Question About the Last Post is Opportunity to Talk About Manures and Concepts

A reader emailed me regarding the last post saying,  “I assume what you are talking about is the chemical fertilizers like most farmers use on their grain crops. Not manure like I get from my animals.”

Considering the dictionary definition of fertilizer I can understand why my post needs clarification:

Dictionary definition of “fertilizer” – a chemical or natural substance added to soil or land to increase its fertility. (This is not necessarily the best definition in this day and age since many organic fertilizers and organic residues which are in keeping with nature’s principles of good soil management and fertility are not considered “fertilizers” since the current system is based on percentages of NPK  in a product.)

Although the assumption that I was talking about chemical fertilizers was correct (at least in part), I wanted to convey much more than just not using chemical fertilizers.

I think it important that we as gardeners who want to work with nature and do things in accordance with her principles realize how influenced we are by our society — more specifically by marketing (some of which is not even recognized as marketing).

In order for us to have a garden that is easy to maintain, produces healthfully and abundantly, and can sustain itself, at least to some degree, we have to rethink the concepts we’ve come to accept and make sure they fit with our goal.

Instant Gratification

As I was writing this post Niwas (from Sri Lanka) sent me the link to an article on the website entitled Instant Gratification. It was a very long, but excellent article that addressed the very point in great depth and detail, that I had attempted to make in the last post and hopefully will be successful at making in this post.

The author points out that we are becoming an Impulse Society and that we automatically and without conscious thought now reach for quick results even if they’re not beneficial in the long run.

The research of human nature has been used by businesses to cater to our immediate “desires” rather than our needs.

We’re urged (by marketing) to focus on the present moment only. Future consequences are relegated to the background. “—the consumer culture— does everything in its power to convince us that difficulty has no place in our lives.” That particular mindset invites us “to remain in a state of permanent childhood. ”

In spite of what is promoted, the facts are that many of the good things in life can only be acquired/built with time, strength (mental), the right knowledge, endurance, commitment, and perspective.

As more and more the market place presents ways to gratify our immediate desires, the article points out that “we’re less and less likely even to consider the possibility that we might find deeper satisfaction by enduring a delay or some other challenge to our personalized existence.”

This whole idea of satisfying our every desire instantly, even if it may not be in our best interest, is what I was addressing in the paragraph “Concept Spillover” in my last post.

Examples of the Instant Gratification Concept

If you frequent any organic forums you know that a popular discussion every spring is what fertilizer to add to the soil to supposedly feed the plants and give them what they need.

You know too if you frequent those forums, how excited readers can get about a magical mix. Supposedly, “a spoonful of this and a spoonful of that” when used with plants will guarantee the gardener’s success for the year.

Understanding the Facts to Develop a Better Concept

Once you understand how nature has things set up and how the soil works you realize these are not the best concepts. A more accurate concept is one that recognizes that YOU feed the SOIL LIFE in the soil. And the SOIL LIFE feeds and protects THE PLANTS. This fact by its very nature should tell you that those other concepts are off base and are short-term at best.

Back to Talking About Fertilizers

As you’ve probably now deduced, it was not only chemical fertilizers that I was talking about in the last post, but also various commercial products sold for use in organic gardens. Things such as bagged organic fertilizers, bone meal, blood meal, fish meal, etc. All the things that are now heavily marketed to organic gardeners since organic has become so popular; things that sometimes cause us to miss the big picture of what organic gardening and working with nature is all about.

Please understand, it’s NOT that these things are necessarily harmful and that you shouldn’t use them under any circumstances. There are always exceptions to a rule. BUT, I encourage you to examine your reasons for using them. Is it marketing that’s making you think you need them? Are you adding organic materials to your soil at least once a year ? If so, do you “really” need these purchased products. Why? And how do you know?

And if you absolutely can’t afford them in the first place, rest assured that 99% of the time you’ll be just fine without them.

About Manures

TMG reader, Stephanie, uses manure cleaned out of her barns that is mixed with straw and hay. Having good manure, free from residual herbicides, that will add energy to the soil as talked about by notable soil scientist, Richard Parnes,  is a good resource. (organic residue post; residual herbicide post)

BUT, there are things we need to keep in mind.

  • It’s important to note that manure is best used in combination with other good practices like crop rotation, covering the soil, and cover cropping when you’re able to do it. That way you increase your benefits.

The USDA Organic Program outlines certain guidelines for using manure for farms and gardens that wish to be certified organic.  Even if we’re not interested in being certified this a good place to start to know what we need to be aware of.

All animal manure is considered raw unless it’s composted meeting certain requirements:

  • The initial* Carbon to Nitrogen ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1 must exist for the blend of materials in the pile.

Carbon to Nitrogen ratio is usually referred to as C:N ratio.  It’s more commonly referred to as browns to greens. Browns are things like straw, hay, leaves, etc. Greens are manures, grass clippings, etc.

(*The initial C:N ratio eventually lowers itself during the composting.)

  • Temperatures between 131ºF and 170º F must be sustained for 3 days when using an in-vessel or static (unchanged) aerated pile system.  For those who may not know — it’s possible to create (or fix) a compost pile so that air circulates inside the pile and thus, you don’t have to “change” it (turn it).
  • Temperatures between 131º F and 170ºF must be sustained for 15 days using a windrow composting system. A windrow system is basically materials piled up to decay. During these 15 days the materials must be turned a minimum of 5 times and this period must be followed by an adequate curing period.

