Thursday, April 10, 2014

Using Manure in Your Garden

Manure offers a tremendous amount of benefits to your vegetable garden.  For the sake of this article I am focusing in on animal manure, more specifically horse manure.  If you want more information on "green manures" check out Cover Crops, Green Manures and Mulches.

I am writing this article on horse manure after receiving this question from fellow vegetable gardener Lynne Blackwell:

Lots of horse poop (manure) in a nearby field that's been sitting there all winter. Is it safe to dig it into my raised beds or does it need to sit longer?

So what I wanted to do is write about the benefits of using horse manure in your home vegetable garden.

Manure is an organic matter.  When I say organic here, I am talking about an item that gets broken down through the means of organisms feeding on it to release the nutrientsI am not referring to the certified organic process.

Keep in mind that beneficial manure is not limited to only horses.  Manure (the feces of the animal) can be used from cows, chickens, and pigs to name a few.  Do NOT use manure from cats, dogs or humans.

Manure Adds Nutrients to the Soil
Horse manure is a great source of nitrogen.  Fresh horse manure contains about 50 percent
nitrogen (src: of which a lot of it is soluble meaning it will be washed away in a good rain storm if you spread it out over a field.  

However, before you start saying "what's the point then?", by composting your manure first, most of the nitrogen it contains will be stable and will slowly release into your soil, which is much better for your plants.

Composted horse manure will also release slowly over subsequent seasons, and that means if you add composted horse manure each season, your soil will always be rich and full of the nutrients your plants need. 

Manure Increases Microbial Activity
First let us define what microbial activity is.  Microbial activity, in its simplest definition means, that microorganisms are working hard in the soil to breakdown organic matter so that the finished result is usable by plants. 

You can add horse manure to your soil, but it still has to be broken down to a level where the plants roots can absorb the nutrients.  The beneficial bacteria and fungi will do that and that is microbial activity.

An Increase of microbial activity will:
  • Help protect the roots of your vegetable plants.
  • Reduce soil pathogens
  • Build soil structure and tilth (cultivation of land; tillage)
  • Soil will be more porous
  • Helps balance your soil's pH level
Manure Helps Improve Drainage Issues
When you add composted horse manure to your soil, you will build a good soil structure.  That in turn will help increase the amount of air and the amount of water that your soil can hold.  This is important because, just like everything else, plants need air as well, and of course they certainly need water. 

If your soil can retain more water, that is less watering you will have to do which comes in very handy in areas that may experience drought conditions.

To reiterate, because it is so important, horse manure is a great source of "fertilizer" for your garden, however, do not limit yourself to just horse manure. 

If you have access to chicken manure, pig manure, or cow manure, the same information from above will apply as well.

Also be sure, that when you are composting your horse manure (or whichever manure you choose), to mix in other types of organic material, such as leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper, wood ash, and kitchen scraps.  This will help balance out your compost pile.

Have fun!


  1. Just make sure it is very well composted. Manure from mono-gastric animals, horses, pigs, chickens, can be a wonderful source of weed seeds. Manures from ruminants is better, or that from rabbits, which can be used fresh, may be the best.

    1. yes you are correct .. animal manure should be well composted

  2. I use horse and cow manure going to try to get chicken manure this year too.going to beds this year to help with the weed's i get lots of weeds.

    1. I just got chickens ... so many benefits, manure being one of them

  3. We use alpaca manure. It is cold so it can be put directly on the garden without composting.

    1. Nice!! I never thought of Alpaca manure, what a great idea.