Using manure in your garden is a great way to provide nutrients and organic material for your soil. Even if you don’t own any animals, there are plenty of ways to find some manure to mix in to your soil.
So, where can you get manure for your garden? One good source of manure is anyone in your area who keeps chickens, cows, horses, goats, or rabbits. You can also get manure delivered from garden or landscaping centers. Another option is to buy manure at a store like Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Tractor Supply. You can even keep your own chickens to get manure in addition to eggs.
Once you manage to acquire manure, you still need to be careful about how you handle it and when you use it in your garden. Manure can contain harmful parasites and bacteria if it is not fully composted.
Let’s look at the types of manure you can use and the benefits of each, along with how to use it, and some cautions about manure.
Where to Get Manure for Your Garden
There are plenty of ways to find manure if you want some for your garden. One way is to ask friends or family if they know anyone who keeps chickens, horses, or rabbits at home. They might not want to deal with the waste, or they might have extra manure that you can use.
You can keep animals yourself to provide a steady supply of manure. One benefit of keeping chickens is that they produce manure that is high in Nitrogen. As an added benefit, they will also provide you with eggs.
It might be more convenient to order manure online, or get it delivered from a garden center, such as at Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Types of Manure for Your Garden
Now that you know where to get manure, the question is, what type should you use? Manure will have a different nutrient profile depending on which animal it came from.
Manure actually consists of animal waste and bedding (for example, pine shavings or sawdust). Bedding contains carbon, which is necessary for plant life.
Animal waste contains nitrogen, in addition to other nutrients, such as phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The level of nitrogen varies depending on the animal that the manure came from.
“Cold” manure contains less nitrogen, and “hot” manure contains more nitrogen. For more information, check out this article from Fine Gardening about nutrient levels in manure.
Let’s see how some common animal manure stacks up, in terms of their nutritional content.
Cow manure is the “coldest” of the manures mentioned here, meaning it has the lowest levels of nitrogen (only about 0.5% by weight). This means that it will be more difficult to “burn” your plants with too much nitrogen if you are using cow manure, rather than other types.
Cow manure also has rather low levels of phosphorus and potassium compared to manure from other animals. However, it will be easy to get it if you live near someone who raises dairy or beef cattle.
Horse manure has slightly more nitrogen than cow manure, and the same or lower levels of phosphorus and potassium. You can get some if you have a friend or neighbor who keeps and rides horses at home.
You might also be able to get some from a local horse boarder. Often, they have more than they can keep up with. One place near me is in trouble for environmental issues due to a large pile of horse manure. They are happy to have people haul it away for free!
Sheep manure has about twice the nitrogen content of cow or horse manure. Sheep manure also contains about twice the phosphorus and potassium content of cow or horse manure, making it a good addition to your soil once it has composted.
Poultry Manure (Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Turkeys)
Poultry manure is the hottest of the manures listed here, meaning it has the highest nitrogen content by weight. In fact, poultry manure has 3 times the nitrogen content of cow and horse manure – perhaps higher!
Poultry manure also contains way more phosphorus (over ten times as much) and potassium (over 3 times as much) than cow and horse manure. This makes poultry manure the ultimate manure if you want to replace lost nutrients in your soil!
How to Apply Manure to Your Garden
Once you have decided on a type of manure and found a reliable source, there is still some work to be done. You need to pick up the manure, or have it transported to your garden.
Then, you need to let the manure compost, or “age”, for at least 4 months before applying it to your garden. There are two reasons for doing this.
First of all, this amount of time allows harmful pathogens in the soil to be neutralized. Remember that manure can contain E. coli, salmonella, listeria, roundworms, and tapeworms, among other things.
Second of all, letting your manure sit allows it to break down into a form that is more readily available to your plants. You can even speed up the process by adding worms to your manure pile.
You don’t need any special place for the manure – you can make a pile anywhere in your yard that is convenient. Just make sure to keep it far away from neighbors to avoid a smell. Also, make it inaccessible to animals (some dogs love to roll in the stuff – yes, really).
