Safe To Use Manure (is it best to use compost or fresh manure in the home garden)

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As a passionate backyard gardener, you know nurturing your plants takes time, effort, and knowledge. But let’s face it, there are moments when even experienced gardeners encounter challenges that leave them seeking answers and guidance, especially when it comes to safe to use manure. 

Picture this: you have lovingly built your vegetable garden, eagerly anticipating the bountiful harvest, only to find that some of your precious plants are not growing as expected. At that moment, you realize the importance of understanding and harnessing the power of garden manure. You’re not alone in this journey, and I’m here to provide insights and tips to help you navigate the fascinating world of manure to benefit your beloved backyard garden.

Adding manure enriches the soil, provides nutrients, and boosts plant growth. If you own livestock, fresh manure is free, but beware of the bacteria, weed seeds, and harsh chemicals it may contain. Allow manure to mature within your compost pile or on its own for at least six months before spreading it in your garden. However, although I don’t suggest it, some growers incorporate fresh manure into their garden directly after their last fall harvest or at least 120 days before their next spring harvest. 

red metal shovel full of dark manure outside in sunlight

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In this article, we’ll discover the secrets of harnessing the power of garden manure while exploring the benefits, precautions, and techniques for using it effectively. From enriching your soil with essential nutrients to improving its structure, find out how manure can take your gardening endeavors to new heights. 

Whether you’re a seasoned home gardener or just starting, this article will give you the knowledge and confidence to make the most of this natural resource. Unleash the potential of manure and watch your garden flourish like never before.

Humble Highlights

  • Discover the mind-blowing benefits of manure so you can use it wisely in your garden, AND unlock the secret as to why you should never use fresh manure in your garden. 
  • Save time by discovering these 3 surefire characteristics of manure so you can use just the right amount in your vegetable patch to boost growth and yields!
  • Stop worrying and gain peace of mind by easily understanding these primary steps to handle and apply your compost so you can grow your veggies with confidence.

Use Manure As Garden Fertilizer: Nutrient-Rich And Cost Effective

Although manure is animal waste, it’s not as gross as it sounds. Manure works wonders for your plants when used properly, acting as a slow-release fertilizer and soil conditioner while boosting moisture retention. It also loosens the soil texture, creating an environment where plant roots can easily penetrate and access nutrients.

garden manure

Fortunately, manure is abundant and commonly found at farms, stables, or even garden centers. There are also different types of manure, like horses or chickens, each with unique benefits. 1

Humble Tip:
One of the best features of manure is its affordability. You can typically find it for free or inexpensively from farmers or animal owners that have an abundance. Compared to synthetic fertilizers, which can be pricey, using natural waste allows you to save money while still giving your greenery the nourishment it deserves.

Add Manure To Your Garden: Pros And Cons

As with anything, there are both pros and cons to using manure in your green space. 

best vegetable garden manure

Pros: Benefits Of Using Manure

  • Nutrient Packed. Manure is packed with essential nutrients that plants need to grow properly, including macro and micro-nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. 
  • Organic Matter. Manure contributes welcome organic matter to your garden while enhancing soil structure. This results in better root growth and increased moisture retention. 2
  • Cost-effective. Because manure is typically free or low-cost, it’s a budget-friendly option allowing you to recycle waste and harness the benefits of natural fertilization in your backyard.
is composted manure safe for vegetable gardens

Cons: Drawbacks In using Manure In The Home

  • Harmful Bacteria. Fresh manure can contain bacteria that may contaminate crops and soil in your garden, causing illness if consumed without proper handling.
  • Weed Seeds. Manure can be a potent source of weed seeds that can introduce unwanted plants into your garden. 
  • Harmful Chemicals. Manure could contain traces of pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals if the animals were exposed. Unknowingly incorporating these chemicals into your garden could disrupt the delicate microbial balance within your soil and negate your organic gardening efforts. 3
  • Additional Challenges. Fresh manure may contain high nitrogen levels, ammonia, and salts. These concentrated levels can burn crops if not properly applied or diluted correctly. 
Humble Tip:
When obtaining manure from local farms, ask if the waste is fresh or aged. Fresh manure must “sit” for at least six months, either in a pile or thrown into your compost pile, to mature and break down appropriately. New waste is highly acidic, and this “aging” period helps remove weed seeds, salts, and pathogens while normalizing pH levels. 

Typically the bagged manure you purchase at your local garden center or nursery has already been aged and should be noted on the package. 

Types And Characteristics Of Manure

There are several types and characteristics of manure, including:

  • Animal Manure
  • Aged Manure
  • Fresh Or Raw Manure
composted manure vegetable garden

Let’s take a look at each to determine their advantages and disadvantages. 

