Q&A Thursday ~ Cow Manure in the Garden

Cow Manure in the Garden Pic

Welcome back to Q&A Thursdays where you, the reader, decide what I post by asking me a gardening question. You can send your question via a comment below any post or article, on my Facebook page, or via email at SanctuaryGardener@gmail.com. Now for this week’s question.

Q. “An Illinois Yankee in Atlanta” emailed me about planting asparagus crowns (roots). He asked, “I want to put quite a bit of composted cow manure in trenches with them. Will it burn the crowns if I don’t mix it with much soil?” Although I emailed him a specific answer about planting asparagus, I thought it would be great to answer his question here regarding the general use of cow manure in the garden.

A. As most of us gardeners know, cow manure is a great amendment to our garden’s soil because it adds organic matter, beneficial bacteria, and some nutrients. However, it should be used properly. You never want to use fresh manure in your garden as it will burn the plants’ roots and possibly cause e.coli or other contamination. Farmers use fresh manure in their fields, but they spread it in the fall, often mixed with bedding (i.e., straw); they let it age and compost through the winter then turn it into the soil before planting in the spring.

In our gardens, it’s best to used aged/composted manure. Fresh manure must first be aged six months to a year, using composting methods of adding carbon (straw, dried grass clippings, etc.) and moisture with regular turning. Or, you can get aged/composted manure from a local farmer or feed store.

It’s best to add composted manure to your garden at least 30 days before planting. However, that’s not absolutely necessary. I’ve added it right before planting, but the amount I used was never more than half the soil in the raised bed. If your mix is about 50% composted manure and 50% loamy soil, you should have great soil to plant in. If your soil isn’t very good, mix your composted manure with regular compost at a 1:1 ratio and mix generously into your existing soil. (Or, if you have raised beds, remove your poor soil and replace with the composted manure/compost mixture. That’s what I had to do in the beginning. The soil here stinks!)

Because I like to err on the side of conservatism, I’d rather add too little composted manure than too much. I’m sure you’ll find gardeners that think I’m being too cautious. Either way, if you “play it safe” then later think your soil could use more composted manure, you can always side dress your rows with an inch-thick layer of  it later in the season.

Thanks to a fellow Yankee in the South for a great question. Come back next week for Q&A Thursdays. The question I answer may be yours. (But you have to ask it first!)

Happy Planting!

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