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Manures – Good or Bad for the Organic Garden?

I have a list of posts I want to write for you, but have been giving all my available time to the book I’m writing.  One of the things I wanted to post about — as a result of several questions from readers — was using manure in the organic garden. (In any garden really.)

Since I’ve just finished writing the draft for the part of the book that talks about manure — I decided to post an excerpt from the draft . The excerpt is from Chapter 8 of the Section on Adding Organic Material to the Soil.

Any comments you wish to make will be most welcomed.

Begin cut and paste from draft:

CHAPTER 8 

Ingredients for Your Own Compost 

          After reading the preceding Chapters on Residual Herbicides and how they make compost from the municipal facilities harmful, it’s obvious that we should avoid anything sprayed with chemicals in the pyridine family for our own compost pile.

          When you source straw, hay and/or grass clipping from someplace other than your own property — you may want to ask questions about what they were spray with before taking them home.

About Manures

          For thousands of years farmers used manure without hesitation and much to their benefit.  In a closed system where you raise your own animals and do things according to the laws of good health and stewardship —- you could still use it on your crops without hesitation.

          In today’s world — lots of improper things are done — and many of them by folks who consider the “wrong way” perfectly ok.  So you must know a lot about your source in order to protect your garden —– and thus protect the health of you and your family.

Examples of Residual Herbicide Damage from Readers

          Beppy, a reader of TendingMyGarden.com from Virginia wrote to thank me for a post I had written on residual herbicides:

“We have horses and we buy hay and compost the manure with the uneaten hay for our garden. This year for the first time my tomatoes started looking very strange (gnarled new growth), also my peppers. I am outraged that now I can not use our own rich compost on our garden anymore. This needs to be made much more public. Thanks.”

          Beppy was totally unaware of the problem with residual herbicides when she purchased the hay. Had she not had a garden, she may never have become aware of the problem.

Another reader from Florida writes:

“Year before last we had a poor hay year in my area and my goats were pretty much refusing to eat what I could buy locally.  So I had to drive 30 minutes to a feed store that catered to the wealthy, horse owning set and was paying $18 a bale for some really, really pretty alfalfa/timothy/orchard grass hay that was being trucked in from the midwest somewhere.  So beautiful and green and weed free.  My goats were thrilled.

I happily collected the goat manure and trampled on hay leavings and composted it with my chicken litter and it cooked good and hot.”

          When warm weather came she planted 12 beautiful tomato plants of 6 different heirloom varieties that she had started from seed.

She continues, “Two weeks later I’m noticing that the new top growth of my tomatoes are looking funky but they’re still a wonderful green color throughout the whole plant.  The top growth is shoestring appearance and then begins to come out really curled tightly like a fern leaf before it unrolls.

I called my extension office after doing a lot of internet research for what might be happening.  They’re telling me leaf roll, curly top virus, etc…all things I had checked out already. I’m telling them that it is not like that as there is no evidence of any yellowing, etc.

They said  it maybe herbicide drift but I’m not near anybody else and I have not used any herbicides in many years on my place.

I kept researching and found some stuff out of the UK and some northern areas about the problem with contaminated compost and realized that was what I had going on.  I told my extension office about it but they thought I was crazy. (Now they are aware).

I only wish I had stumbled upon all the wonderful information you have — on this problem a lot earlier!”

          These are just two of the many examples of residual herbicide damage.

Be Aware – Be Vigilant

          Be aware when you’re looking for a source for manure to compost or use in your garden that some owners know about the residual herbicide problem and others don’t. Often the ones who are aware don’t feed their animals materials that have been sprayed with these harmful chemicals.

          It’s easier to be vigilant before hand than to go through the pain and inconvenience after the fact.

A Simple Test for Manure or Compost

           Years ago I read of a simple test a gardener used to test his municipal compost to see if it contained residual herbicides that are harmful to plants.

           If you end up with compost or manure from an unknown source you might want to try it.

           The gardener planted a couple of beans or peas in a pot and let them germinate and grow a few days. Then she put a cup or so of the compost into a jar of water.

           Then she watered the plants.  If the plants lived — she used the compost in her garden.  If they died (or showed other signs of stress) in a few days — she knew she had bad stuff.

           Another gardener said he uses this basic test for every bit of manure he obtains because he once had all his crops ruined by residual herbicides. (To test he puts the manure in the jar of water rather than the compost.)

           Many University websites recommend this type of home testing.  They also warn that the test is only as good as the samples you take from the compost or manure.  It’s recommended to err on the side of too many samples rather than too few.  (At least 20 per pile.)

State Extension Offices

           If you have to deal with residual herbicides — it’s obviously not pleasant.  I think there are still many folks who garden who don’t know about them.  There are also those who do know —and just like to think it can’t happen to them.

          To make matters worse — if you live in an area that a residual herbicide problem has not been reported to (and thus not known by) the local extension office — you can get some pretty bad advice from them especially if you’re the first to report an incident.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re on the cutting edge just because they’re the extension office.

Antibiotics in Manure

          Antibiotics and related drugs are administered to conventionally raised farm animals.  About 90 percent of those end up excreted in the urine or manure.

          Scientists found that when that manure is used on soils where crops are raised — the crops take up the antibiotics. As the antibiotics in the soil increase — so do the levels taken up by the crops.

          Even organic vegetables can have antibiotics in them if the manure used on the fields had antibiotics in it.