(After the heating process is complete the compost continues to decompose and this period is called curing. It usually lasts about 45 days.)

Fresh manure (that not composted in accordance with the above requirements) can possibly transmit disease.

Thus, the National Organic Program guidelines for it’s use on crops intended for human consumption are:

  • It must be incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of root crops (crops that have direct contact with the soil)
  • it must be incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of crops whose edible portion is above ground.

Why Composted Manure Might Be Best

Most sources concur that composted manure is best.  Here are a few reasons to consider why that may be true.

  • Raw manures can definitely increase weed problems.

Horse manure in particular is noted for that. Weeds can even come from the bedding material like straw and old hay that are mixed with the manure when it’s allowed to sit and decay as in cold composting.

You still get steam from a cold composted manure pile, but it’s not considered at hot pile until temperatures of 131ºF to 170º F are maintained. Those temperatures will kill the weed seeds as well as any harmful pathogens.

  • When composted, manure becomes humus. Nutrients are then more stabilized. The composted manure in its final stage as humus is much less likely to cause nutrient imbalances as raw manure is said to do.
  • The composted manure can be applied directly to growing crops without health consideration.
  • Composted manure does not need to be incorporated into the soil, but can be laid on top.  (When doing so, I would  suggest covering with straw (or leaves, etc.) to prevent oxidation of the good stuff it contains.)

Another fact – just for your information:

All manures are different. What nutrients they have in them depends on what the animal eats, their weight gain, and whether or not they produce a product (like milk).

Mr. Parnes, soil scientist, in his book Soil Fertility states

  • young animals produce poorer manure than mature animals
  • milk producers generate poorer manure than non-producers
  • work animals like horses produce manure with more nutrients. (They need only carbohydrates, and most nutrients in their feed passes through them.)

Final Thoughts

Because manure has the definite potential to spread pathogens to humans, it’s good to be armed with at least the basic knowledge of what should be done to prevent that.

If you have good manures, free from residual herbicides, you have a great resource of organic materials that can make your garden even better. Armed with the information I’ve shared, you can make it work for you to an even greater degree.


Related Posts:

Organic Gardening – Adding Commercial Fertilizers – Nutrient Dense Food

Organic Residues – The Needed Energy for Soil Fertility

Residual Herbicides in Composts – Part I

Answering the Question: Do You Need to Add Fertilizers to Your Garden to Feed This Year’s Crops?



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  • I don’t use manure because I can’t be sure the source of the straw/hay is truly organic and who knows just what the animals have been doctored with, so I just use my leaves and some of my neighbors. Enjoy your garden. Ray

  • Thank you Theresa. You are like the Paul Harvey for gardeners by telling ‘The Rest of the Story.’ How’s that for dipping into the past?

    You have so much wisdom to share…have you considered allowing new gardeners to intern with you (and do some of your chores)? I wish I lived close enough to volunteer, and/or pay for a week or two. I agree with you and Ray. Plan ahead for more than one spring, use patience, use Mother Nature, know your sources.

    I compost leaves, collected from my rural neighborhood, with my grass clippings, older compost, and worm castings. I don’t even trust the piles of leaves by the curb in town – exhaust fumes, rain runoff, drainage from the back of garbage trucks, oils, metal shavings, and tire shreds, etc.

    I tried the straw-bale raised bed method one year. To season the wheat straw bales organically the author suggested Milorganite…I later learned, and too late, that Milorganite is processed sludge from the Milwaukee Waste Water Treatment plants!!!

    I found some shredded, compressed double bales of wheat straw for mulching. Great, I didn’t have to put the stringy straw through my chipper/shredder. When I called the company, the customer service person explained that it was only sprayed with 2-4D as a ‘plant growth stabilizer prior to harvesting the grain.’ Is that the same 2-4D that was used as a defoliant in Vietnam called “Agent Orange”?!?!

    If I have to diligently read (human) food labels, I have to realize that parts of the industrialized-food-chain literally have no idea of the long terms effects.

  • Theresa,
    Another great article. It is imperative for gardeners to know about manures, the positive and negative results. The negative results can be very harmful.


  • Theresa, I am a new gardener. Considering using alpaco poop as fertilizer. Do you think it is a good idea?

  • Irina, I see no problem with it. But since every manure is different than another, I suggest doing a bit of research on it just so you’ll know some characteristics that it may have.

    With any manure, be sure to follow the guidelines about how and when to use them as I mentioned in the post.

    One more thing: try to think of manure or organic material that will help you improve your soil. When you do that, the soil life thrive more and when the soil life thrives that is what feeds plants. The concept of using things as “fertilizers” comes from the chemical industry. It’s not fertilizer that makes a successful garden, but rather a great soil that is continually improved with organic materials.

    Be sure to read up on residual herbicides. Here are 3 posts:

    Welcome to TMG Irina AND to gardening! If I can help you more let me know.

    Oh, by the way, I was pleased to note that you just subscribed to receive each post via email. Be sure to confirm your subscription when the automated system sends you a notice or your subscription won’t go through.

    Again, welcome to TMG!

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