Making And Using Horse Manure Compost

Horse manure is a good source of nutrients and a popular addition to many home gardens. Composting horse manure can help your compost pile become super charged. Let’s look at how to use horse manure as fertilizer and in the compost pile.

Is Horse Manure Good Fertilizer?

Readily available in many rural areas or through reputable suppliers, horse manure makes a suitable and inexpensive fertilizer for plants. Horse manure can give new plants a jump start while providing essential nutrients for continual growth. It contains adequate amounts of organic matter and can be applied in various ways. It’s also slightly higher in nutritional value than cow or steer manure.

How Do I Use Horse Manure as Fertilizer?

Fresh manure should not be used on plants, because it can burn their roots. However, well-aged manure, or that which has been allowed to dry over winter, can be worked into the soil without the worry of burning.

While it may be more nutritional, horse manure may also contain more weed seeds. For this reason, it is usually better to use composted horse manure in the garden. The heat produced from composting can effectively kill most of these seeds as well as any harmful bacteria that may be present.

Composted horse manure can also be used in the garden any time of the year. Simply toss it over the garden area and work it into the soil.

Horse Manure Compost

Composting horse manure is not any different than traditional composting methods. This process does not require any special tools or structures. In fact, small amounts of horse manure can be easily composted using a shovel or pitchfork.

In addition, a simple, free-standing pile can be easily turned into compost. While adding additional organic materials to the pile can create a more nutritional fertilizer, it is not always necessary. Adding just enough water to keep the pile moist while turning it at least once a day can produce optimal results as well. Frequent turning helps to speed up the composting process. Covering the pile with a tarp can help keep it relatively dry, but still moist enough to work with, as well as retain necessary heat.

There is no set ideal time for how long to compost horse manure, but typically it takes two to three months if done properly. You are better off looking at the compost itself to see if it is ready. The horse manure compost will look like soil and will have lost its “manure” smell when ready.

Although it’s not required, composted horse manure can provide better results in the garden. Soil aeration and drainage can be greatly improved, which ultimately results in the healthier growth of plants.

Using Manure “Wisely”

Question. Mike: I have manure available to me—horse and chicken—and am wondering how to best use them as fertilizer. Both are mixed with bedding material (straw and pine shavings). Do I have to compost this, or can I put the manure directly onto the garden? And do I need to add any other fertilizer to balance it out? I know manure is high in Nitrogen, and I don’t want to end up with a lot of lush greenery and no flowers! Thanks.

    —Lena in East Hampton, Connecticut

Mike: My spouse and I are setting up a veggie garden, and have access to a hill of cow manure and straw (it’s up to eight years old; no odor). We brought home several bags to work into the soil and have also begun filling a composter with the stuff, but it’s gonna take a while before it’s ready. Can we use the manure as compost? Thanks.

    –Benjamin in Bass River, NS, Canada

Will composted manure burn plants like chemical fertilizer? I have access to cattle manure that’s been processed for a long period of time at a facility near here.

    —Kathy in Albuquerque

Answer. Thanks all three of you! I’ve wanted to do a detailed piece on “manure” for a while now, and you asked just the right questions to propel me along.

Lets start with a definition. I’ll try and do this delicately: The word “manure” refers to the solid waste the animal was all done with, plus the liquid waste, AND the material put down to cover the floor to make it less slippery by capturing Numbers One and Two. Typically, this bedding is straw, spoiled hay, wood shavings or some other carbon-rich material. So, you guys don’t have manure and bedding, you have true ‘manure’.

The waste is nitrogen-rich and the bedding is carbon-rich. Those of you who paid attention during compost class know that this perfect blend is all complete and ready for composting. And yes, composted it must be. Any manure can injure plants while it is still fresh, by ‘burning’ or dehydrating them. Yes, some farmers do use fresh manure on their fields, but they typically spread it in the Fall, so it will break down and be safe by Spring planting time. But this is a VERY inefficient use of the material. And it is extremely nasty on the smelliness end; you will regret it greatly if you try this at home, kids.

And there’s no reason to—manure composts VERY easily. Already that perfect combination of nitrogen and carbon, it quickly becomes a beautiful, crumbly, black, odor-free soil amendment. No container necessary—the best way to compost manure is in a big pile out in the open. (Fill that wonderful composter with shredded leaves and house and yard green waste instead!)

Don’t worry; unlike with spreading, manure will not waft any unpleasant odors after its first piled up. And it will have no odor at all when it’s done and ready to use, even while you’re turning it into the soil or shoveling it around your established plants, which is how you should use it when it is finished.


