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Date and time: Sun, 25 Jul 2021 16:36:24 GMT
Although cow manure is an excellent source of nitrogen and nutrients for the soil, it is also a source of weed seeds and pathogens, such as Escherichia coli and salmonella. Composting the manure in a hot compost pile kills both the weed seeds and bacteria, making it safe for use in the garden. Despite its being thoroughly decomposed, however, you should always wash your hands carefully after handling any compost or composting materials.
A hot compost pile is composed of 2- to 3-inch layers of high-nitrogen green and brown materials. High-nitrogen materials include raw manure; white clover (Trifolium repens, USDA zones 3 through 10) and the foliage of other legumes, such as peas (Pisum sativum). Green materials include fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds and kitchen scraps. Brown materials include dead leaves, garden debris, sawdust, shredded paper and straw. Layer the materials so the pile consists of approximately 25 percent high-nitrogen, 45 percent green and 30 percent brown or woody materials. Your compost pile should measure at least 3 feet square by 3 feet tall to maximize the heating effects of the decomposing materials.
Building a Compost Pile
The fully decomposed manure is used directly on existing flower and vegetable gardens, dug into the soil before the growing season begins, and mixed with perlite and garden soil for planters and raised beds. Although the weed seeds and pathogens in the compost are dead, garden soil also contains weed seeds. As you dig the compost into the soil, the weed seeds are exposed to warmth and moisture, the two main requirements for sprouting. Thus, while you’ve killed the weed seeds in the manure, the garden may still sprout new weeds.
When most of the organic materials in the compost pile have decomposed, the pile will start cooling down. If it starts cooling too soon, such as within the first two weeks, sprinkle it with water to moisten the ingredients and encourage the beneficial bacteria to continue the decomposition process. After six to eight weeks, the interior of the pile will be cool or barely warm. The finished compost should be dark and crumbly, resembling rich, loamy soil. Place a tarp over the pile to prevent windblown weed seeds from contaminating the new compost.
The compost pile should be moist, but not soaking wet, to start the decomposition process. Monitor the pile, measuring the internal temperature daily with a long-stemmed thermometer. When the pile reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit, turn it to mix the ingredients and then allow it to heat up again. Mix the pile with a shovel or pitchfork whenever the temperature reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Most weed seeds and pathogens die at 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remember that it is possible to over-apply organic matter of any kind. Soil wants to maintain an ideal balance (loam) of soil particles (sand, silt, and clay) with organic matter. And while there are a few types of hardy plants that will thrive in pure manure, it’s more useful to think of manure as organic matter—as a general soil amendment to promote microbial action.
Slurry & Tea
In some larger farm systems, fresh dairy cow manure (and other types) is collected in concrete basins, and mixed with water to form “slurry,” which is then machine spread on fields prior to tilling or planting. On a much smaller scale, compost and manure tea can be made for the home garden or small farm. This involves steeping organic matter in water, straining it, and using the resulting tea as a foliar or crop fertilizer. Because the decomposition of the organic matter is anaerobic, it can result in a seriously stinky final product. But it is cheap to produce, and very effective.
Animal manure is a bi-product of farming, and there’s quite a lot of it about. Cattle in the US alone produce an estimated two billion tons of manure each year. In some traditional farming systems, livestock are kept primarily because they produce manure. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find farms or horse stables that are anxious to give the stuff away because their animals produce so much of it. But as we shall see, not all manures are created equally.
Fresh manure can be spread over a growing area in the fall, and incorporated into the soil in the late winter prior to planting. By the time you are planting, it should have no unpleasant odour. Certified organic farmers are prohibited from spreading fresh manure for at least 90 days before harvesting crops intended for human consumption. For crops that come in direct contact with the soil, the minimum time period is 120 days. These regulations are useful to the home gardener, to indicate how seriously this is taken.
Types of manure
Animals digest their food in different ways. And different animals eat different sorts of food, so it’s no surprise that the end product will vary from creature to creature. So after your manure’s “maturity,” it’s type is a critical consideration.