The Q&A Archives: Fresh Horse Manure And Soil Prep

Question: I'm planning on planting my first vegatable garden this spring. To that end I started tilling the plot a few days ago. Since I have an endless supply of fresh horse manure I thought I could enrich the soil by tilling this manure in as I worked the soil. Can I continue doing this up to the point of planting my seeds or should I discontinue doing this at some point prior to planting. I seem to remember reading or being told that fresh manure needs to be composted prior to being applied as a fertilizer. Any help you could provide would be appreciated as this is my first gardening venture.

Answer: Horse manure is best used if composted first. When used fresh it tends to be "hot" and can burn plantings. Horse and cow manure also contain a lot of weed seeds which actually grow better in your garden after having been digested! Composting the manure heats up the seeds and "kills" them. As far as fertilizer quality goes, chicken is the best manure. However, any of the manures (horse, cow, chicken, goat) can be used and they can be combined also. The best way to use the manure is to compost it first. Create a 3' x 3' x 3' pile mixing 1/2 manure and 1/2 brown organic matter such as leaves, hay or straw. Keep it moist and covered with plastic. Then let it cook. (I fully realize how unsavory this sounds...sorry). It should get really hot for about two weeks. After that turn the pile and let it cook again. After about 1-2 months the fertilizer should be ready enough to use in the garden. Another method would be to spread the manure (horse, chicken, goat, cow, etc.) directly on the garden in fall, till it in and let it over winter. You may lose some of the fertilizer benefits, but manure will be well broken down by then. As I mention earlier, spreading fresh manure on young plants can cause they to die from over exposure to ammonia nitrogen. You could also make "manure tea" for your garden...if you are interested in that, please feel free to post another question via the website.

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