Gardening organically since 1968
Photos © Pam Walatka
Left-to-right: spade, trowel, shovel.
Manure in Organic Gardening
3 minute read.
If you use manure as fertilizer in your garden, you are following one of the most ancient
and natural agricultural practices in the history of mankind.
Manure, like oxygen, exemplifies a core working principle of nature: animal waste is good for plants,
and plant waste is good for animals. Plants give off oxygen, which animals need. Animals give off
carbon dioxide, which plants need. Animals poop manure as waste. Plants love manure.
When my mom, a super-gardener, was 100 years old, I asked her if she had used much manure in her garden.
She said, “It was the main thing I used.” (I have no excuse for not asking her earlier.)
Here are some tips for using manure
- I sometimes buy manure in sacks at the hardware or garden store.
Mom did the same. Manure in sacks is easy, not very smelly, and bug-free. The problem is that the plastic bags
become landfill. I am dealing with the guilt by using less manure and more home-made compost.
- If you would rather get free manure, take some sacks or big buckets or a truck to a horse stable
Where horses, cows, and chickens are living, manure is a waste product. Get permission before
you start shoveling.
Or raise your own livestock.
- Some horse farms deliver manure by the truckload.
- Use only manure from plant-eating animals, such as chickens, horses, cows, and bunnies.
Poop from meat-eating animals, such as dogs, cats, and pigs, may contain harmful pathogens
that do not decompose.
- Bunnies make great manure, relatively clean and neat. If you keep a bunny, just
shovel up the stuff under the cage. I am very fortunate now to have a neighbor who has an alpaca.
The alpaca poop is like bunny poop; nice.
- Fresh manure needs to be composted (decomposed) before you put it on your garden.
- Fresh/free manure tends to be full of flies and fly eggs. That is a reason to buy manure
- You can add manure to your compost pile. See
- You can spread manure a couple of inches thick over your garden bed; then use a shovel
to turn the manure into the dirt. If you are working around plants already growing in the bed,
use a trowel (small hand shovel). After turning in the manure, top the bed with a few inches
of compost or organic mulch.
- To turn the manure in with a shovel, place the shovel tip on the soil and hold the handle
straight up. Put your well-shod foot on the foot rest (the top of the blade). Push decisively.
When the blade is almost buried, lift the blade-full of dirt and then turn the blade over, dumping the
dirt back into its hole, but upside down. This is called cultivating.
You will be adding these things to your soil:
- Nutrients. Manure is fertilizer, food for your plants.
- Air. Roots grow better in soil that is not too compacted.
- Humus (not to be confused with hummus). Decomposed manure contains stuff that used to be alive,
which is vital to organic gardening.
- If you hate using manure, do not use it. Make more compost.
Compost Frequently Asked
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