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Using Manure as Mulch

 
George Collins
Posts: 88
Location: South Central Mississippi
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Recently, someone here posted a link to a series of YouTube videos of an early 1980s BBC series titled The Victorian Kitchen Garden.

I watched them all, really enjoyed seeing the processes these professional gardeners used to satisfy their employers and learned several things along the way. I really liked Mr. Dodson. He was the consummate professional, a craftsman of the old school that demonstrated a true mastery of his craft. He had that workmanlike quality coupled with a gentleman's disposition that I seek to cultivate in myself and to instill in my sons. Thus inspired, I bought Harry Dodson's Practical Kitchen Garden. There is one of those little "interesting tidbit" boxes on page 20 that I found most interesting. In relevant part it reads,
[You didn't] need to dig a garden at all. Instead, you cleared off your crops, spread [...] very old farmyard manure 2-3in deep over the garden, sowed and planted into that and you got good crops. The theory behind this was that the earthworms pulled the manure down and aerated the garden and also that [... it] in turn suppressed weed growth rather as bark mulch does today.


Seeing as how we in this community are all about working as little as possible, the eternal, internal and at times infernal optimist in me shouts out with pure jubilation, "BOUT IT!"

Then the pessimist retorts, "Yeah right! That shit aint never gonna work." (pun intended)

So again I appeal to the collective wisdom of the broader permacultural community and ask y'all, "Mulching with straight manure . . . is this shit for real? Or is it just cow pie in the sky?"
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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We use mostly horse shit round here (too hard to get the bull shit and cow shit off the grass )
There's a huge amount of weed seeds in the stuff I use and I imagine some are viable for ages. Hot composting the manure wrecks your less-work idea and I've never had a pile just lying around...
I don't use manure since I discovered my soil's phosphorus is insanely high; but when I did I always used to spread a dry mulch over the it to stop the crazy pasture weeds and give the worms some cover.
People put bark chips on their kitchen gardens? I say spread that shit: I'd take head-high dock plants over over bark on my vege garden any day!
 
Saybian Morgan
gardener
Posts: 582
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
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I've done that, i'm sad to say I did 1/4th an acre of that on a 30 degree slop. I terraced the eroded hill with that and stuck it with every sprout seed they sold at the health food store. I can't believe it worked and the bee's went crazy, and the ducks and rabbits have been eating the dried and pelleted cover crops all winter. The manure won't grow every seed i put in it, but it sure grows radish and mustard's like a wall. There was over 1000 slugs that came out of it, that wasn't great but i brought down 700 of them and I was astonished. Somebody had plasticized the hill and grew tree's that plastic is 8 inches down, under it is powdered sand and over it is 8 inches of pine mulch soil that grows nothing and can hold no water. Out of it grew fierce salmon berry that i cut down, pulling up the plastic and laying the really aged practically potting soil if no so crusty dirt flat out 4 inches thick really changed things quick for something I did in july. The radishes and brassica ground cover push on into the winter and are cut and come again until the ducks stamp it out. Now it can be mulched with none manure carbon and I have an instant garden that will be loaded with compost corridors for the spring.
 
Matt Walker
Posts: 234
Location: North Olympic Peninsula
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I think part of the key is the quote "very old farmyard manure." I started my current garden in a huge pile of manure that the previous owners made from cleaning out the horse stalls. 30 years worth, and it sat for at least 6 years before I got to it. I am not saying it needs to be that old, but I think the age helps with success so the plants don't burn. I do top with fresher manure as mulch, which usually is fairly benign sheep and cow manure. I set the chicken manure aside and make sure that ages a bit longer than the ungulates' manure.
 
garrett lacey
Posts: 72
Location: Edmonton Alberta
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Last year and the year before i brought in manure from a local dairy and did essentially what it said in your book and it worked well for me with a wide variety of crops. The manure was a mix of poo and chipped-wood bedding that had been aged for a year, so the carbon in the wood combined with the nitrogen in the poo would have just created compost. It did not burn any of my plants. Cow manure is not so bad for seed content as is horse. Particularly when aged.
 
