SERIES 19 | Episode 06
When it comes to adding body to the soil there’s nothing like natural manure as a soil conditioner. It’s a preferred option because, as the manure breaks down, it adds valuable humus to the soil and this helps to store nutrients and water.
Whether it’s cattle in the paddock or free-range chooks, any critter with a diet of grass or vegetable scraps, will produce manure that reflects the nutrient balance that plants need from the soil.
Manures are available in many guises. Ideally you can collect it yourself but there are also packaged products from the nursery and manure which can be bought from the farm gate. All are fantastic for building up organic matter in the soil. But it’s critical to realise that there can be great variation in nutrient content between different manures.
The three most commonly available manures for your garden are:
- Cow manure, which tends to have a low nutrient analysis because, like sheep manure, it comes from animals grazing on grass. This makes it great as a general purpose soil conditioner; and great for phosphorous-sensitive native plants when it’s well rotted.
- Horse manure tends to provide a step up in nutrient levels because these animals are often fed supplements. This makes it a great tonic for vegetable and flowerbeds.
- Chook manure usually has the highest nutrient content because of the intensive nature of the diet. Laying hens are often fed calcium supplements, to strengthen the eggshells, and that makes their manure particularly good as a clay-breaker. Remember that farm gate chook manure is often mixed with bedding materials, such as sawdust, which greatly dilutes nutrient levels. Chook manure always has a higher nitrogen level, making it great for fertilising lawns and for use in the vegie garden. But it also has a higher phosphorous level, so using it long term on native plants, such as banksias, grevilleas and waratahs, can kill them.
Can you use dog poo or kitty litter in the garden? Unfortunately it’s not a good idea – particularly in the vegetable garden – because their droppings often contain pathogens harmful to humans.
If you’re lucky enough to have a source of fresh manure then you need to be careful because it can have salt levels high enough to burn plants. A tip to make it more manageable is to put the manure into a plant pot, run some water through it and this will dilute the nutrient levels. (It also allows any weed seeds in the manure to germinate, and they will quickly die before you’re ready to use it.) And what’s left is beautiful liquid manure. Dilute it so it looks like weak tea and you’ve got a wonderful tonic for your flower or vegetable garden.
When using manure, dig it into the garden as soon as possible. If it’s left sitting on the surface, much of the nitrogen, particularly from chicken manure, can be lost as ammonia gas. Just fork it into the topsoil, and the nitrogen will be available, in the short term, for any leafy vegetables, but the beautiful organic matter will break down and build up the nutrient and water-holding capacity in the soil. It’s good stuff. [external_footer]