You’ve heard about all of the benefits fertilizing your garden with manure can offer, but how do you know what to use and how much? Whether you’re growing potatoes, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, or other vegetables, cow manure is one of the top manures recommended by master gardeners. The key to using this dark gold in your soil is not to add too much. Experts say no more than 20 to 30 pounds of manure per 100 square foot of garden. You can use this as fertilizer in your garden in the spring before planting, and even again in the fall after spring and summer crops have been harvested if you plan on having additional fall planting.
Why Use Cow Manure?
The answer to this one is simple. Different types of manure, whether it be horse, rabbit, chicken, or cow, contain different levels of nitrogen. Rabbit manure takes the top spot for highest nitrogen level, while chicken manure comes in second, horse manure third, and finally, cow manure brings up the rear with the lowest levels. Here is the kicker. Nitrogen is the most important ingredient found in your soil for healthy, fast growing plant life. So why use cow manure?
While nitrogen is of the utmost importance to produce great results in your garden, too much nitrogen in your soil can “burn” plants. If your plant’s leaves are turning brown and wilting, and you can’t quite figure out why, chances are your soil’s pH is off and nitrogen levels are too high.
Before You Purchase Manure, What Should You Know?
It’s important to remember that before you add manure to your soil, it needs to be composted between three and twelve months. The longer it has aged, the better. Sounds like quite a process right? It’s necessary because fresh manure contains all kinds of things you don’t want going into your garden soil.
Manure can carry any number of pathogens, such as listeria, E. coli and salmonella, and parasites like tapeworms and roundworm. You don’t want these things coming into contact with your food. Yuck!
In addition to the risk of contamination, when manure is fresh, the nitrogen levels are higher. As mentioned in the section above, high nitrogen levels can burn your plants, so fresh manure runs an extremely high risk of damaging those crops you spent all that time planting. It might even result in your seeds not sprouting.
Since manure comes from animals, it’s likely full of seeds from weeds and other plants that it’s producer has eaten. Fresh manure will contain these seeds, so spreading it all over your garden is essentially planting a weed field.
Look for manure that has been composted between three and six months when you head to the stores. The only exception to this rule is if you are adding manure to your soil in the fall after all crops have been harvested and cleared, and don’t plan on planting anything else until the following spring. The length of time from fall to spring will be long enough that the manure will have composted for several months and your garden should be safe for a spring planting.
Where Do You Get Manure?
There are a couple of different ways you can purchase cow manure. Your local home improvement and garden stores probably sell bags of composted cow manure. Some of them might even offer it in bulk for delivery. There are an abundance of retailers selling manure and other fertilizers. You can even order it on Amazon!
The other route you could go, is getting it right from the source. Some farmers sell their manure and you can go and pick it up. Not all farmers have time to spend composting manure, however, so you’ll want to be sure what you are getting first. If you purchase fresh manure from a farmer, you’ll need to compost it yourself. If you’ve found a farm that has composted manure ready to go, you’re set! And why not get it straight from the source and give that local farmer some extra income?
Once you’ve calculated how much manure you need based on the size of your garden, go out and get it!
How Do You Apply The Manure To Your Garden?
We’ve gone over the benefits of adding composted manure to your garden soil, what types are best, what to remember before you shop and how to find it. Now how do you use it?
Remember as mentioned earlier you need about 20 to 30 pounds of cow manure per 100 square feet of garden. However big your garden is, you’ll want to spread the manure across the top of the soil in an even two to four inch layer, and mix it in well. It’s recommended that you fertilize with this amount of manure in the early spring before planting and before your rows have been made.
You can reapply composted manure in the fall after your garden has been cleared. If you live in a warmer climate and are planning a fall planting, apply half the amount of manure in the same manner as you did in the spring. This will give your soil a quick refreshing boost after it’s hard work during the spring and summer.
If you don’t have plans for a fall crop, you can apply either composted manure or fresh manure. As previously mentioned, the fresh manure will have long enough to compost and break down those high levels of nitrogen before spring arrives.
Can I Use Cow Manure In Places Other Than In My Vegetable Garden?
Yes! If you have leftover manure that you need to use up, you can also use it in flower gardens, as well as around plants in other areas that love acid. Think blueberry bushes, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, even some trees like magnolias and willows love acidic soil.
To sum things up, manure is a gardener’s gold when it comes to natural fertilizer. Cow manure is best because of its low levels of nitrogen. Remember it should be composted between three to twelve months and only use fresh manure in the fall when you’re done growing and planting until the next spring. Use 20 – 30 pounds of manure per 100 square feet of gardening space, and apply it in an even two to four inch layer, mixing it well with the soil for happy, healthy, fast growing plants.