All About Poop – Using Manure in the Garden

This afternoon while I was prepping a new bed for garlic it dawned on me that I should probably pay attention to which manure and bedding I add to it. Being a root vegetable I didn’t want to add high nitrogen to the bed because that would stimulate too much top growth and the energy of the plant wouldn’t be used for making those big, juicy cloves on the bulb.What I would need is a manure that helps promote root growth. Ideally this would be a manure that was high in phosphorus but lower in nitrogen. Potassium is the third micronutrient and is used by the plant for overall vigor and disease resistance so it would be OK if this was high as well.

One of the benefits to keeping all of our animals in separate housing is that I can pick and choose who has the most appropriate manure for each bed. I can also choose when in the growing season I can apply each manure. In general chicken, turkey and goat are considered “hot” and need to be composted first. We usually put these down right after harvest and let them sit until we plant again. Rabbit, on the other hand, does not need to be composted first so we like to use this during the growing season. Additionally, the bedding that is mixed in with the manures really helps improve our heavy clay soil.

Here are the average numbers for common livestock manures that are readily accessible to us. The numbers correspond with N-P-K (Nitrogen – Phosphorus – Potassium) and are percent of dry weight.

Goat 1.5 – 1.5 – 3.0

*Horse 2.3 – 0.9 – 1.7

Poultry 3.2 – 5.2 – 1.8

Rabbit 2.4 – 1.4 – 0.6

Steer 1.7 – 1.2 – 3.0

If you want to get really technical determining how much of each type of manures you should add you can do some calculations. Since growing food isn’t a business for us it’s not really worth it to have all the manure sent out to have it tested and then weigh everything before applying the manure. For home garden it can be more of an approximation based on the needs of different crops and what the different manures contain.

What I chose to use for the garlic was the old bedding from the goat yard that also included chicken manure from when the chickens were housed with them. This will be what I use for root vegetables. Once it runs out then I’ll mix the poultry and goat manure together to reach the same numbers. For other crops here is what I’ll be using where. (Nutrient requirements based on info in The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible)

Nutrient Requirements” N=high; P=high; K=high

Combination of poultry and rabbit manure (or poultry and horse)

  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Dill
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Nutrient Requirements” N=high; P=moderate; K=moderate

Rabbit manure (or horse)

  • Asparagus
  • Mustard
  • Summer Squash
  • Winter Squash

Nutrient Requirements” N=high; P=low; K=low

Rabbit manure (or horse)

  • Carrots
  • Parnips

Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=moderate; K=moderate

Combination of poultry and goat manure (or poultry and steer)

  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=high; K=high

Goat manure (or steer)

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant

Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=low; K=low

Rabbit manure (or horse)

  • Fennel

Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=high; K=high

Goat manure (or steer)

  • Melons
  • Watermelons

Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=moderate; K=moderate

Goat manure (or steer)

  • Bush Beans
  • Pole Beans
  • Beets
  • Swiss Chard

Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=low; K=low

Light on the goat manure (or steer)

  • Arugula
  •  Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Horseradish
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Sage
  • Sunflowers
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tarragon
  • Tomatillos
  • Turnips

Of course nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are not the only nutrients plants need, nor are they only nutrients found in manure. Manure also contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, sulfur and various levels of other nutrients. Composted manure also contains a lot of beneficial microorganisms which help break down nutrients and make them available to plants. The addition of carbon (bedding) makes the perfect mix of nitrogen and carbon for composting. It wasn’t until we got chickens and started adding their bedding to our compost pile were we finally able to get it hot. Our livestock manure is actually mixed in with composted kitchen scraps and yard waste to add another level of nutrients.

It’s not just about nutrients when it comes to manure and compost. The addition of it greatly improves the soil structure such as loosening heavy clay soil or increasing water retention in sandy soils. In my opinion adding compost and/or manure is really the only way to go when trying to improve your soil. You just can’t have healthy, nutritious food without healthy soil.

*Horse manure is commonly available for free or very low cost at boarding stables. Be aware, however, that if the animals are pastured it could be high in weed seeds unless it is properly composted at a high enough temperature.

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Discussion

  1. Best blog post ever! Exactly the information I needed all in one concise article – thanks!

  2. This is very helpful! I don’t get free manure yet (sigh) One day! But the veggie breakdown is excellent.

  3. What a good page. I really like your posts. From heart congratulations and I will post all visiting Colombia. Q and that while good would dare, visit http://www.agronet.gov.co

  4. This is brilliant! So helpful. We have horse and chicken manure at the moment, looking to add back rabbit this spring. Now I can be more deliberate in my uses!

  5. Azri'el Collier says:

    We have found that most root veggies really need a higher level of nitrogen and also a higher level of potassium. For the potassium, we like to use sifted wood ash as it is high in potassium. That, along with horse, donkey, or goat manure seems to work really well for us, especially in clay soils. Out of a planting of a little less than 5lbs of various types of potatoes this last season, we harvested more than 120lbs of potatoes.

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  1. [...] ALL ABOUT POOP ‹ Rabbit Chili Posted in FYI [...]

  2. [...] I prefer to start my onion seeds at the first of the year. Planting them in the fall, I find, throws them out of whack when the days get shorter and then get longer. When this happens the plants think they are heading into their second year so they bolt almost immediately in the spring. You can plant them en masse and when you plant out just tease them apart.  I start them in flats in the greenhouse and once they are about 3″ tall I will transplant them in their well amended, loose bed. Don’t use a high nitrogen fertilizer for onions, though you do want to offer them some nitrogen. What you want is more phosphorus to encourage root growth. A good amendment would be a combination of poultry and steer (or goat) manures. [...]

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