David Good
gardener
Posts: 522
Location: Equatorial tropics
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books forest garden
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I covered a large garden area with a couple inches of cow manure this last year and planted into it via scattering a wide variety of seeds. The plants didn't get burned; however, the garden suffered from water stress regularly. When I dug up a bit to find out why... I realized the manure had formed an almost impenetrable crust that was keeping water from reaching effectively into the ground beneath. The manure was sloppy compost from a local dairy when I got it. Aged, but not dry. I think it basically turned into manure cement when it dried.

I also reaped a remarkable amount of pigweed from that plot.
 
garrett lacey
Posts: 72
Location: Edmonton Alberta
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hmm not enough bedding material mixed in i guess!

How did scattering the seeds turn out?
 
David Good
gardener
Posts: 522
Location: Equatorial tropics
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books forest garden
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Scattering seeds went well - I had plenty to eat with little toil. Which was good, because I picked up a bunch of freelance work that took me away from the garden later in the season.

You can see a little of what I did here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J959JpfwXuY

I'm not the best teacher/filmmaker, but there you go. The drought stress started showing up a little after that video I made. The weather was hot and dry. All the greens were growing in a bunch of manure... all wonderfully green and healthy... until the manure crust started wilting everything out. If I'd really hacked and chopped and thinned I'm sure it would have done better. Root competition + poor absorption = plants under stress. What worked really nicely, though, was getting bags of lentils/chickpeas/green peas from the store, soaking them a day or two, then winging them across the garden and scattering brassicas in between. I had lots and lots of chop n' drop, plus plenty to feed my goats and chickens.
 
Victor Johanson
Posts: 369
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
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I use the earthworms here like that--never till any soil amendments in; just spread them around. Worms aren't supposed to live up here, but I have them by the thousands, and they've been here for at least 15 years now. Saves me a ton of work, and avoids disturbing the soil community. If I go out around 2AM (it's light all night here in summer), I can see and even hear them crawling on the surface doing my work for me. It's awesome! Now they have spread to the edges of my property. Worm Power!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9407
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I have only dug my garden once - to put in buried wood beds. Otherwise I just put sheep poo and hay on the beds, an inch or two of soil, scatter my seeds and top with a little more soil. The garden is absolutely infested with earthworms - both nightcrawlers and red wigglers.

 
David Good
gardener
Posts: 522
Location: Equatorial tropics
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books forest garden
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You guys are blessed with those worms. It's hard to keep them around here in my hot and sandy loam. I left a foot of rotten hay and leaves on my garden for a year up north and had tons of worms. It's not like that down here in zone 8/9 FL. I miss the free labor.

The only place I've seen them thriving here is in the muck around an overflowing septic tank at a relative's house. I told him "the problem is the solution" or something along those lines. He agreed and rather than fixing the tank, he planted his banana and tobacco plants all around the seepage. A few months later, they were huge. And the water was no longer standing there in a puddle, I assume because the roots were drinking it.

Human manure definitely works for gardens. Especially if you're going for a tropical rainforest/cholera theme.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Good point. Earthworms are fantastic free labor, but good deep roots can be just as valuable!
The roots can dig soil (and create highways for the worms...and other roots to follow). They can recover nutrients from 'deep within', and as they die, create organic matter deeper than a plow can reach. They are a key element in creating new soil, and in your relative's case, solving a 'water problem'.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9407
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Vidad MaGoodn wrote:You guys are blessed with those worms. It's hard to keep them around here in my hot and sandy loam.


I recommend trying buried wood beds.
 
David Good
gardener
Posts: 522
Location: Equatorial tropics
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books forest garden
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That's a good idea. I'll bet it would keep the worms around - thanks for the thought.

And, thanks to Paul & Sepp, I'm planning some modified hugelkultur beds, burying a bunch of wood/sticks/organic matter and manure then planting on top at about regular ground level. Raised beds do poorly here, even though Everyone Else recommends them. Way too much water required.

 
garrett lacey
Posts: 72
Location: Edmonton Alberta
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Vidad MaGoodn wrote:Scattering seeds went well - I had plenty to eat with little toil. Which was good, because I picked up a bunch of freelance work that took me away from the garden later in the season.

