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