Can I Dig Horse Manure In & Plant Now?

abrogard(6b)February 15, 2012

I'm a totally new gardener. From about 6 months ago. Time now to redig and work my beds and do better this time than last time - which was pretty much a chaotic mess and mainly a failure. Vegetable gardening we're talking about.

And the main thing to do seems to be to properly prepare the beds. I plan to use horse manure for this.

I've googled and read many posts in many places about this and nowhere seen a definite answer to what I want to do:

Can I dig horse manure into the beds now and start planting in them almost immediately? In say a week or two?

Everything I read talks much about composting the manure and spreading it around the plants.

We have no space for composting though I suppose I could find some if I had to - if it is for the good of the garden - and I don't know how to do it. Just let the pile stand there?

And, as I say, there's no plants to spread it around yet. And I've had instructions elsewhere to 'dig in some animal manure and let stand a couple of weeks'.

Hence my question.

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Yes you can dug manure in now, with several caveats. You didn't state your zone, and you didn't state what kind of plants you want to grow. Probably you will get one of two negative warnings from people who have never used horse manure. One has to do with it being "hot" and how this will burn your plants. The burn actually refers to the nitrogen gas that can be released by fresh manure. On very still nights the gas doesn't disperse, and will burn leaves, and if very fresh can burn roots. Primarily this is a problem when used as a mulch. If you incorporate it now, and then rework your soil immediately prior to planting nothing will be "burned". The other negative you will hear refers to pathogens that may be present in the manure. The official recommendations are to not use it fresh with root crops. It's your call, but there are no documented cases of pathogens being spread to humans by horse manure in residential garden settings. The other concern is that horse wormers may kill your garden worms. Again no documentation exists that this is a true problem, and anecdotal evidence says that it is not. The other negative you will hear has to do with weed seeds being present. In any garden you have to weed and mulch etc. Given good garden practice, the weed thing is a non issue. I have an extensive garden, and the casual observer would think I have no weeds. With trench composting there no odors. The odors are associated with the escape of nitrogen contained in the uric acid. When it's buried in your beds it doesn't escape and your plants get to use it. So my advice probably is; given what we know about your situation, is dig in lots now, and rework it a day or so before you plant.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 6:23AM
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Up here the soil is too wet to work and too cold for planting. In some of the more southern areas of the USA many people have been gardening now since summer, for us the normal growing season, is simply too hot and dry. So whether you can depends on where you are, what condition your soil is, and what your average temperatures are.
Keep in mind that all manures, horse, cow, goat, sheep, human, can contain potential disease pathogens and you need about 90 to 120 days after working them into your soil before harvesting foods from that garden to aid in preventing you from getting one of those diseases.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 6:44AM
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I would be very careful about using horse manure without composting first. If you use horse manure with hay bedding as its base, you can inherit some potentially difficult weed problems for years to come. Obviously, a horse manure with a sawdust base would not pose that danger. As far as "burning" your plants, to my knowledge, horse manure doesn't contain much uric acid. If it is heavily ladden (that's good) with urine, it should have urea and consequently ammonia as its breakdown product, but not much uric acid. However, that ammonia can certainly cause problems if fresh manure is used.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 6:57AM
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A key issue is how old the manure is in the first place. Very often farms will stockpile manure, in doing so, the outside of the pile will be the freshest stuff, but the inside may be much older, and therefore partially or fully composted. The older the manure is, the less likely you are to suffer from any of the effects that Masbustelo correctly listed. You will still gain most of the benefits of nutrition and soil conditioning. I would also add that, in the interest of your own health and that of your plants, you will not want to plant crops wit short maturation dates in areas amended with fresh manures, because of the problems listed above, until well into the season - late June, if you add it now. Trench composting is a good approach in your case. If you only have access to a lot of fresh manure, I would trench compost in the paths, then shift the beds over them in a few months or next year. The plant roots in the existing beds will find the fertility off to the side, and the issues with fresh manure will be reduced (but not gone). The following year you can shift the beds over to the area where the paths were and trench compost in the new area. This will assure coverage of the whole garden, but means a lot of digging. That is why composting is so much easier.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 11:48AM
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thanks all for the postings, especially masbustelo who immediately addressed all my concerns, it seems to me.

I can just go right ahead it seems and that's what I'll do.

I didn't have my zone there before - I've put it in now: 6b.

What am I thinking of growing? Bok Choy, cucumbers, beans mainly.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 6:18PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I have raised beds due to many many gophers!
What I have always done when creating a new bed is to break up the soil (clay) as deep as I can (about 8"), lay down a good couple of inches of horse manure, preferably somewhat composted, but not always. Then lay down the gopher wire, place the above ground boxes and fill with our soil from the dump (really good organic stuff!)
I'm not sure if it's true, but I think the roots reach down to get to the great nutrients, and they are petty well mixed in with the soil.
Once my beds are established, I will dress an empty bed with HM, then top with leaves and finally home made compost right about now for planting in April.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 9:15PM
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I'm planning to just mix it in. Pour it on, dig it over, leave it a week or so. Water it a bit. Dig it over again and plant in it.