          I’ve read reports that the levels of antibiotics that vegetables absorb are “safe” for human consumption.

          I personally don’t want antibiotics in my food no matter what the level!

          The choice is yours.

Raw Manure

          Raw manure is NEVER a good idea.  One of the main things to remember is you don’t want raw manure coming in contact with food — root crops or above ground crops.

There’s lots of information that recommends that manure be at least 6 months old before using it in your garden.

Farmers and gardeners who have access to “good” manure often incorporate it into the garden or field in the fall.  By spring planting most has decayed and become part of the soil.

After some extensive research — you might be like me and decide not to take a chance on using raw manure. The reason: I  don’t have any sources I trust and am not sure I’m knowledgeable enough about all the right questions to ask to make absolutely sure that the manure I’m getting is really ok.

When is Manure Raw?

          All manure — no matter how long it’s been sitting —- is still considered “raw manure” unless it’s been properly composted according to high composting standards and has achieved temperatures of between 133 and 170 degrees.

Avoid These

  • Sludge. It can contain antibiotics, chemicals, and just about anything.
  • Dung of dogs, cats, & hogs.

 They can carry parasites that can survive in the soil and infect you and your family.
  • Any manure you know comes from conventional animal feed lots.

End of Cut and Paste from draft of Book.

_______

For more detailed reading on Residual Herbicides:

Residual Herbicides in Composts

Municipal Compost & Manures – Should you Use Them?

Compost – Mulch – Residual Herbicides – What you Can do About them in your Garden

________

Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.

_______

All content including photos is copyright by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved

 

 

9 comments to Manures – Good or Bad for the Organic Garden?

  • sandra

    Really great information, Theresa. It’s awful when we think we are doing the right thing, but it turns out that these unseen residues are still poisoning things.

    And thank you for gifting us with a sample preview from your book. I know that the rest of it will be cover to cover packed with the type of gardening wisdom that is just not found many (any?) other place. I can’t wait to buy and read and learn.

  • Theresa

    Indeed Sandra, the information in the book will not be the kind you find everywhere. Most of it — you won’t find anywhere else. I don’t know how many will find about it — but at the least the folks who do read will have more information to make informed decisions about gardening. They’ll also learn that you don’t need to buy things just because they’re widely promoted.
    Appreciate your commenting.
    Theresa

  • Toni Brock

    Theresa,

    Thank you for the great information. It is such a fulfilling feeling to glean useful information that I can use daily.

    Happy New Year,
    Toni

  • Cynthia

    Hey Theresa!

    I totally agree with Sandra’s comments! So glad that you’re writing the book! We know that taking on such a task is a lot of hard work and we appreciate you for doing so. I am greatly looking forward to buying a copy for myself as well as my like minded son and sister as gifts. And will be taking every opportunity to advise other people in my nearby towns fledgling community garden group about it.

    I have come to your site today to look for any seed starting medium tips since I have collected some jugs and plan to start my winter sown stuff today. Just so you know that I rely on your expertise all the time 🙂

    Thanks for being who you are !!

    Cynthia

  • Theresa

    Toni — your questions about manure some weeks ago inspired me to put this post up. So glad you are gleaning information that you can use daily!

    Cynthia — thank you for your support! I really appreciate it. I’ll tell more about the book once I complete the draft. I’m close — just too slow. 🙂

    Now — to get back to work on that book!
    Theresa

  • Alice

    Wow Theresa, Your timing was perfect. We just finished cleaning out one of the chicken pens and my DH asked where I wanted the straw and manure put. I normally put them in a pile and let them sit for some time. Some of it has been sitting since last Spring. Going to see if I can get some plants started in the garage mini greenhouse (has a little light) and give them a drink of manure water from the pile. So exciting about your book. You have always been an inspiration for me to think, grow and keep trying. Best wishes for a very Happy New Year.

  • Theresa

    Thank you Alice and Happy New Year to you too!
    I’ll bet that pile of manure that has been sitting since last spring will be great stuff for the garden.
    Last time I heard from you there was deep snow on the ground. Since your husband is moving the manure — I’m assuming the weather is somewhat better now.
    Let me know how you do with your plants. Sounds like you have a good set up.
    Thanks for commenting Alice. It’s always good to hear from you.
    Theresa

  • Anna Murphy

    Hi Theresa,
    What are your thoughts on human urine in the garden or compost pile for nutrients ?

    i came across some info in my internet surfing one day … and it seems like it is chock full of good stuff … but the “ick” factor keeps it from mainsteam usage.

    Regards,
    Anna

  • Theresa

    Ann, in this day and age, I think it depends on what’s in a person’s urine.

    If the body is loaded up with drugs of any kind I personally would not want that urine in my garden.
    If a person is relatively healthy, I think the urine could be of benefit.. And even then (I guess because of the “ick” factor), I would want the urine in the paths, not directly in the beds.

    All the nutrients and elements that are in the soil and used to create healthy plants are the same nutrients that make up (or should make up) our bodies. The manmade stuff – like drugs, etc – is where a problem may arise.

    The urine of a healthy person who is eating properly has a lot of nutrients and as you said – it’s chock full of good stuff. It also adds nitrogen to the compost pile or soil.

    I’ve read of cases in war that wounds were cleaned with urine. The nutrients in the urine were used by the body to help heal the wound in extreme cases (like war).
    Theresa

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