If you want, you can mix the manure in with any compost you have produced. For more information, check out my article on making compost.
If you don’t have a place outside of your garden to keep the manure, then make sure to put it in your garden in the fall, after everything has been harvested. This will give the manure plenty of time to compost before you plant in the spring.
Cautions About Manure
There are a few things to be careful about when you use manure in your garden. You need to be careful about the source, and also avoid using manure from certain animals.
Don’t Use Manure From Cats, Dogs, Pigs, or Humans
Manure from cats, dogs, pigs, or humans should not be used in your garden, even if given time to compost. These animals usually consume meat, and so their manures can contain parasites & diseases outside of what you might see from cows, horses, sheep, and chickens.
Don’t Use Fresh Manure Directly on Plants
As mentioned above, you should wait to let your manure age for 4 months or more before using it in your garden. If you apply “fresh” (uncomposted) manure directly to your garden, you are inviting disease.
Whenever it rains or you water your garden, water can splash up onto leaves or fruits. If the manure you used has not aged enough, the water can contaminate your garden produce.
If you do put fresh manure in your garden, be sure that there will be at least 4 months between application of the manure and harvest.
Be especially careful with carrots, beets, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and so forth. With these plants, the part that we eat (the root, tuber, etc.) is in direct contact with the soil.
In addition, remember that fresh manure can burn your plants with too much available nitrogen all at once. For more information, check out my article on over fertilizing your plants.
Use Manure From Healthy Animals
Make sure your own animals are healthy before you use their manure as a source of fertilizer for your garden. Also, make sure to ask about the health of the animals if you get manure from someone else.
Beware of Antibiotics, Herbicides, and Pesticides in Manure
Many small and large farmers use antibiotics to keep their animals healthy. Unfortunately, these antibiotics may show up in their manure, which can negatively affect beneficial bacteria in your garden.
Some places will use herbicides and pesticides to keep weeds and bugs (flies, etc.) off of manure piles. Make sure to ask before you take this manure for your garden.
Watch Out For Weed Seeds in Manure
Many animals will eat weeds and their seeds, which end up undigested in their manure. These seeds can sprout in your manure pile, compost pile, or garden, so be mindful of this fact.
Be Careful When Watering
As mentioned above, you can splash contaminated water onto your plants when watering, so don’t pour or spray from high up. Pour slowly, from close to the ground, to avoid splashing.
Wash and Cook Vegetables
The best way to counter any pathogens or diseases that survived your other precautions is to wash and cook your vegetables thoroughly before eating. For example, steam or boil your spinach instead of eating it raw in a salad.
Frequently Asked Questions About Manure
There are a few questions that you might still have about using manure in your garden, so let’s address them briefly.
Why Should I Use Manure In My Garden?
Manure helps to supply the “big three” nutrients (NPK, or nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) to your soil, in addition to other micronutrients.
Manure also improves the structure of your soil by adding organic material (humus). This improves drainage for clay soils (preventing root rot) and improves water retention in sandy soils (preventing plants from drying out).
Do I Need to Add Anything to Manure?
Some manure is high in nitrogen, but not as high in phosphorus or potassium. In some plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, etc., this could lead to excessive green growth at the expense of flowers and fruits.
If you are worried about this, you can use a fertilizer providing only P and/or K (no nitrogen) to your manure before adding it to your garden. For more information, check out my article on low-nitrogen fertilizers.
Will Manure Burn My Plants?
Fresh manure may burn your plants if you apply it directly around your plants, without aging the manure.
Since manure contains waste products from animals, it will contain some salts and other things that could harm your plants. That is why it is best to let it age for 4 months or more before using it in your garden.
How Do I Know When the Manure is Ready to Use?
Quite simply, the manure is ready to use when there is no more smell. The manure will break down into small pieces, and will look more like dirt than animal waste.
By now, you have a good idea of where you can get manure, how to use it properly, and what to look out for when applying it.
I hope this article was helpful. If you have any questions or advice of your own regarding ways to find or use manure, please leave a comment below.