Aged, or composted, cow manure can provide numerous benefits for the garden. We picked up a truck load at a coworkers farm Tuesday evening after work, it is now on our garden waiting to be tilled in this weekend. Though the manure we received did not come from a certified organic farm it did come from naturally raised cows, pasture fed in the summer, hay and grain in the winter.
For centuries, animal manure has been recognized as a soil builder because it contributes to improving soil quality. Nearly any kind of manure can be used, depending on what is available in your area. Horse, chicken, cow, and sheep manure are commonly used. However, it is not recommended that anyone use cat or dog manure, these types of manures are unsuitable for the garden or the compost pile since they carry parasites.
Cow manure is made up of digested grass and grain but needs to be aged or composted prior to use as it contains high levels of ammonia that can burn plants when directly applied. Allowing the manure to age until it resembles dirt rather than manure also eliminates harmful pathogens such as E. coli as well as weed seeds. Manure contains most elements required for plant growth including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients. However, it is manure's organic carbon that provides its potential environmental value. Organic carbon from manure provides the energy source for the active, healthy soil microbial environment.
Applying cow manure to your garden will add generous amounts of organic matter to your soil resulting in fertile, friable soil. Nitrogen applied in this form fosters favorable soil microbes that are an indication of healthy, fertile soil. Cow manure also does not contain excessive amounts of nitrogen like chemical fertilizers, which contain more then the plants can use allowing the excess to run off into rivers and streams upsetting their balance. Mixing aged manure into your garden soil improves its moisture-holding capacity allowing for less frequent watering as the roots can use the additional water and nutrients as needed.
To maximize the benefits be sure to properly age or compost the manure. The manure we took home was a couple years old and had turned into rich black soil. If the manure is not completely aged or composted be sure to till it into the soil during the fall, allowing it plenty of time to break down before spring planting. Never use fresh manure as it will burn your plants. As the soil absorbs manure, nutrients are released, enriching the soil and suppying a premium growing medium for your plants.
When compared to more conventional fertilizer, manure properly applied to land has the potential to provide environmental benefits including:
- Increased soil carbon
- Reduced soil erosion and runoff
- Reduced nitrate leaching
*Some of the above information was obtained from the NDSU Extension Service.*
This post is linked to Simple Lives Thursday