For farmers, the debate between chemical fertilizer and organic fertilizer is one that has been around for years. Chemical fertilizers are generally less expensive and require less work, while organic fertilizers are often seen as being better for the environment. However, there is a third option that farmers should consider: composted manure.
Composted manure has all of the benefits of chemical fertilizers without any of the negatives. Here’s a closer look at the benefits of composted manure.
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Benefits of Composted Manure
Profit margins in farming are very small, so any time you can cut costs reasonably, you need to do so. For no cost, you can use your fresh manure and organic matter that you have available to create composted manure which will greatly benefit your crops and also remove manure and plant buildup around your farm. Your only cost here is labor and a little water. Using composted manure will reduce the number of chemical fertilizers that your fields may require. Again, a savings.
Another benefit of composted manure is that it is better for the environment than chemical fertilizers. This is because chemical fertilizers can pollute the air and water, while composted manure does not have this same risk. In fact, using composted manure can actually help improve soil health, which leads to even more environmental benefits.
More Nutritious than Chemical Fertilizers
One of the main benefits of composted manure is that it is more nutritious than chemical fertilizers. This is because chemical fertilizers only contain a few nutrients, while composted manure contains a wide variety of them. This means that plants will be able to get the nutrients they need from composted manure, leading to healthier plants overall. Not to mention, healthier plants are better able to resist pests and diseases.
Farm Animal Manure Varies
If you have animals, you have animal manure. If you have animal manure, you have to manage it.
You have several choices for what to do:
have the manure hauled off regularly
have a compost pile
do nothing (but this has some major effects on animal health)
This chart will give you some idea as to how much manure you need to process.
This chart does not include urine or animal bedding and that can be as much as twice the amount of manure.
Fresh manure, that is manure that is not decomposed, should not be applied to your vegetable gardens, especially your root crops. If you want to apply fresh manure, do it only in the fall when your crops have been harvested. Also, pig manure and chicken manure will burn/kill plants if you apply them directly. Use these two manures cautiously for they are very strong.
Some scientists say that human pathogens (i.e., E. coli) can be transmitted through the application of fresh manure. You also have the issue of flies and odor with fresh manure typically.
There is also another issue that you should be aware of: manure from animals dosed with antibiotics. Studies have found that if your animals have been dosed with antibiotics and you use their manure, there are certain foods, such as corn, lettuce, and potatoes, which can accumulate these antibiotic drugs from the compost. Organic foods, too, are likely to contain antibiotics from this source of manure. It is something to be conscious of, especially if you are raising organic produce.
Different manure and organic materials combinations will create different nutrient content. This can make a difference on your crop production. If you are really concerned, it is a good idea to have your compost tested before application.
Compost and Manure
I sing the praises of composted manure! There is nothing better to use in your fields or in your gardens. Composted manure creates nutrient availability and supplies primary nutrients of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) that your crops need. It is a great supplement for your crops but is not a substitute for fertilizer. You will be amazed at the quality of your soil structure once you start adding composted manure regularly.
Compost is made up of organic materials which have decomposed sufficiently to hold the nutrient content stable. It is usually this wonderful, crumbly type of “soil” that has a soft, earthy smell and spreads easily.
Composted manure is, quite simply, manure that has been decomposed by microbes over time. This process breaks down the complex organic matter in manure into simpler compounds that are more easily utilized by plants. In addition to providing essential nutrients for plants, composted manure also contains beneficial microbes that can help improve soil health and promote plant growth.
There are all types of formulas suggesting what you should put into your compost. This is my personal formula and it works well for me:
How Much Compost Do You Need?
You are going to have to do some math to make sure that you manufacture enough compost for the area you wish to cover. Here is the formula:
Square footage you wish to cover x desired depth divided by 324 = cubic yards needed
Why Use Composted Manure?
Composted manure is an excellent source of nutrients for your crops. It’s also relatively easy to apply, especially compared to other fertilizer options. Plus, composted manure can help improve the physical properties of your soil, including its water-holding capacity and drainage.