And while I wouldn’t fill an entire composter with the stuff, small amounts of manure can certainly be added to a compost pile of shredded fall leaves or a mixture of shredded leaves and other green waste. And added it should be—many experts feel that adding some manure to such a pile creates the highest quality compost. You can use fresh or composted manure in such a situation, although fresh manure will help a slowpoke pile cook up much faster, especially in cool weather.

Now let’s take a look at the differences between the various barnyard manures. Note that this is GENERAL information; things like the age of the animals involved, how they’re kept and fed, and the type of bedding are all going to affect the outcome. (Shredded newspaper, for instance, will produce much lower quality compost than the other bedding we’ve mentioned.) But in general:

  • Cow manure is the ‘coldest’; that is, the least Nitrogen rich. But that’s not a bad thing; too much Nitrogen gives you big plants with few to no fruits and flowers. And cow manure is the most balanced of the barnyard manures, making it very appropriate for all garden uses.
  • Horse manure is ‘hot’; richer in Nitrogen and physically warm to the…eh…’touch’ so to speak. It is also lower in the ‘fruiting and rooting’ nutrients Phosphorus and Potassium, which is why we always warn people not to use horse manure on flowering plants. Use it on non-flowering, nitrogen-hungry plants like lawns, corn, potatoes, garlic, and lettuce; but not on tomatoes, peppers, flowers, and such. This IS generally the manure most widely available to gardeners, however; so at the very least, take it and incorporate it into your compost, where it will lose its fruit-and-flower inhibiting power.
  • Sheep. I was surprised in my research (yes—I looked stuff up this week!) to see that this is even ‘hotter’ than horse, with about half again as much nitrogen. But it is equally rich in Potassium, making it much more balanced. Sheep are smaller (and people say I’m not observant!) and less numerous than horsies, so I don’t imagine you’d ever be offered much. But take what you can get, and use it sparingly. It’s balanced, but rich.
  • Poultry. Hotter than hot! More than twice as hot as horse manure, so a little goes a long, long way. Mix small amounts of this material well into your compost piles and the result will be a powerful organic fertilizer. Again, keep the amounts small—and even then, keep an eye on any fruiting and flowering plants that receive this gift. If they get big but under-produce otherwise, back off a little. But feel free to use fairly large amounts on Nitrogen hungry plants like sweet corn.
  • “Other” If the poop-producer is a vegetarian (rabbit, gerbil, guinea pig, llama, elephant, rhino, etc.) go right ahead and incorporate it into your compost pile. (Warning—elephant pies are the size of a football, composed of mostly undigested roughage, and take forever to break down. I recommend helping things along with a machete and/or baseball bat. But once it is finally done, the resulting compost keeps the deer MILES away.)
  • If the animal is a meat eater, like a dog, cat, lion or tiger, do not use the material in any form; even meat-eaters that are kept indoors can harbor dangerous parasites that are completely absent in ‘veggie manures’. That’s right—no dog or cat pet poop should EVER go in the compost! If you already made that mistake, don’t use the compost; and wear gloves when you toss it into the woods or otherwise dispose of it.

9 Steps for Composting Horse Manure

Here’s what to do with that huge mound of stall waste piling up behind the barn

Did you know that one horse produces about 50 pounds of manure per day and more than eight tons per year? Add to that the 8 to 10 gallons of urine a horse generates daily, and a wheelbarrow or more of used bedding, and in no time at all you have a virtual manure mountain on your farm. That mountain can take up a whole lot of space that most horse owners would probably enjoy using for far more appealing things than manure storage (A paddock or training area, perhaps!). Plus, you risk mismanaging with a manure pile: Horses grazing near their own manure can be reinfected by larvae that hatch from worm eggs within. Odors and flies can plague you or your neighbors, and unsightly poop piles can potentially decrease property value. Plus, runoff from soggy manure can cause serious water quality issues for creeks, wetlands, and drinking water.

Composting is a great manure management technique to avoid these problems, particularly for small acreage horse owners. “Composted horse manure is a great source of slow-release soil nutrients for a pasture or garden,” says Caitlin Price Youngquist, PhD, a soil scientist and an area Extension educator for the University of Wyoming, in Worland.

All organic matter, including manure and bedding, decomposes eventually. “Composting is basically a controlled microbial decomposition of organic material, done under aerobic (with air) conditions. This process is happening all around us in nature,” Youngquist says. “As composters, we are trying to set this process up to produce a more uniform product more quickly than nature would provide. In order to do this, bacteria and fungi require oxygen, water, and nutrients. Our job as a compost manager is to provide the best environment possible for them to do their job.”

As a bonus, as manure and other stall waste break down, the microorganisms generate tremendous amounts of heat that destroy weed seeds, fly larvae, worm eggs, and other disease-causing pathogens.

Ready to consider harnessing these microbes for good on your own property? To begin, Youngquist suggests first figuring out about how much manure you are managing. How many horses do you have? Are you picking up manure daily from stalled horses, or are your horses mostly pastured?

“Once you know how much manure you are dealing with, your two best environmentally sound management practices are to either haul manure off-site or compost it,” states Youngquist. While compost management does require a time commitment, it provides you with a free source of a valuable soil amendment for your pastures, garden, or yard. Compost also saves you money—over the course of a year the manure one horse produces is worth $300 to $500 in compost value.

If composting sounds like the right option for you, then “you want some type of aerated system, either static or turned,” says Youngquist. Both options add air to the compost, keeping it aerobic: A static system forces air into the pile using a blower, whereas a turned pile involves adding air by turning it occasionally, usually with a tractor.

Here is a step-by-step guide to the practical and cost-efficient tractor route:

1. Choose the right location.

Begin by locating an appropriate composting site. Choose an area with year-round easy access that’s convenient for chores. If possible, pick a level, well-drained spot far from waterways or wells so any runoff doesn’t contaminate surface or groundwater.

2. To bin or pile?

This is your choice, but a bin system typically helps keep things neater and easier to manage. “Bins can be made with straw bales, pallets, treated lumber, or ecology blocks (stackable concrete),” says Youngquist. You usually need at least two to three bins or piles. Pile 1 is where you add manure and stall waste daily. Pile 2 is where you monitor temperatures regularly and turn the compost as needed (more on each stage in a minute). Pile 3 is in the finishing or “curing” stage. You can construct multiples of any of these stages or piles. To compost and generate heat, each pile should be at least 3 cubic feet—the approximate size of a washing machine. “In colder climates, piles may need to be larger in order to generate enough heat,” Youngquist adds.

3. Keep it covered!

Covering with a tarp, plastic sheet, or a roof during the rainy season prevents the compost’s valuable nutrients from washing away and causing environmental problems. It also keeps compost from becoming a soggy mess in the winter and crispy-dry in the summer. Tip: If you live in a windy area, weigh down your tarp with recycled milk or detergent jugs filled with gravel. Because you will need to pull the tarp back every time you clean your horse’s stall and paddock, make the tarp setup as chore-efficient as possible. You might even want to attach it to the back of your compost bin or use bungee cords to secure it in place.

4. Get air into the pile.

Oxygen is a crucial component to composting, as again, bacteria and fungi require oxygen to do their work and break down organic matter. The simplest way to provide it is to use a small tractor to turn the pile. If the compost is starved for air, it will become foul-smelling rather than earthy. How often you turn it determines how quickly your compost will be ready to use. Aerated static pile (ASP) systems use a fan instead of mechanically turning the pile. This unit requires little handling for several months until the pile is done—an investment option for larger facilities, as this system can handle a greater volume of material with minimal time investment. Depending of the scale of your operation, ASP equipment and setup costs $500 to $3,000 for a three-bin system.

5. Keep it damp.

Compost should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. For dry climates or in the summer, find a chore-efficient way to water your compost, either with a garden hose as you turn the pile or by hosing down the manure and stall waste daily before dumping. Compost should be damp but not dripping. (If you squeeze a handful of material—wear a glove if you like—only a drop or two of moisture should squeeze out from the edge of your hand).

6. Monitor the heat.

The heat the beneficial microbes generate can cause the pile to become fairly warm—about 110-160° F. To kill parasites and pathogens, compost needs to reach at least 130° F for at least three days, says Youngquist. You can monitor temperatures easily using a long-stemmed compost thermometer purchased at a plant nursery or garden store. “An increasing temperature means that the microbes are working for you and doing a good job,” Youngquist says. “When the temperature goes down, that’s the sign that you need to turn and mix the compost. After turning several times, if the temperatures stay low, that indicates you are moving into the curing phase and out of the active composting phase.”

7. Curing compost.

This is when the finished compost sits and “stabilizes.” Worms and small insects move in and break it down further. “When you cure it, cover the compost with a tarp to prevent weed seeds from blowing in and colonizing your compost,” suggests Youngquist. Compost piles can cure for a month up to a year; the longer it cures the more stable it becomes, and the less likely that nutrients will leach out at the first drop of rain.

8. Finished compost.

How actively you monitor your pile’s air and water and how frequently you turn it determines how quickly it will finish. It should take around three months, perhaps longer in the winter when microbial activity slows. You will know your compost is ready when the material looks evenly textured, crumbly, dark-colored like dirt, and is earthy-smelling. Its temperature should be 90° F or less.

9. Put that black gold to good work!

Compost improves plant and soil health and moisture. Use a manure spreader or a shovel to spread it on pastures, lawns, or gardens during the growing season. Spread it in a thin layer, about ¼ to ½ inch at a time, and no more than 3 to 4 inches per season in the same area.

When to Use

  • Can be used all year round Jan-Dec

How to Use

Improving Soil Structure

  • Spread a thick layer 3-4 cm deep over the soil surface and using a fork work into the top 3-5 cm of the soil surface
  • When dug into clay (heavy) soil it will create a much more open structure and improve drainage
  • When dug into sandy soil it will improve soil structure facilitating moisture retention during warm weather

Improving Soil Fertility

  • Spread a thick layer 3-4 cm deep over the soil surface and using a fork work into the top 3-5 cm of the soil surface
  • It will provide a rich source of organic nutrients when dug into soil. These nutrients are slowly released into soil, improving fertility and adding humus to soil

Mulching Beds & Borders

  • Remove all weeds from the area and ensure it is moist and not frozen
  • Spread a thick layer 3-4 cm deep over the soil surface
  • It is ideal for mulching around trees and shrubs as well as your beds, borders and vegetable plots
  • This mulch helps feed your plants, suppress weed growth, protect tender roots from frost damage and reduce moisture loss during hot, dry weather

If you want to have healthy, strong plants that grow quality fruits and vegetables, chances are you’ll have to condition your soil. Few of us naturally have the ideal earth for our plants. It takes dedication, work, and a good soil conditioner to get there.

When I first moved onto my rural property I was sure I’d be able to grow anything and everything with ease. I was surrounded by professional market gardeners who had acres and acres of lush, green vegetables. My first few attempts failed and it wasn’t until I learned to condition my soil that I improved my plant quality and yield ten-fold.

Well conditioned soil not only keeps your plants in good shape, but it also helps to keep soil-borne pathogens at bay. Some people think that conditioning soil is as simple as adding some fertilizer, but they’re different things. Knowing how to condition your soil – in addition to feeding it – will make all the difference for your plants.

Why Condition Your Soil?

Put simply, unconditioned soil is generally any soil in which your plants won’t thrive. Poor soil can restrict water and nutrient uptake causing your plants to yellow and produce poorly.

Poor soil can also be compacted which prevents roots from growing well and obtaining nutrients. Your soil may be too sandy or lack organic matter, which can cause plants to become undernourished.

Soil conditioner resolves these problems by adjusting the texture of your soil. You can improve aeration, water retention and adjust pH with the right material.

What is Soil Conditioner?

Soil conditioner is anything you mix into your soil in order to improve its structure. This can include things like manure, compost, peat moss, leaf mold, sawdust, straw, gypsum, or limestone. Conditioners can be organic or artificial.

Fertilizer doesn’t fall under the label of soil conditioner because it doesn’t alter the soil’s structure. It only adds nutrients.

The goal of using soil conditioner is to bring your earth close to a mixture that is 50% organic or inorganic material, 25% air, and 25% water. This is the ideal combo to make most plants happy.

What Soil Issue Do You Have?

The first step to figuring out which soil conditioner you need is to determine your problem. The only real way to identify your soil condition is to test it yourself or have it professionally tested. You can buy testing kits at most garden centers.

Specifically, you want to determine if your soil is lacking certain nutrients before you add a soil conditioner. That’s because many conditioners alter your soil’s nutrients. For instance, limestone adds calcium and magnesium. Greensand adds potassium and magnesium. Gypsum adds calcium. If you have high calcium soil, you certainly don’t want to add more.

You also need to determine what type of soil you have. I’ve found that to identify most types, it’s just a matter of digging down a few inches and taking a small amount of soil.

Clay Soil

Form a small amount of dirt and water into a ball then push it between the fingers to form a ribbon. If the ribbon reaches over two inches before breaking, you have clay soil.

Many plants don’t thrive in clay because it doesn’t drain well and it can be so compacted that the roots struggle to extend themselves. It can also be a real pain to dig in. If it doesn’t break your shins or spade, digging a hole deep enough can be a real chore.

The best thing to do with clay soil is to add as much organic matter as possible as often as you can. The concept behind this is the more loose, healthy organic matter, the less clay you have to dig through.

Try well-rotted compost as it breaks down slower than other organic matter. Gypsum is one of the most popular amendments for clay soil.

Sandy Soil

When you mix sandy soil with a bit of water and try to form a ball, it will crumble apart. Sandy soil doesn’t hold water and drains too fast. This means the plants don’t get the chance to absorb the nutrients they need.

To remedy this, you can add well-rotted manure, but on its own, it will wash away quickly. So, in addition to manure, add old grass clipping, vermiculite or peat. All of this will enhance the body of the soil. Keep in mind that this won’t add many nutrients, so once the soil is less sandy, add fertilizer or compost.

Silty Soil

Silty soil has more compact particles than sandy and can be soapy to the touch. This soil is cold and can become waterlogged. Part of the problem with silty soil is that it compacts easily, which impacts aeration.

Use rotted vegetable matter or ground, aged pine bark to condition silty soil. I have a shredder that will grind the bark for me, but you can buy it ready-made at most garden centers.

As with sandy soil, you should add fertilizer once you’ve improved the soil’s condition.

Peaty Soil

Peat is often compacted due to its high water content. This can cause the base of plants to become waterlogged. The other problem with peat is it can become dry in the summer.

For this reason, I don’t like soil with too much peat moss. A little goes a long way. Peat is more beneficial in the soil if it’s well balanced, so add organic matter to condition the soil and some lime to balance the pH.

Saline Soil

Saline soil is common in hot, dry places. It has a high salt content, which dries out plants, and causes poor nutrient uptake and stunted growth.

You’ll know if the soil is saline as it often has a whitish layer on the surface and young plants suffer from leaf tip burning. Use gypsum to remedy this and dig it in well. Gypsum will replace salt with calcium and your plants will be much better off.

Loamy Soil

If you have loamy soil, your job is basically done. Loam is the ideal soil type as it contains a good balance of clay, sand, and silt, and also contains humus. Levels of calcium are usually optimum in loamy soil and pH levels are neutral.

Loam can both hold water while still allowing it to drain it away well. Plants flourish with few additions required. In fact, besides adding a little fertilizer as the soil is depleted, you’ll rarely have to mess with soil conditioners.

How To Use Soil Conditioner

Most soil conditioners should be worked into the earth before planting. There are some conditioners, like compost, that you can add to the top of the soil after plants are in the ground.

When choosing a soil conditioner, be sure to understand what the particular conditioner will add to the soil so you know if it will work in your garden.

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Before you “poop your plants” LOL, learn these key handling and processing techniques to keep you and your plants free from contamination and sickness.

Here’s the scoop on the poop:

1. Fresh Ain’t Best! Never Use New Manure Near Your Edibles

Manure is a prime source of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It’s also rich in bacteria. For us home gardeners, applying fresh manure to an edible garden is not the wisest choice. The high probability that it will burn and dehydrate your plants becomes second fiddle to a bigger concern – nasty illnesses caused by pathogens like E. coli and salmonella.


Poop “fresh off the press” should not be worked into the soil during the growing season.

You’ve probably seen farmers applying it like there’s no tomorrow and wondered, “if they can do it, why not me?”. Most likely, farms spread it in the fall or use it to condition a field well before planting an edible crop.


One university study illustrated it with a simple drop of water. Imagine yourself watering your plants after working fresh manure into the soil. Picture a contaminated water droplet splashing up onto your vegetables. Now you’re playing Russian roulette with your health. Of course, washing your veggies will help.


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an article in 2005 that estimated the total number of E. coli illnesses in the United States annually. Can you guess the number? 5,000? 10,000? How about 73,000! And that is what is reported by medical facilities. There could be hundreds or even thousands more cases that were never treated officially. The same study broke down the causes of the outbreaks, and produce contamination was reported to be on the rise – more than 30% of all E. coli cases. Half of that was from cross contamination in restaurants. The other half was from produce already contaminated with E. coli. Lettuce, cabbage and sprouts are the most common carriers. It can happen at home too. Sadly, I read about a 2 year old boy in Maine who died from E. coli as a result of fresh manure added to the garden improperly.


There are several ways your food can get a “touch of the squirts”. Manure can contaminate irrigation and wash water as well as processing and storage equipment. Poor handling and shipping practices can also wreak havoc. The report from the CDC also warned that chlorine washes don’t reliably reduce E. coli counts. Gee. If this hasn’t convinced you not to put the stinky stuff next to your edibles, then I don’t know what will!

2. Know What’s In It! Pesticides, Antibiotics and Medications?


Fly larvae are a big problem at some farms and so they spray pesticides on manure piles to kill the larvae. Another worry is that grass sprayed with herbicides can survive inside the animal’s body and eventually its manure. Chemicals can stick around in the manure and kill beneficial microbes.


Do you know if the cows or horses were treated with drugs? Those drugs don’t kill all bacteria found in animal manure. Medications can also be present in manures.

Now don’t get bummed out that your dreams of doo doo may be crushed. There’s hope for those of us that want all of the benefits of manure without the threat of catching something horrible and even life threatening. Here’s how to make manure work for you:

3. Age Matters! Let Manure Sit Around and Act Lazy for a While.

Fresh manure has a high level of acidity that can burn plants. Aging it properly not only reduces the inevitable shock factor to your plants but should kill the bad stuff that can make you sick. There are no guarantees. I cannot check your aged manure for pathogens. It is a fact that aging can reduce the risks.


Aged manure is powdery stuff that has been heat dried using temperatures at least 160°F for several hours at a minimum. The water content has been significantly reduced, e.g., 90% and it’s been exposed to air and the elements for at least 6 months (better if a year of more). After undergoing all that heat stress, the manure will remain nutrient-rich and won’t smell. Harmful pathogens should be killed off naturally although some experts contend that disease organisms could remain over time if not composted.


You can let the manure sit alone in a safe place (away from water runoff or human and pet interaction), or pair it with carbon-rich materials like straw, shredded paper or leaves. The sun’s heat and the manure’s high nitrogen content will “toast” the poop well. Leave it to roast for at least 6 months and make sure it’s no longer stinky or moist.

4. Compost in a Pile and Go the Extra Mile!

Fresh manure breaks down well in a compost heap. If you want a good amount of composted manure and don’t have the land for a compost heap, you can purchase aged and composted manure. If you compost it yourself, once the compost is finished, let it cure for 2-4 months before using it in your garden – the longer the better (6 months or more).


Compost experts give the “o.k.” that adding a little bit of manure to your well-balanced compost tumbler will help heat up the material and speed the composting process. But the best method for composting manure is in a outdoor pile. In other words, unless you know your composter or tumbler can turn poop over properly, don’t add more than a cup of it to a small, enclosed space.


Composting and aging are similar. They both heat up the poop to kill bacteria, reduce density and eliminate stench. Aging can be done without composting. The manure doesn’t need to be mixed with carbon-rich items to age (but most likely is mixed with bedding like straw or other materials used to absorb odors or cover up the muck). Many folks do add straw, leaves or the like to manure to age it and these same combinations work well to compost. Both methods make it easier to handle and apply uniformly.

5. Apply it Like a Pro! Dilute it, don’t pollute It. Work it in way before harvest. Keep it clean.


Apply aged or composted manure to your edible garden 90 days prior to harvest if the produce will not come in contact with the soil. Apply 120 days in advance of planting root crops. Never sprinkle it on top of plants, especially lettuce and other leafy greens.


It’s NOT recommended to apply aged or composted manure near the roots of tender plants, at the beginning of the planting season and especially not to edibles at planting time. Use it as a side dressing? Not so much.


Water manure in thoroughly versus throwing it on top of the soil. A more effective way to apply manure, once aged or composted, is to mix it with a good quality compost. Make your own manure tea or buy muslin bags of aged manure developed for manure tea. Manure tea has been shown to aid the growth of vegetables, fruit, flowers and ornamental plants, trees and shrubs. See the next paragraph for more information on how to make manure tea.


Many folks soak their bare root roses in a diluted manure tea solution made with aged/composted manure and water. Place some aged or composted tea in a nylon stocking and tie the end. Stick it in a 5 gallon bucket and fill with water. Soak your bare root plant in it for a day. Soaking seeds in a highly diluted manure tea prior to planting has also become popular. There’s an ongoing debate in the gardening world about whether non-aerated compost teas are safe. If the manure compost is considered safe, then compost tea made simply with water and left to sit for several hours to a couple of days should not develop new, harmful bacteria. The topic of aerated vs. non-aerated compost tea brews is too much to tackle in this post. To be safe, keep fruit and veggies up off the ground in soil that has been amended with aged or composted manure.


Non-woven, rubber/vinyl gloves and boots are probably the best defense to preventing sickness from E. coli contamination. But make sure to wash these items thoroughly and clean your hands well after you’re done handling it. Always wash veggies and fruit before serving.

How do the various manures stack up?

Once composted or aged, manures lose some of their nitrogen content. Before they are composted, they are considered “HOT”. This means they contain loads of urea nitrogen that can burn plants’ roots. Some manures are hotter than others. This would make a funny cartoon, don’t you think? Knowing the nutrient strength of a particular manure can help you match it to the plants you’re growing.

WARNING: Never use human, cat or dog manure or any manure from a meat eater. If your local zoo offers up some lion poop for free, kindly pass. Lions may be kings of the jungle but not the home garden.

The Hottest of the Hot


Fresh chicken manure packs a powerful nitrogen punch, almost twice that of horse manure. One aged and/or composted, use it sparingly in areas where you’ll be growing crops that flower because loads of nitrogen may produce loads of leaves and you’ll be left wondering why you didn’t get any blooms or fruit. Corn craves nitrogen and is a good match for poultry poo. An average-size hen makes 1 cubic foot of manure every six months. Wow!

The Coldest of the Cold


Cow manure has the least amount of nitrogen but my preferred manure because it’s easy to find and the least likely to burn plants or over fertilize and stunt flower or fruit development.


Rabbit manure is less smelly as other manures. It’s higher in nitrogen than sheep, horse, chicken and cow manure. Its phosphorus content is wonderful and this type of manure suits flowering and fruiting plants.

Horse manure is rich in nitrogen but lacks phosphorus and potassium so it’s not the best choice for flowering plants, tomatoes or peppers. Use it instead on leafy plants, ornamental plants and lawns. But remember that it should be aged or composted for use with edibles. Corn, potatoes, garlic and lettuce would benefit from soil amended properly with well-aged or composted horse manure.

Sheep manure is probably a better manure compared to horse manure because it contains potassium. People comment that it smells less than cow or chicken manure but it takes longer to dry out.

Pig manure is a non-starter. It’s problematic. Although it has loads of nitrogen, it contains awful strains of bacteria and the nitrogen it does have releases so slowly, it’s not worth the risk or trouble.

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Does Manure Need To Be Composted – Using Fresh Manure In The Garden

The use of manure as a fertilizer in gardens dates back for centuries. However, as mankind’s understanding of disease causes and control has grown, the use of fresh manure in the garden came under some necessary scrutiny. Still, today, many gardeners question if you can fertilize with fresh manure. Keep reading to learn more about fertilizing with fresh manure.

Should You Use Fresh Manure in Gardens?

The benefits of using manure as fertilizer are well known. Manure improves soil texture, allows for proper drainage while also improving the soil’s water holding capacity. It can be used in clay soil, compacted, hard pan soil or sandy soils. Manure is an organic material that can increase beneficial microorganisms in the garden soil. While improving the soil, manure also provides a slow and steady release of nutrients to the plant life growing in the soil. Manure is also usually an inexpensive garden fertilizer, especially for gardeners who raise livestock.

However, don’t run out to the pasture to collect cow pies for the garden just yet. Fresh manure in the garden can also contain harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and other disease pathogens that can cause serious illnesses in humans when edibles are grown in raw manure.

In addition, the digestive systems of horses, cows, cattle or chickens, don’t always break down seeds from the weedy plant’s they eat. In fact, some weed seeds actually rely on a trip through an animal or bird’s digestive system to scarify their hard coating and instigate germination. Fresh manure filled with viable weed seeds can lead to a garden plot dominated by unwanted weeds.

A common question we are asked at Gardening Know How, “does manure need to be composted before using in the garden,” is a warranted one. In gardens with edibles, composting raw manures is highly recommended. Composting manure before adding it to gardens not only kills many unwanted weed seeds, but it is also an important step in preventing the spread of disease and illnesses.

Is Fertilizing With Fresh Manure Safe?

To prevent the spread of disease, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has created rules and guidelines for the safe use of raw manures. Their rules state that if edibles come into contact with the soil, such as root vegetables or cucurbits which tend to lie on the soil surface, raw manure must be applied to the garden at least 120 days before harvest.

This includes vegetables such as tomatoes or peppers, which dangle above the soil and can come in contact with soil from splashing water or fruit drop. Edibles, such as sweet corn, which does not come into contact with soil, still require that raw manure be applied at least 90 days before harvest.

