Less Noise, More Green: Ten tips on safely using manure to fertilize vegetable beds

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ten tips on safely using manure to fertilize vegetable beds

Using manure to fertilize vegetable beds, urban farming
Poop delivery!

I am very lucky. My best friend Roda has a horse and two alpacas. They poop and she is willing to share it with me! I know, I shouldn't brag, but for a vegetable gardener there is no finer gift than quality aged manure. Safely using this crumbly matter is easy if some simple steps are followed.

Selfie, taken after the manure was added to the beds. We did not deliberately color coordinate!

My small plot of land is in a city and I do not have chickens or rabbits, as I know many of you suburban/urban homesteaders do. This means that for me to amend my soil with manure, I have to find a rural source or buy it from a garden store. Manure is such a great soil amendment because it is high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium which are essential for healthy plant growth.

Using manure to fertilize vegetable beds, urban farming
Black Gold.

In many ways, buying organic aged manure can be the safest bet. It will say right on the bag that it is aged and pathogen free. Obtaining manure direct from the source, as it were, can be a more risky proposition. The last thing you want is to make yourself or your family sick by planting in manure amended soil that has not been prepared properly. I know the manure I am using has been properly aged and is safe for me to use.

If you are planning on using chicken or rabbit manure from your own animals, be sure to follow the tips below. To reach the required internal temperature to be safe, you need quite a large pile. The manure will be mixed with a lot of bedding material that can effect the pH of the soil. A soil test for a previous year's amended bed might be wise.

Using manure to fertilize vegetable beds
We added the manure and raked it evenly across the surface of the beds.

Here are ten tips on safely using manure to fertilize vegetable beds.

  1. I never use raw manure on my beds. Ever. It is not worth the risk, in my opinion. Raw manure can contain E.coli, Listeria or Salmonella. It is also 'hot', which means it's high nitrogen levels activate soil bacteria and leads to the burning up of nutrients before plants can absorb them.  This same property, however, makes it a great addition to your compost pile where it will speed up decomposition of plant material ( just make sure the pile reaches an internal temperature of 155 F).
  2.  Use only aged manure from a non meat eating animal such as horses, cows, chicken or goats.  Aged manure means manure that has been composted for at least six months and has reached an internal temperature of at least 155 degrees F.
  3. Never top dress beds with manure, even aged. Turn the beds over.
  4. Add aged manure in the fall and turn in. The freezing and thawing activity of winter will help to break down any remaining pathogens.
  5. If aged manure is added in the spring, wait four weeks if you can before planting. Increased microbial action may interfere with seed germination.
  6. Cornell University suggests adding 40 lbs of manure per 100 square feet of bed.
  7. Manure from horses can contain seeds from weeds which can infest your garden. The high temperature of a properly aged supply should kill any seeds. 
  8. Always wear gloves when working in manure amended soil.
  9. Wash your hands in hot water with soap after gardening and before preparing food.
  10. Clean off vegetables with room temperature water before eating. Take special care with root crops.
If planning on using manure obtained from a farm, I would be cautious and only apply it in the fall where it has all winter to decompose. If using manure from your own animals, I would do the same, unless I was sure the pile had reached the required internal temperature.

Here is a view of the back beds once the manure had been turned in.
I have added aged manure to my beds almost every year and have never had a problem. This is the first year I have added it in the spring rather than the fall. I have already ignored one of my tips and planted a small number of seeds. I want to see if they germinate. If they don't, I'll just reseed in a few weeks. I did this because we are off to such a late start this year due the weather. I'll let you know if I was crazy to not listen to my own advice!

Every year, Roda brings me poop and I make sure she gets lots of veggies and plants in return. I love this aspect of gardening. Bartering is so much fun!!

Do you use manure to amend your beds?

See you in the garden,


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