Animal Manure

Cow, horse, sheep, or chicken manure are like a treasure trove of organic matter for your green space. These waste varieties are chock full of nutrients and beneficial microorganisms that nourish your soil and plants while providing a natural boost to your garden’s fertility, growth, and vibrant blooms.

Humble Tip:
Avoid mixing cat, dog, or pig manures into your gardens or compost piles, as these can pose a higher risk of harboring pathogens that may harm humans.

Aged Manure: Safer For Plants

Aged manure, or well-rotted or composted manure, has undergone a decomposition process where organic materials break down over time and is considered the gold standard. 4

As mentioned, this process breaks down harmful bacteria and weed seeds, making the manure safer and appropriate while retaining nutrient content. Additionally, this maturing process helps the waste become more stable and milder, minimizing the risk of plant damage. Results are usually a dark, crumbly material with a mild odor ready to be incorporated within your garden beds. 

“Additionally, this maturing process helps the waste become more stable and milder, minimizing the risk of plant damage.”

It is generally recommended to age or compost raw manure before applying it in your garden because it allows beneficial microbial activity and heat to break down harmful pathogens, making the nutrients readily available to plants. This aging process also helps to reduce the risk of burning plants and regulates the release of nutrients, preventing nutrient imbalances.

Fresh Or Raw Manure

Incorporating fresh or raw manure into your garden under any circumstances is not recommended as it can be too strong for your crops, potentially burning them or introducing harmful bacteria. To avoid these issues, add fresh manure to your compost pile and your normal kitchen and yard waste, and turn your heap regularly to mix all ingredients. It’s best to wait at least six months before applying this compost to your garden to ensure your manure is aged appropriately. 5

cow manure in vegetable garden

Avoid using fresh manure in the spring before sowing or during the growing season, especially in areas where food crops flourish. The concentrated nutrient levels of manure can overload your vegetable plants with excessive nutrients that can disrupt the natural balance and potentially cause problems like rapid foliage growth but limited flowering or fruiting. 

Moreover, fresh manure should never be applied to crops where the edible part comes into contact with the soil, such as root crops like carrots, beets, or potatoes.

Humble Tip:
The best time to add composted manure to your garden is in the fall, directly after your last harvest. This provides plenty of time for the manure to integrate within your garden soil, enrich the microorganisms, and prime your garden come spring.

Using Manure In The Garden: Not Too Much, Just The Perfect Balance

Typically, around 70 to 80% of the phosphorus and 80 to 90% of the potassium it contains will be available to the plants in the first year after manure application. Determining nitrogen availability is a bit more complicated, as it depends on microbial activity within your soil to make it accessible for plant uptake. 

manure compost for vegetable garden

Below are the suggested rates of fresh manure or compost (if mixed) to apply in your garden to supply about 0.2 lb of available nitrogen per 100 square feet:

  • Dairy cow (no bedding): Apply 75 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Dairy cow (with bedding): Apply 95 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Composted dairy cow manure: Apply 200 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Sheep (no bedding): Apply 40 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Sheep (with bedding): Apply 50 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Poultry (no litter): Apply 20 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Poultry (with bedding): Apply 30 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Composted poultry manure: Apply 70 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Horse (with bedding): Apply 65 pounds per 100 square feet.

“…by obtaining a soil testing kit, you can better monitor nutrient levels through regular testing and amend your soil accordingly.”

Also, by obtaining a soil testing kit, you can better monitor nutrient levels through regular testing and amend your soil accordingly. Repeat soil testing at regular intervals, typically every 1-3 years, to monitor changes in soil nutrient levels for established gardens and once per year for the first several years for new ones. 6

Humble Tip:
If you notice excessive leaf growth but limited flowering or fruiting in your plants, it could indicate too much nitrogen in the manure. Adjust (decrease) the waste in your garden in subsequent applications and perform a follow-up soil test for a better balance.

This video below details the many benefits of aged manure as well as some things that you should keep in mind when using it in your backyard garden. Remember, just like anything else in the garden, manure requires some cautionary measures and considerations before applying.

Sources Of Manure

The best places to source quality manure for your garden are farms, local plant nurseries, big-box retailers, or friends or family that may own livestock. 

how much manure for garden

Farms

You can access free waste straight from the farmyard by connecting with local farmers. Large or small local farms nearby can provide inexpensive and abundant manure for livestock, horses, and chickens. These manures are typically rich in nutrients and organic matter, especially if their animals are free-range. Plus, supporting local farmers fosters a sense of community and sustainability. 7

Garden Stores Or Centers

Nowadays, home growers have easy access to a wide range of manure products. You can find them at retail garden stores that sell bagged manure from composted cow manure or other animal waste. They often stock various types of manure, including composted versions. 

