Using Manure in the Garden

We are very fortunate to live in a rich agricultural region where we have access to not only local food to feed our bodies, but lots of fresh animal poop to enrich our soils. Many of us use manure to add nutrients to our soil and build fertility, but it’s important to know how and when to apply manure to be food safe – timing is everything. Consider these questions when accessing manure from a farm you’re not familiar with:

  • Are the animals in the herd or flock healthy?manure and shovel

Manure from unhealthy animals should not be applied to food gardens.

  •  Is there a parasite problem that requires regular deworming?

Manure from regularly dewormed animals will kill the worms in your soil, and we need our earthworms.

  •  Does the farm use antibiotics as a regular component of their feeding program?

Antibiotics can persist in soils from a few to several hundred days and can also permanently change the composition of the bacteria in the soil. And ultimately plants can uptake these antibiotics into their tissue. (A cautionary note: cat, dog, and pig manures are a disease threat because they may contain harmful parasites and pathogens. Do not put these manures in your food gardens, ever.) It is best to compost the manure for at least one year before applying it to the soil. This allows pathogens to die off and the manure to ‘mellow’ so that it doesn’t overwhelm or burn the plants. Do not use fresh manure around your plants as the manure will burn the plant tissue, and potentially cause serious gastro-intestinal disorders from eating vegetables that have been in direct contact with the manure. Once you have a good supply of well composted manure, you can top-dress the soil with small amounts of this rich fertilizer, keeping it away from leafy greens and the stalk of plants. It’s wise to apply it just before a good rain so the nutrients are washed into the drip line of the plant. Being mindful of how you handle manure and apply it to your garden will keep you safe and your garden healthy.

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Ceres Edible Landscaping wants to help you grow food and maintain your garden as a healthy and ecologically diverse ecosystem. We provide garden consultations, design, installation and organic maintenance services from a permaculture perspective. Call Nora for an appointment to plan your spring garden: 250.748.8506.