Perhaps best of all, composted manure is a renewable resource that can be produced right on your farm with very little cost.
How do You Make Composted Manure?
My personal efforts in making composted manure are very casual. I just stack up my “ingredients” into my compost pile. When I turn it, I just shift the material around for I have plenty of space around my heap.
For a large amount of composted manure, you may wish to build bins out of wire fencing or pallets; then you can just shovel the organic materials from one bin to another every once in a while.
If you just have a small bit of manure and organic matter, you might want to try one of the commercial barrels that you turn each day. The quantity of compost will be small, but if your garden area is small or you have some physical limitations, this might be the way to go.
Your compost pile must be “turned” occasionally so that every bit of the material has a chance to decompose. Otherwise, the materials on the top never break down and you will lose that nutrient content.
My Composting Process
I layer, using equal amounts of everything but the fertilizer. I just sprinkle organic fertilizer on the top layer. It is important that the pile be watered regularly, so I set up a sprinkler on top and turn it on every other day while I am feeding. The moisture content is very important. I shovel the compost pile around about once a week, pulling the bottom to the top and shifting the top to the bottom.
Recently I was surprised when I went to turn my new compost for the first time this year. I found that it was already breaking down on the inside of the pile (crumbling, dirt-like appearance) and it had nice heat. With this kind of progress, I think I will be able to distribute it to my vegetable gardens this fall before the snow.
UPDATE: After about 8 months of “stewing,” I used the compost in two ways in my vegetable garden. For one way, we tilled in the compost into the existing soil. Result: we had a huge influx of weeds. The second method was MUCH more successful. We placed about 3-4 inches of compost on top of the existing soil and those 3 raised beds have had almost no weeds at all. Come fall, we will till the compost into the soil, and cover with black plastic for winter. Next spring, all of our raised beds will have a layer of compost on top, and we will plant through that. It has worked fabulously.
What Not to Use in Your Composting Process
This is not brain surgery. You compost what you have available. There are some simple rules, however, to create the best-composted manure possible:
Never use meat or dairy products, eggs or grease.
Never use plant material that has been sprayed with herbicides.
Never use diseased plant material.
Avoid using weeds that have gone to seed.
Never use pet feces
One year we did not have any compost available when we were preparing our vegetable gardens, so we went and purchased bagged composted manure. We put a generous amount in each of our garden beds and tilled it in. Next, we planted our seedlings and waited.
Within a month, strange things were happening in our gardens. The garden plants were stunted–just as if I had sprayed them with a herbicide–and never did produce. All we could figure out is that someone had been careless when accepting organic materials for their composting company and some had a strong herbicide on them. We received the results of this incompetence and lost a year of produce.
This is just a cautionary tale; the best-case scenario is that you make your own composted manure so that you know the contents of your heap and what you are applying to your crops.
How to Use Composted Manure
To use composted manure as a fertilizer, simply work it into the soil before planting. It basically is a slow-release fertilizer that will aid in moisture retention. You should only use fresh manure in the fall when there is no plant growth. You can use composted manure at any time during the year.
There are a number of ways to apply manure compost. You can use a shovel and wheelbarrow if you are applying it to your vegetable garden. If you want to put your compost on a field, a manure spreader makes this job easy.
You can also use composted manure to make a liquid fertilizer by mixing it with water at a ratio of 1:15 (manure: water). This mixture can then be sprayed onto the leaves of plants for additional nutrition or poured around the roots.
If You Compost
If you compost manure, you will have an excellent tool if you are looking to improve your yields and crop health. Not only is it more nutrient-rich than fresh manure without added organic matter, but it’s also easy to use as a fertilizer or soil amendment. All soils ranging from sand to heavy clay benefit from the addition of manure compost which adds a boost to the nutrient content.
Regardless of how you compost, you’re sure to see positive results from using composted manure on your farm.