Humble Tip:
These store-bought manure varieties have already undergone the necessary aging or composting process, ensuring they are safe and efficient to use right off the shelf. They offer convenience and peace of mind, saving you time and effort.

Animal Owners

If you have friends, neighbors, or acquaintances who own chickens, cows, or horses as pets, they can act as valuable resources. Like the farmers above, animal owners often have excess manure that they are willing to share with gardeners like you and me. It is very cost-effective and a total win-win. 

Remember, you won’t want to gather the fertilizer from household pets like cats and dogs. This waste is very different from animals that consume plants, doesn’t decompose properly, and are a breeding ground for germs.  

Manure And Compost: Siblings In The Soil Nourishment Family

Manure and compost share similarities, providing essential nutrients for the optimal growth of your vegetable plants. They have complementary roles, with manure enriching soil fertility and structure, while compost enhances soil health. Using both creates a harmonious balance, delivering immediate nutrient support and long-term nourishment for vibrant and healthy plants.

how much manure to add to soil

The main difference between manure and compost lies in their origins and processing. While compost is created through a systematic and balanced breakdown of various waste materials, manure is a natural result of farming and the organic processes within livestock. 8

Manure In The Garden: Safe Handling And Application

There are three primary steps in handling manure safely and responsibility as a gardener, including:

vegetable manure

Proper Storage And Handling Techniques

  • Store manure in a designated area away from food preparation areas and water sources to prevent contamination.
  • Cover and secure the manure properly to avoid nosy pests and unnecessary runoff.
  • Wear safety goggles and gloves when handling manure, and thoroughly wash your hands afterward to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.

Timing And Methods For Applying Manure

  • Avoid putting manure near or next to crops close to harvest, as it may jeopardize food safety and spoil your garden’s yield.
  • Manure must mature to allow for decomposition, dilution, and proper nutrient release. Some growers apply fresh manure in their garden beds in the fall, directly after the final harvest, allowing the waste to mature over winter. Others mix manure within their compost pile to break down efficiently. 9
  • Unless your manure is store-bought and labeled for immediate use, it’s best to wait six months to “age” properly before being incorporated among your foliage and seeds to minimize the risk of contamination. 
using manure in the garden

Incorporate Manure Into The Ground

  • Mix or till the manure into the top layer of the soil to reduce direct contact with edible plant parts.
  • Ensure thorough distribution of manure throughout the garden soil.
  • This incorporation helps integrate the nutrients and organic matter from the manure into the soil, benefiting plant growth while minimizing the risk of contamination.

Consequences Of Too Much Manure Application

There are two common consequences when growers add too much manure to their gardens, including:

is manure good for plants

Contamination 

Applying manure too close to harvest can lead to manure contamination of the edible parts of your crops, which can be dangerous for human health. Put simply, consuming contaminated crops can lead to illnesses or food-borne diseases and should be avoided. Further, people more susceptible to such conditions should completely avoid eating uncooked vegetables from manured gardens. 10

Ruined Crops

Applying fresh manure without sufficient time for decomposition and “aging” can result in nutrient imbalances within the soil, disrupted microbial life, stunted growth, and plant burn damage (fertilizer burn) which can damage leaves, stems, and roots, ultimately causing their death.

Additionally, manure contains high levels of nitrogen, ammonia, and salts. If these substances are not properly diluted or incorporated into the soil accordingly, manure can completely overwhelm your garden and the plants that call it home. 

what manure is best for gardens

Conclusion

Manure makes a wonderful amendment to any backyard garden and will help boost crop yields. However, as helpful as manure can be, it can also be dangerous to the health of yourself and your foliage if handled or misused. 

Although manure has many benefits, from its affordability, accessibility, and nutrient density, there are also disadvantages, including harmful bacteria, chemicals, and weed seeds. 

Unless manure is store-bought and labeled for immediate garden use, fresh manure should be incorporated into your compost pile or set aside to “age” for at least six months. This waiting period allows high levels of salts to dilute, weed seeds washed away, and pH to normalize. 

Depending on how much manure you use, always follow proper handling, storage, and application techniques to ensure safety and lessen potential health risks. 

By embracing manure as a soil conditioner, you can nurture your plants or crops, promote a thriving garden, and contribute to a greener and more sustainable environment. So, let’s welcome manure into our gardening routines, use it wisely, and enjoy its benefits to our green spaces.

What’s your manure success story? We’d love to know how it’s helped improve your garden landscape. Drop us a line below in the comments, and let us know the wonders manure has done for your backyard friends! 

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