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To manure or not to manure

Fri, Jun 15th, 2001
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Virginia CooperMonday, June 18, 2001

Whether compost or manure, fresh or aged, you can help your garden grow by adding organic matter to your soil. If you garden on a small scale like I do, without the aid of tractors or plow horses, it can seem like a huge task. But try to think of your garden as a series of small spaces and add a little at a time. Over time you will see the difference. Composting is easy. As you weed throw all your weeds, (kitchen scraps, too) into a pile. When the pile is a year old, remove the top layer of undigested stuff and the good brown stuff underneath is ready to use. If you have manure, use it! Older is better. But if all you have is fresh manure, this week's article is for you.

To manure or not to manure

The basis for a healthy garden is the soil. A soil rich in humus is a soil full of organic matter. Depleted soil will only grow depleted plants. In our area the soil tends to be heavy with clay. To tell if you have enough organic matter in a clay soil, take a handful of moist, not wet, soil and give it a squeeze. If it crumbles apart easily it has a good amount of organic material. (A sandy soil will break apart, but if rich in organic material it will hold together.)

How does your soil hold up under the squeeze test? Adding organic material to your garden is the best way to have healthy plants. Compost is great if you have a pile going and can add shovelfuls from a bucket or wheelbarrow as you plant. But in farm country one thing we all have around is manure.

Fresh manure contains high amounts of ammonium or soluble nitrogen which gives you a higher availability of nitrogen as compared to well composted or rotted manure. Salts in fresh manure also tend to be very high, especially turkey or chicken manure. The salts in the manure can kill garden plants if large quantities are used.

Fresh manure should be worked into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Do this several weeks before planting. Adding too much manure every year is not a good thing as the nutrients are released over a period of time and nutrient toxicity could occur. You can have too much of a good thing. Signs of nutrient toxicity could be anything from yellowing of leaves, redness of leaves, abnormal growth, stunted growth, wilting or death of plants.

After adding fresh manure to your garden always water the area to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Use a straight sided bucket as a measure for water when using a sprinkler. Salts are extremely soluble and easily percolate downward, especially in sandy soils, beyond the root systems of the plants.

The following list gives you recommended rates of manure application in pounds per 100 square feet. One 5 gallon bucket holds about 25 pounds of fresh manure or compost.

Dairy, no bedding 75
Dairy, with bedding 90
Sheep, no bedding 40
Sheep, with bedding 50
Poultry, no litter 20
Poultry, with bedding 30
Horse, with bedding 65

You might want to have a soil test done to determine the soil pH and the salt index. For information on soil tests, how to obtain soil sample bags, how to take the sample and where to send the sample for testing, call the Extension office in Preston.

If you have a gardening question you can send it via email to virgcoop@yahoo.com or write to the Reader's Mailbag in care of the Journal.

Virginia Cooper

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