.

Lets start with a definition. I'll try and do this delicately: The word "manure" refers to the solid waste the animal was all done with, plus the liquid waste, AND the material put down to cover the floor to make it less slippery by capturing Numbers One and Two. Typically, this bedding is straw, spoiled hay, wood shavings or some other carbon-rich material. So, you guys don't have manure and bedding, you have true 'manure'.

The waste is nitrogen-rich and the bedding is carbon-rich. Those of you who paid attention during compost class know that this perfect blend is all complete and ready for composting. And yes, composted it must be. Any manure can injure plants while it is still fresh, by 'burning' or dehydrating them. Yes, some farmers do use fresh manure on their fields, but they typically spread it in the Fall, so it will break down and be safe by Spring planting time. But this is a VERY inefficient use of the material. And it is extremely nasty on the smelliness end; you will regret it greatly if you try this at home, kids.

And there's no reason to—manure composts VERY easily. Already that perfect combination of nitrogen and carbon, it quickly becomes a beautiful, crumbly, black, odor-free soil amendment. No container necessary—the best way to compost manure is in a big pile out in the open. (Fill that wonderful composter with shredded leaves and house and yard green waste instead!)

Don't worry; unlike with spreading, manure will not waft any unpleasant odors after its first piled up. And it will have no odor at all when it's done and ready to use, even while you're turning it into the soil or shoveling it around your established plants, which is how you should use it when it is finished.

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