By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder
for PlanTea, Inc. and
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Where to find manure
Remember the story of the little boy who was digging through the pile of manure? "There has to be a pony in here somewhere," he told his father.
Good poop, bad poop
What is good for the goose, is not always good for the gander. There are a few manures that should not be used, primarily those of meat eaters. According to Cornell University, "Homeowners should not use any manure from dogs, cats, or other meat-eating animals, since there is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans."
The most common sources of manure are horses, cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits and poultry. Below is a guide showing how manures measure up, nutrient-wise. While all animal manures are good sources of organic matter and nutrients, it's impossible to make a precise analysis, mostly because bedding materials vary so much. For example, manure with straw or sawdust will have a different nitrogen composition than pure manure. But it's useful to know whether the manure you're using is rich or poor in a particular nutrient such as nitrogen.
As you review the list, don't be misled by the N-P-K numbers that suggest manure is less powerful than chemicals. It is actually far better because it contains large amounts of organic matter, so it feeds and builds the soil while it nourishes the plants. This is one of the primary ways that organic fertilizers have a leg-up on chemical ones.
Still, many gardeners can't resist comparing the numerical amounts listed below with what they read on packages of synthetic fertilizers. Unfortunately, the values of manure and organic fertilizers in general, are often based on the relative amount of nitrogen (N), phosphoric acid (P) and potash (K) they contain. While these are important elements, "it is misleading to make a direct comparison between farm manures and chemical fertilizers on the basis of the relative amounts of N-P-K," says Jerry Minnich, author of Rodale's Guide to Composting.
Just like we need to eat to maintain our health, soil needs continual
replenishment of its organic matter to decompose into humus. Humus helps
create a rich, moisture-retaining soil and makes nutrients available to
plants.( For more organic gardening tips, read
the current issue of my UpBeet Gardener newsletter.)
How common manures measure up
Sources: Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, An Illustrated Guide to
Organic Gardening, by Sunset Publishing, and the Rodale Guide to Composting.
Nutrient values of manures vary greatly, depending on the diet and
How to use manure
No matter what kind of manure you use, use it as a soil amendment, not
a mulch. In other words, don't put raw manure directly on garden soils.
Raw manure generally releases nitrogen compounds and ammonia which can
burn plant roots, young plants and interfere with seed germination. In
fact, it's recommended that all animal manure should be aged for at least
6 months. Many gardeners spread fresh manure in the fall and turn it in
to the top 6 inches of soil a month before spring planting.
The bottom line
Anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of the plant nutrients fed to animals are excreted in their manure, so it should be no surprise that the stuff is an excellent fertilizer. E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, agrees. "There is no doubt about it, the basic satisfaction in farming is manure."
The best zoo doo? Elephant dung!
So there you have it: The scoop on poop!
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