Manure Basics

Master gardener Paul James delivers a gardening lesson about manure.

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Talking about manure is a bit strange, but there's no getting around the fact that it's one of the best fertilizers available. The stuff of which all great gardens are made has a fascinating history. No one knows exactly when a farmer first realized that plants thrived in the pens where animals were kept, but most experts believe it was somewhere around 10,000 BC, when farm animals were first domesticated. And to this day, some 12,000 years later, manure remains one of the most effective fertilizers available. In 300 BC, the father of botany and Greek philosopher Theophrastus wrote his comprehensive inquiry into plants. In it, he recommended the manuring of fields before planting.

So just what is it about manure that makes it such an effective soil amendment and fertilizer? Manure is high in organic matter. Plus it contains varying amounts of the three essential nutrients plants need the most--nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium--in addition to a whole bunch of micronutrients. It releases those nutrients slowly when applied to the soil and watered well.

Seabird droppings, commonly known as guano, is one good manure and was actually used by Peruvian and Ecuadorian farmers in their bean and maize fields centuries ago. Another excellent fertilizer is bat guano which is high in nitrogen, so a little goes a long way. Plus it greens up plants quickly and lasts a long time in the landscape. As interesting as it sounds, bio-waste is human manure that has been thoroughly processed and deodorized. It can be used on everything that grows, including turfgrass.

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