Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Scoop on Poop

The Scoop on Poop

Back in the days when what you ate was literally the fruit of your own labor, you knew that if you wanted your soil to produce a bounty of food that you had to first feed your soil.

Since on the farm you had a ready-made fertilizer factory it wasn’t hard to do. Between the chicken, cows, pigs, rabbits, sheep, and horses there was plenty of fertilizer to go around.

As science discovered chemicals all that began to change. More folks lived in the city and depended on the local grocer for their food. Farms became less of a family thing and more of a business thing and the advent of synthetic fertilizer, touted as better and easier, became the way of growing crops.

Today, as organic food is making a come back, manure is being rediscovered as a fertilizer and soil conditioner and for use in a composting system. It is especially good for worm bin composting.

There are however, some manure that should not be used as mulch or composting where it will be used on consumable food. Generally speaking any meat eating animal manure such as dogs and cats should not be used because of a risk of parasitical or disease organisms that can potentially be transmitted to humans.

Animal manures are great sources of organic matter and nutrients that feed the soil, however a precise analysis would be far from accurate due to different feed and bedding material. But some generalizations can be made that can act as a guideline when using the different manures.

Manure N-P-K

Chicken 1.1 .80 .50
Diary cow .25 .15 .25
Horse .70 .30 .60

Steer .70 .30 .40

Rabbit 2.4 1.4 .60

Sheep .70 .30 .90

Sources: Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, An Illustrated Guide toOrganic Gardening, by Sunset Publishing, and the Rodale Guide to Composting.

Chicken manure:

This is the richest animal manure in N-P-K. It is considered a “hot” manure and should not be applied in the garden without first composting it. It will burn any plants it is used on.

Cow manure:

Cow manure is a great soil conditioner on its own, but as bedding for worm bin composting it is a true gem. Worms love the cow manure as it is processed so completely after passing through all the cow’s stomachs and the cud chewing process.

Horse manure:

Richer in nitrogen than cow manure and considered “hot.” This manure will have a lot of seeds that will germinate if used without first composting to kill them. When using as a worm bedding the seeds will generally germinate in the worm bin and will be turned into the system.

Steer manure:

Bagged steer manure while readily available is not the best choice for gardens or worm bin. It is high in salts and in many cases has been sterilized to kill weed seeds thus destroying the beneficial bacteria as well.

Rabbit manure:

Higher in nitrogen than you might think as it is a dry manure. It also contains a large amount of phosphorus that is an important ingredient for flower production and fruit formation. It is also a good candidate for worm bin composting. As a matter of fact there are many rabbit farms that use composting worms under their rabbit hutches. A true symbiotic relationship.

Sheep manure:

This is another “hot” manure that is somewhat dry and rich. There will be a difference in manure of sheep raised on feed hay and grain as opposed to those raised on pasture.

How to use your manure

No matter what kind of manure you have available, it can be used in the worm bin. Remember that your worms will die if the bin gets too hot, so you probably want to do some pre-composting to help avoid that unfortunate event.

Think soil amendment, not mulch when using manure directly on your garden. It is best to spread the manure in the fall and let the winter deal with it, then till it into the top 6 inches of soil before spring planting. This is one of the reasons I say the gardening season begins in the fall.

The final word

Animal manure retains anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of the plant nutrients the animals are fed. What better recycling system could you have to return life to the soil to feed your plants?

Trivia: The best zoo doo is elephant dung!

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