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Add manure to fertilize your garden

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Spring is here and it is garden time. While seedlings are sprouting and hardening off in indoor greenhouses and cold frames, the soil also needs a boost of nutrient rich material to keep them growing for an abundant harvest. Why use chemicals when there is a green, organic way to fertilize?

Manure is an old-timers trick that can help bring out the best from your garden. It provides rich, nutrient content and also helps build carbon compounds (organic materials) that build soil structure. That translates into big, beautiful and bountiful vegetables.

What kind is best to use? Cows, horses, goats, sheep, chickens and rabbits all provide good, rich product that the soil will appreciate. Avoid using any from cats, dogs, pigs and humans since they may contain parasites or diseases that can transfer to humans.

Can it be fresh or should it be aged first? A fresh batch will be too strong to use on tender plants and will likely burn their leaves and stems. If it’s well-rotted, you can use it immediately. Most big box stores and garden centers sell composted manure in bags. These products works well but can still have a mild odor. Composted cow manure is most plentiful type but composted chicken manure is also popular. Follow package directions.

How to apply: When using a fresh batch, layer it over the soil in the fall after everything has died back. Spread evenly about 2″ to 3″ thick. You can then till it into the soil if you wish but leaving it as-is over the winter is fine too. Till in the spring before planting. For a well-rotted batch, apply to soil about a week before planting…till into the soil so it can really get in there and work its magic.

High-Nitrogen Compost Pile Recipe: Layer fresh horse manure with old, partially rotted alfalfa hay. Leave it alone until it turns a dark brown (will take a few months), no tossing necessary. Can be used to feed and mulch everything including shrubs, trees, roses, vegetable plots, flowerbeds, etc. Source: Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening: Month by Month.

Making Tea: Compost tea is a nutrient-rich treat for plants made from vegetable compost. You can do the same with manure. A quick recipe is to fill a 5-gallon bucket with a shovelful of well-rotted manure (or composted manure from the garden store) then top with water (fill the pail). Leave it to sit overnight for several hours. Use as an all-purpose fertilizer every 2 or 3 weeks. Note: Carefully apply this brew to the soil only and do not let it come in contact with leaves or stems since it will be too strong for them.

Notes:

• Make sure to wash all produce well before consuming and avoid using fresh manure after the garden has been planted (since disease carrying pathogens may contaminate them). Using well-rotted or aged (composted) instead reduces this risk.

• There is a pitfall to applying fresh manure (aside from the smell), it may contain viable seeds from weeds and plant life that you don’t wish to be present in your yard. Garden center bagged and composted manure will usually not have this problem.

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