Manure and You - What is It? How to Use It?

By Orion Darkwood

manure for gardening

Lots of people swear by manure, and say X manure is better than Y. But ask a person why and you will find they are not forthcoming with answers or information.

Manure is divided into two major categories--cold and hot. This refers to the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) levels. Cold manure is low level manure that has been mixed with bedding, dirt or some other bulking agent and can be used immediately in one's flowering or gardening. Hot manure or fresh manure is too "intense" for use on plants. However, it can be useful to bring up the NPK levels of cold manure or kill weeds prior to planting, as long as not too much is used.

The major sources of manure are bovine (cow, horse, goat, llama, pig), fowl (chicken, turkey, duck, goose) and small mammals (rabbit, and guinea pig). Manure from omnivores and especially carnivores is usually bad for your planting area. If you are using manure from local sources and not purchasing it, make sure the animals in question are healthy. If you are unsure, leave the manure out for a few weeks to ensure no disease causing bacteria or viruses are present.

You know the type of plants or garden you want to plant. Depending on what you want to plant the type of manure preparation can vary--manure mix to bulking agent. Some plants require a very rich soil, while there are numerous others that require a poor soil. Do a simple search for the plant you desire to plant to determine how you need to prepare your soil. All plants need some degree of fertilization. Most garden plants require a more nutrient rich soil to guarantee tastier veggies.

The best advice is too get pure manure (manure that has been pasteurized), or if it's mixed with a bulking agent make sure the package lists the agent. If the manure is in its pure form, mix it with dirt, compost, leaves, straw and other bulking agents. Mix it well and let it set for a couple of weeks before introducing it to a planting area.

Once this is done, there are various methods for introducing it to the planting area. However, the most important thing to remember is to make sure it is mixed in with the soil and done weeks before planting. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a free supply of manure from neighboring farms or from your own animal's stockpile for the next planting season. The longer the manure has been allowed to decompose the better off you will be. Also, a little goes a long way--unless you like manure flavored tomatoes.

Which manure is best? There are numerous guides and links that advocate one over the other. Most NPK guides are for pure manure or manure freshly mixed with a bulking agent. What you purchase from the store may have been stored in a warehouse for a few months, may have gotten wet or even be an unequal mixture of manure and bulking agents. Find several manures from various sources. Try each one in small amounts until you find the manure and source that is best for you and your needs.

Orion Darkwood is an avid garden, self reliance instructor, writer, poet and small business owner. To learn more about Orion go to