I might be dating myself here, but anytime I think about adding manure to garden beds, I have a vision of the scene from Back to the Future. You know the one – Marty (played by Michael J. Fox) is on a skateboard and getting chased by the bully Biff and his cronies. Biff is in his convertible car (top down) when Marty makes a quick turn. Biff tries to follow, but the car slams into a dump truck full of… you guessed it: manure. The manure falls out and fills the car. Talk about a smelly situation!
Manure has a long history as a supplement in the world of farming. Manure can improve soil quality and add nutrients to the soil. That’s true for home gardens, too. Manure slowly releases nutrients over time as it breaks down, making it an excellent fertilizer.
However, it’s not all raindrops and roses when it comes to adding manure to garden beds. If you don’t prep the manure properly, it can ruin your vegetables. Not to mention, it can smell pretty darn bad. I’m just going to guess that you don’t care to smell a garden full of manure outside your kitchen window.
Here are a few things to be aware of before you decide to garden with manure.
Adding manure to garden beds: 5 mistakes you do not want to make
Mistake #1: Using fresh manure. Fresh veggies are good. Fresh manure is not. This isn’t so much about the value of nutrition fresh manure might bring to your soil. It’s that when you handle fresh manure, you expose yourself and your plants to a bevy of pathogens or parasites. Some of these can even be deadly, as in the case of E. coli. Call it personal preference, but that is not anything I care to take chances on. The exception here is that you can use fresh manure as long as you work it into the soil after the fall harvest so it can decompose over the winter.
Mistake #2: Not aging or composting the manure. Compost that poop! Composting your manure will eliminate many of the problems that come with fresh manure, including that “lovely” aroma. The same is true of aging. If you make the mistake of skipping this step, you could end up with excess weed seeds, the pathogens mentioned above, and fresh manure can be highly acidic.
Mistake #3: Rushing the process. Manure needs to get worked into the soil and time to decompose. Otherwise, it could burn your plant roots.
Mistake #4: Skipping the hand washing. Yes, I know this should be a given, but, we all know it isn’t. Hand washing is one of the easiest things we can do to help avoid contamination. And when you’re adding manure to garden beds, it’s all too easy to get sidetracked and forget this very important step.
Mistake #5: Neglecting to research your manure. Do you know where your manure comes from? Manure can contain weed seeds. Worse, though, herbicides and pesticides can pass through feed and into manure. While it’s not clear how probable this is, it isn’t entirely out of the question, either.
As long as you steer clear of these mistakes, you’ll likely be fine with adding manure to garden beds, whether that’s a raised bed or an in-ground garden.
What’s your experience with using manure as a fertilizer or soil additive in your garden? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments.