the gardener's gold

Farmyard manure is the real wonder stuff of gardening. It boosts fertility and improves soil condition... and that makes your flowers, fruit and vegetables grow in plenty.

U.K. gardeners can get manure in clean easy to manage bags on this link. In the old days it came direct from the local farm. In country areas you probably still get it from the farm. A big heap was dumped in the road outside, barrowed into the garden, covered with a tarp and left to rot for several months. Lovely stuff.

Nowadays it comes in bags of dryish loose material good for the typical small garden. Already composted it is relatively clean and ready to use. You can also get pelleted chicken / poultry manure. This often comes in tubs. This too is clean and very easy to handle and apply at any time. Alternatively 6X is concentrated natural fertilizer from chickens N-P-K=5.8-3.5-3%. Easy to manage and very light - bags sizes are weighted for ladies to easily lift. It goes a long way and less storage is needed for fewer bags.

Manure is especially rich in nitrogen and in phosphates as well as other elements. Apply it before growing nitrogen hungry leafy crops like potatoes, cabbage, sprouts, or kale.

Timing Of Application
My current rotation is:

  • YEAR 1: MANURE before potatoes, followed in autumn by: broadbeans, onion sets, or chard
  • YEAR 2: then carrots, leeks, lettuce, to go alongside the onions, followed by 'N lifters' to mop-up and dig in
  • YEAR 3: Lime if necessary plus garden compost OR; MANURE - followed by brassicas - cabbage, kale, sprouts, etc... and celery, fodder raddish and 'N lifters to mop-up' and dig in
  • YEAR 4: Comfrey leaves plus garden compost or leaf mold before dwarf beans, runner beans, sweat corn, and 'N fixers' like clover and winter tares to dig in.
Late autumn is the time to apply it to clay soils. These benefit from autumn digging. They are too wet, sticky and heavy to dig by early spring and by late spring it is too late as it should be applied 3 weeks before planting.

Early spring is the best time to dig it into sandy soils as they will loose lots of nutrients during the winter rains of temperate climates. Sandy soils are not as wet or difficult to work in spring.

Some crops prefer it to be applied for a previous crop e.g. carrots, onions, and runner beans. This may be because some crops prefer firm ground not recently dug. Carrots have a reputation for forking if it is applied fresh. I believe this also applies to pelleted chicken manure. Your particular soil type and conditions will effect exactly what you do.

Many crop rotations include composted animal dung once every 3 or 4 years. But your garden can only benefit by applying it more often. My rotation tries to include it twice in 4 years. And now it is so readily available in easy to manage bags I will be applying it around my garden on a regular basis. That includes the flowers, fruit beds and lawns and hedges too.

Avoid Putting With Lime
Do not apply to recently limed soil and do not lime after you apply it. Lime causes the nitrogen content to be converted into gas which is wasted.

How To Apply It
The traditional method with runner beans is to lay it in the bottom of a trench in autumn or spring. However the best advice now is that it should be mixed intimately with the soil.

I sometimes lay down an inch or so over a bed that I've just forked over to about 3 - 6 inches. Then I use my long-handled garden claw to mix it together. That treatment would be adequete to prepare most flower beds.

More Than Fertilizer
Manure is a great soil conditioner too. It builds up black moisture retentive humus and improves soil structure. All soils benefit.

Animal Dung
If you have fresh animal dung from cows, horses, pigs or poultry, leave it to weather for about a year before applying to the soil.

The dung is usually mixed with straw or wood shavings. Their high carbon content helps stabilise the nitrogen in the dung and make humus. Composting produces a hot heap that kills weed seeds. Keep the heap under a cover sheet to reduce leaching of nutrient liquid. When ready for use it has a pleasant earthy smell. The added woody bits should not be identifiable.

Making Liquid Fertilizer
Nutritious liquid fertilizer can be made by hanging a sack full of the stuff in a bucket of water.

Find more on organic fertilizers here.

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