Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Stopped pooping on the bed
Following what I have witnessed others doing I have been applying raw horse manure to my garden. But is this the right thing to do?
Our typical process once the chook tractor has worked the previous crop back into the bed and any other organic material we wanted added, we rack it flat and remove any large depry. We then cover it with one large bag of raw (uncomposted) horse poo. But I have just recently read something that advises against doing this.
The article I was reading was a handout given to me when I recently attended a Michael Ableman workshop. It claimed that raw manure is not a food for plants until it has been composted down into humus. I knew this but I thought it would act like a slow release fertiliser. What confused me however, is that it continued to say that the composting process would tie up valuable nitrogen in the soil stunting plant growth. I understand that the composting process consumes some nitrogen along with many other nutrients while in decomposition. So I agree nitrogen from the manure may not be available for plants until the breakdown is complete. But as manure is high in nitrogen I do question whether it will lock up other nitrogen in the soil, resulting in stunted plant growth.
That said, regardless of whether it does or doesn’t lock up nitrogen within the soil, it never occurred to me that the nutrients from the manure may not be available for many weeks, even a couple of months. When layed out on the soil in a thin layer it does seem to breaks down very slowly. When used in a compost pile with a few additional ingredients it reduces to humus quite quickly. So thinking about it, it may be more efficient and beneficial to the plants to compost manure first.
I would love to be able to just chuck the horse manure in the chook tractor and have the chickens break it up and churn it into the soil like they do with most of our other organic materials. But I don’t think it would be very healthy for them. If I am wrong with that assumption, and it is perfectly ok, please let me know. It would make things so easy. Along with protecting the health of the chickens there is also the human gardeners to consider. Manure may contain some nasty chemical, bacteria, virus or parasite that would be destroyed through composting.
Also, as my mum too well knows, many insects love poo. These include slugs, snails and earwigs, and once they built up numbers and the food source deminissious, I don’t think I have to say what’s next on the menu.
On a side note, apparently wet manure is better than dry. When left to dry out that valuable nitrogen will be heavy lost. So source it fresh and keep it wet.
In light of this new information and thinking, the most recently prepared bed is horse poo free. Instead there is nice smoldering pile next to it ready for application, hopefully in a few weeks.
What’s your thoughts on the direct application of raw manure?