Do you think that's fair enough? All this talk of this or that 'base' for it...

I am slowly realising that there is much, much more to gardening than I'd ever thought. This plant wants the soil moist. That one wants the soil to dry out completely between waterings. The other one wants a different pH. The other one can't take that much sun. On and on and on...

But while that is true, the technical details of how to best grow, surely there's a wide range within which we'll get some kind of result?

Well that's what I'm hoping, thinking.

So, while the 'best' or the 'optimum' approach might be different I hope my approach should be kinda 'fair enough' for 'middle of the road' results?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 1:49AM
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abrogard, keep in mind that the only thing that USDA Plant Hardiness Zone tells us is which plants will likely survive a winter in your garden, nothing more. That is of no help about your soil, rainfall, or other important information that others might need to answer any questions you have.
Even what I have listed is only barely of use since in Michigan soils could be sand, clay, loam, and about anything in between.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 6:42AM
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Abrogard You have an excellent plan to grow some vegetables. There isn't any need to over complicate things. People have been using horse manure in gardens for thousands of years, because it produces great vegetables. And using tons of it per acre as well.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 8:50AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day abrogard,

i wouldn't dig it in i would spread it under the mulch that way you can pull it and the mulch back and plant, if you dig it in you are going to have to wait for it to decompose some at least 2 weeks maybe? it could effect the nitrogen for you plants.

spreading still works as the worms can work it into the soil for you.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 2:25PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I did mention how I make new beds (dig, HM,wire, soil in raised beds) but I didn't mention how HOT the HM has been when I go to the horse farm and get what they say is composted manure!
It is STEAMING when they dig into the pile with the tractor! It actually will burn your hand if you stick it into the pile!
Yes it WILL burn your plants if it is too fresh!
I try to let it sit for 6-12 months.
JMHO Nancy

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 9:22PM
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Yes, good point. I should have said all that in the beginning.

Well the soil I have is like silt. Brown silt. Much finer than sand.

It works alright in the garden but when I try to use it in a pot it sets like concrete. Even when I mix it with potting mix in an attempt to spin out the potting mix, save a few dollars, develop an ability to make my own.... didn't work..

Many places in the yard there's a clay layer about a spade depth down or more.

Pretty dry. We've had 16mm this year so far and that's right on the long term average.

And we get fierce dry winds which'll dry my seedlings out and kill them in a couple of hours.

So that's that.

Len, I'm thinking of digging the manure in as much for improving the quality of the soil as for fertilizer, more so in fact. People talk of watering once a week. I've got well established oriental parsnips which wilt down flat like green paint on the ground if I don't water them twice a day.

I'm in my first year as a gardener.. casting about trying to find my way... get some manure in there seems to be the first step...

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 10:11PM
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I agree that your soil seems to need some better water retention, but manure is only a part of it. Vegetable organic matter will help hold water, so compost and shredded leaves and dry grasses incorporated into the upper layers will help with that a lot. Once you've improved your soil, and watered well, a thick organic mulch will help to keep that water where it's most needed, and save your plants (and you) from a lot of stress. A simple percolation test will tell you if you are losing moisture to the soil or the atmosphere, but organic matter will help either way.

If you are in zone 6b it seems like it might still be a little early to be planting out yet. There isn't a lot of frost in the ground in New England this year, but we still have some cold and probably snow to come. If you can dig in the manure now that will save some time, but there mightn't be much activity in the soil to start the process of breaking it down for a while yet, and the worms are probably still several feet down, just waiting it out.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 4:40AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

the worms will dig it in as with anything you add as it breaks down that will happen and the soil will improve, it always has done for me. just the way i suggested allows you to plant right away, without the toil of dogging which is why we choose to use no-dig raised beds, best move i ever made.

for a first year gardener this is about as simple as it gets



    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 2:53PM
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Earthworms, part of the Soil Food Web, will help work any organic matter, be that manure or vegetative waste, into your soil just as they have done fo eons all over the earth. How fast that happens depends on how active your SFW is. In soils very low in organic matter the SFW is not very active and it can take years for the organic matter to get digested and moved into the soil. To a point you can speed the process by tilling organic matter into the soil, but when starting with a soil with a humus level of 1 percent it can take 3 to 5 years to get an active SFW working, even if the first year the OM was tilled in.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 7:23AM
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Well I'd guess my SFW is very low. I am now living, for a while at least, in Australia. Perhaps I should have said that. It is a land of deserts and my bit of South Aus. seems to be one of them.

I've dug a bed of tomatoes over. I dug the old tomatoes back in and dug in some horse manure, too.

And I've spread horse manure around some poorly growing water melons and under some climbing beans.

I'll see what happens.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 5:01PM
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