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Manure in Organic Gardening

3 minute read.
Pam Walatka
Updated July 23, 2018

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

  1. After five decades of organic gardening, I now 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.
  2. If you would rather get free manure, take some sacks or big buckets or a truck to a horse stable or farm. Where horses, cows, and chickens are living, manure is a waste product. Get permission before you start shoveling. Or raise your own livestock.
  3. 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.
  4. Bunnies make great manure, relatively clean and neat. If you keep a bunny, just shovel up the stuff under the cage.

  5. Fresh manure needs to be composted (decomposed) before you put it on your garden.
  6. If you have a big garden and want a lot of manure, you can have it delivered by the truckload.
  7. Fresh/free manure tends to be full of flies and fly eggs. That is the main reason I buy my manure in bags now.
  8. You can add manure to your compost pile. See Compost Simplified.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 decayed plant matter, which is vital to organic gardening.
  11. If you hate using manure, do not use it. Make more compost.


In my long lifetime, the best manure I ever had was from our pet bunny. Manure from a pet bunny is free, is already at your property, and comes in tidy little pellets.

See also: Compost Frequently Asked Questions.

To ask questions or make comments, join Facebook Lazy Compost Club

Happy Gardening!

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