Nardozzi: Much Ado About Manure

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(HOST) Fertilizing the old-fashioned way is pretty straightforward, but commentator Charlie Nardozzi says that there are still a few basic facts to keep in mind.

(NARDOZZI) Let’s talk manure – for your garden, of course.

Animal manures are among the best soil amendments you can add to your garden. But you have to know something of its origins and how to use it.

There are many different types of manures available, and each has their own advantages. The most common are cow, horse, and chicken. Cow and horse manure are widely available, low in nutrients, but high in organic matter. One downside of horse manure is the weed seeds. Horses digest only a quarter of all the roughage they eat, so weed seeds pass right through them into the manure and your garden. On the other hand, cows have 4 stomachs, so their food breaks down more readily, and their manure has fewer weed seeds.

Chicken and bird manures are loaded with high levels of nutrients but are tricky to use. They contain volatile urea nitrogen that can burn young plants and roots if added directly to the garden. Chicken manure is the most common bird manure, but you can also find pigeon and even seabird guano available commercially.

Sheep and goat manure are great products to use. The manure has higher nutrient ratings than cows’ and horses’,  and their droppings are easier to collect.

Then there are exotic manures: from rabbits, llamas, alpacas, elephants, and even crickets, among others.

However, never use manure from cats, dogs, and pigs in the garden because they may contain pathogens that can infect humans. Rabbit manure may be the best type for people with small yards. The manure is confined to the rabbit hutch and is high in nitrogen. I used to work with a man who raised rabbits mostly for the manure for his garden. He grew some of the best sweet corn from those droppings. There is also man in Georgia who raises crickets for the sole purpose of collecting the manure. I hear it’s good stuff: dry, easy to use, and high in nutrients.

Whatever your manure of choice, there are a few things to keep in mind when using it. First, know your manure source. Healthy, disease- and antibiotic-free animals produce the highest quality manure. Generally, it’s better to compost fresh manure before adding it to the garden. Make a compost pile mixed with manure, animal bedding, straw, hay, and leaves, and let it break down into a humus-rich compost that your plants will love. Another method is to add fresh or partially decomposed manure to your garden in fall and till it in. It will have months to decompose before you start growing.

If all this makes you a bit squeamish, then go for finished bagged or bulk compost made by a professional. For the adventurous, check with local farmers and neighbors about old manure piles they might have hanging around, or check with people who are raising animals. Most folks are happy to have you come in and clean out the animal pen.

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