Fellow blogger Susan of Digging In sent along a question from a “mysterious reader” on dung, which gives me the opportunity to muse on the merits of manures:
Good soil is critical to successful growing, and gardeners often have entrenched feelings about the best type of material to plow under when preparing for planting.
Naturally, manures float to the top of any discussion on amendments. In spring, when gardeners ask which dung to use, I find myself waxing poetic on manure age, crumble-ability, and animal source as if it were a fine wine.
But answering the question “Which doo will do?” is not easily done (although the obsessed gardener will keep track of manure’s success and failures from year to year).
Horse is always an option, but can be high in weed seed. I’m no veterinarian, but I’ve been told that a horse will pass what it’s eaten through it’s system every 45 minutes, leaving no time for weed seeds to be, um, processed. If the horse is on good pasture – one without many weeds – or is fed with certified hay, the problem of seeds is eliminated and gardeners can happily shovel it all over their garden.
In some cases cattle manure could be high in salts, particularly if it came from animals confined to feedlots. If you need enough to buy by the truckload, ask for an analysis of nutrients from the landscape supply company, including salts. But note: many places don’t spend time analyzing manure and asking for a detailed analysis of their poop may get you thrown off the property.
Options expand if the amount you need is small enough: sheep, llama, rabbit, even designer types such as “Zoo Doo”. Rabbits produce a great manure – high in nitrogen but won’t harm or ‘burn’ plants with salt. However, their poo pellets should be separated from wood bedding chips before tilling into the garden (wood chips tie up nitrogen while decomposing, keeping it from plants).
When planning to amend your soil, any herbivore’s doo will do, as long as it is aged before applying it to the garden. All animals carry eColi in their waste that can be splashed up onto plants during rain or irrigation, so use manure aged six months or longer.
As for the relative benefits or drawbacks of which dung is best, well, that would be decided by personal choice, quantity desired, ready access, and a way to collect it that is borderline rational.
A friend of mine tells me she and her garden buddy get their manure from horses, taking totes over to the stables to collect it. This gives me visions of festively colored designer totes, held hopefully up to the business end of the horse, those gardeners pleading in their best Oliver Twist voices “please, horse, may I have more?”
Another buddy tells of asking her daughter to bring up a suitcase of bat guano on her flight from Phoenix for spring break. Imagine the ruckus this would kick up at the security station should she need to have her bag searched. The daughter politely declined, then immediately contacted the rest of the family to discuss having their mother committed.
Yet another gardener called to ask me the best way to transport the moose droppings she planned to collect on an RV trip through Alaska, concerned over keeping it fresh. After gently explaining that the bags would build up methane gas and customs might take issue with an RV of potentially explosive poop, she decided to buy local.