I am new to gardening, so bear with me. A friend of mine has a farm and just brought me a load of cow manure. When he delivered it, he dumped in onto my existing (still dormant) flower beds. I am told by neighbors that the manure is hot and needs to be cured before it goes onto existing beds. Is this true? If so, how do I cure the manure? I do have a compost heap in the back yard. Should I transfer it to the compost pile? Help!
Hardiness Zone: 7a
Jennifer from Eugene, OR
Excellent! It is wonderful to hear that you have found yourself a source of free manure. Well-rotted cow manure makes a fabulous organic fertilizer because it nourishes plants and builds soil all at the same time.
You didn't mention how old the manure is, so you'll want to find out from your friend before using it on your plants. Your neighbors are right. Fresh manure is considered "hot", which means it is still releasing high amounts of nitrogen compounds and ammonia into the soil as it breaks down. This can burn the roots of young plants and inhibit the germination of seeds, so it is usually recommended that manure be cured for at least 6 months before using it in the garden. Goat and rabbit manure is milder so curing is not necessary.
One way to cure manure is by hot-composting it. A hot manure pile heats to a temperature of at least 150ºF. This kills off any seeds that might have passed through the animal's system undigested, and it also reduces the likelihood (however remote it may be) that any pathogens remain active in the manure-a comforting thought if your going to be applying it to edibles.
To cure your manure, dump it into a pile and cover it with a tarp (use bricks or rocks to hold the tarp down). Punch a few air holes into the tarp to let the heat escape. In 6 months, (or 6 months - the age of your manure is now) the manure will be ready to use as a top dressing in the garden.
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Well, I'd get it off your plants before it cooks them.
Is it this year's or last. If it's lasts it's cured, but you still want to get if off your plants you only need a little mixed with dirt or compost. Like if you were planting a 6inch potted plant, you would mix a partial trowel full with the dirt at the bottom of the hole in which you were going to put the plant, of course it would be aged manure.
You can use unaged/uncured to make a hot box for lettuce etc in winter in a cold frame but you dig a hole fairly deep, probably 16-18 inches, put in hot manure, cover with dirt, small layer of compost and set in plants. The manure warms the soil as it cures which is why it's called hot, but won't contaminate the plants if it's deep enough.
If you borrow a spud fork and mix it in well, like half-and-half with dirt, it will be fine and won't burn them, but do keep a clear zone at least 4" around the stem. I would take it off and do the mixing, then stockpile it in the back yard in a fenced pile, to use this fall as topdressing 4" thick. You don't mention if it's odorous, but if it isn't smelly then it's composted enough to be find where it is.
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