In northern areas, 120 days can be the entire growing season. In these conditions, it is recommended that you apply raw manures to the garden in fall or winter, before growing edibles the following spring. However, weeds may get the jump on you in spring.

In addition to harmful bacteria and weed seeds, raw manures can contain high levels of nitrogen, ammonium and salts, which can harm and burn plants. The best way to avoid all these problems from raw manures is to hot compost the manure before using it in the garden. In order to properly kill off disease, weed seeds and neutralize excessive salt, nitrogen and ammonium levels, it is recommended that raw manure be composted for at least 15 days at a minimum, consistent temperature of 131 F. (55 C.). The compost should be turned frequently to ensure that all of it reaches and maintains these temperatures.

Generally, we tend to think the fresher the better, but this is not the case for fertilizing with fresh manure. Composting manure may seem like a pain, but it is essential in preventing human illnesses. Composted or heat dried manures are also available to purchase as bagged garden products.

It is also important to note that you should not use pet or pig waste in edible gardens, composted or not, as these animal wastes can contain many harmful parasites and disease pathogens.

Fertilize with Manure without Damaging Plants

Manure is one of the best additions for your garden. It improves soil and fertilizes your plants by helping them to absorb water, oxygen and other nutrients, which are essential for their health. Other benefits of manure are that it’s inexpensive, readily available and easy to mix into your garden soil.

Fertilizer and Amendment
Manure is both a fertilizer and a soil amendment (material added to improve soil). Manure slowly releases nutrients into the soil that plants can easily absorb. Manure contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients, which are important for plant health. Nitrogen is the most important nutrient that plants need and is responsible for rapid plant growth and the green color of plants.

Fresh manure has a very strong odor and is harmful to plants because it contains high levels of nitrogen and ammonia that can “burn” plants. Plants in contact with fresh manure will rapidly dehydrate, causing the leaves to turn brown and wither. This process is called burning.

Compost First
Before manure can be used to fertilize plants, it must go through an aging process called composting. In this process, fresh manure sits for 3 to 12 months. As the manure ages, nitrogen changes into a form that won’t burn plants, and any pathogens present in the manure are also killed. Another benefit from composting manure is that it loses its odor. (That’s a big benefit!)

Cow manure is the most popular source of manure for plants because it doesn’t contain high amounts of nitrogen and is less likely to burn plants. Other sources of manure for the garden are horses, chickens and rabbits. Based on the type of animal, manure has different levels of nitrogen. Rabbit manure has the highest level of nitrogen, followed by chicken, horse and cow manure, which has the lowest amount.

How to Apply Manure
To apply manure, add a 2 to 3 in. layer of manure on top of existing soil and mix in well. Like cow manure, horse, chicken and rabbit manure are great for your garden, but because they have higher levels of nitrogen, make sure that they are not fresh and that they have been composted. Do not use manure from cats, dogs or pigs, which contains dangerous pathogens.

Fresh manure can be added directly to soil as long as there aren’t any growing plants. Mix the fresh manure with the existing soil in fall and don’t add plants until spring arrives. By then, the manure will have aged long enough so it won’t burn plants. It is especially important not to apply fresh manure during the growing season to vegetable gardens, because the pathogens found in fresh manure can contaminate vegetables.

Adding manure to your garden is a great way to fertilize your plants and improve the soil. Just be sure that the manure has been composted—keep in mind that “older is better” when adding manure to your garden.

Where to Use

For use around your garden in beds and borders, in vegetable plots, around fruit trees and fruit bushes. Use throughout the year.

How to use

Improving soil structure

Spread a thick layer over the soil surface and using a fork work into the top 10 cm (4 inches) of the soil surface. When dug into clay (heavy) soil, Westland Composted Bark will create a much more open structure and improve drainage. When dug into sandy soil, Westland Composted Bark will improve soil structure and moisture retention.

Improving soil

Spread a thick layer over the soil surface and using a fork work into the top 10 cm (4 inches) of the soil surface. Westland Composted Bark will provide a rich source of organic nutrients when dug into soil. These nutrients are slowly released into soil, improving fertility and adding humus to soil.

Mulching beds & borders

Westland Composted Bark is ideal for mulching around trees and shrubs as well as your beds, borders and vegetable plots. This mulch helps feed your plants, suppress weed growth, protect tender roots from frost damage and reduce moisture loss during dry conditions. Remove weeds from the area you want to mulch. Ensure the soil is moist and not frozen before applying. Spread a layer about 5-10 cm (2 – 4 inches) thick over the soil surface.

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