You can see a little of what I did here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J959JpfwXuY

I'm not the best teacher/filmmaker, but there you go. The drought stress started showing up a little after that video I made. The weather was hot and dry. All the greens were growing in a bunch of manure... all wonderfully green and healthy... until the manure crust started wilting everything out. If I'd really hacked and chopped and thinned I'm sure it would have done better. Root competition + poor absorption = plants under stress. What worked really nicely, though, was getting bags of lentils/chickpeas/green peas from the store, soaking them a day or two, then winging them across the garden and scattering brassicas in between. I had lots and lots of chop n' drop, plus plenty to feed my goats and chickens.


I thought your videos were good! Thanks.
 
David Good
gardener
Posts: 522
Location: Equatorial tropics
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books forest garden
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Thanks, Garrett. I'm more of a writer and audio producer than anything else, but I do like to fiddle with the camera/editing software now and again.

Though I'd rather be digging in the dirt.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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A person can spend years at this and not learn it all.

I have not used my tiller in a year and a half. It's a peach, but at this point I should consider selling the thing.

Worms-I just can't keep the poor little fellers alive. Job takes me out of town too much.


Raised Beds
While I have employed these with excellent success and promote them as an outstanding growing method, I think they may not be the answer for me. The soil here is more than 95% sand. Drainage is not a problem.

Mulch
I have not encountered a situation where mulch is a waste of time. Ever.
As for manure, I think aged manure offers the advantage of not burning plant roots. My bull puts out a product that has a great deal of grass and hay residue, and I think it has enough carbon to offset a high nitrogen content. It's been mighty dry here and his product dries into bullcrete in just a couple of days. Just this past weekend I gathered up a wheelbarrel load of the stuff, added water and let it soak in overnight. The next day I took a drill with a drywall mixing paddle and gave it a good mixing. It smoothed out but took me an hour. This I added to a new compost heap which is not yet heating up. It has been cold this past week which may be slowing the heap. It may be the manure has aged in such a way that the N has been consumed by the C and the heap will not heat up because of that. The mixing splashed a bit on the sides and handles and this dried back into bullcrete, but washed away with a light spray. If manure was used as a mulch, covering it with a layer of hay or leaves would keep it moist as well as offer the worms a wider menu selection. If there was a high nitrogen level, the top mulch would help bring it down.


 
David Good
gardener
Posts: 522
Location: Equatorial tropics
30
books forest garden
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I bought a used tiller and got it fixed up by a local small engine repair shop.

I use it for sod-busting. It's not like we can create hardpan here, though I have noticed that things get very desert-like within a week of tilling unless you get something on top of the sand.

I've plowed under all my manure crust from last year, along with plenty of evil bermuda grass.

Mulch is my favorite, though I have a hard time gathering enough for the size of my garden. I'll bet manure with a mulch layer on top would eliminate the crusting issue.
 
Richard Nurac
Posts: 52
Location: north Georgia
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I think there is manure and there is manure. I visit horse stables monthly and they load my pickup and, with hands on experience off loading the manure, I have become somewhat adept at recognizing the different textures. If it is not broken down i.e. lots of hay and other matter still visible and lighter in color, then it should not be used as a mulch. It will just sit on the bed and block water and aeration (I only discovered this when I heavily mulched my apple trees and they showed little growth and a year later I discovered the problem). Best use is in the compost heap. If it is heavy and darker in color then I could use it as a mulch but now I don't since I am concerned about what chemicals may have been used to grow the feed and what chemicals may have been given to the horses - so now it also goes to the compost heap to be worked over and cleaned up. The third stage is when the manure is dark in color but very light. This is when it has been left outside for an extended period and the rain and weather have eroded or leached out the good parts. To my mind this desiccated manure has little value and I try to avoid it.
 
Lacia Lynne Bailey
Posts: 91
Location: Seattle, WA
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I practice "deep bedding" in the goat shelters, adding more carbon, and doing a big clean out in spring just in time for the garden. The bedding is just thick and crawling with earthworms!

Usually "manure" has some kind of bedding carbon in it. The trick is to make sure its not too weedy for your needs, some folks will be happy and have uses for anything that sprouts.
 
Peta Schroder
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
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I'm using fresh rabbit and guinea pig poo mixed with alfalfa bedding and it isn't hot so I am able to plant straight into it. I don't think all poos are alike. It's plenty weedy too, but only short-rooted grains so they're easy to pull out.
 
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