April 21, 2009
I Know What Manure Is. Manure is Cow Poop!
Thus proudly proclaimed my 4-year old daughter to the WalMart guy as he loaded up our car with yet more composted steer manure. She’s adorable, he chuckled. Yeah, I said, only a little girl with sparkly brown eyes, curly hair and dimples could make cow poop sound cute.
The process of enhancing our garden soil with compost this spring has been quite a project. I first considered having a local landscape supply company deliver compost to our home. Their price for compost (composed partly of manure plus other things) was $41 per cubic yard if we hauled it ourselves (not feasible) and $46 per yard if they delivered it, with a minimum $150 order for delivery. The composted manure blend from WalMart was on sale for 97 cents per 1 cubic foot bag. One cubic yard is 27 cubic feet, so the WalMart stuff came out to about $26 per cubic yard - $20 less per yard than the bulk compost. In addition, the bagged manure could be purchased and spread in smaller amounts as time allowed, while the pile of bulk compost would clog our driveway and require us to get it spread immediately. So we went with the WalMart manure.
One hundred and thirty-five bags of manure later (5 cubic yards), our family has finished the project. The kids enjoyed working side by side with Mom and Dad, and now our flower beds are covered with a several inches of compost, a thin layer of manure has been raked into the front yard grass (kind of an experiment), and our newly-rescued-from-sod veggie garden has been prepared for planting with plenty of organic material. The garden beds look as though they put on black tuxedos with their smooth layer of black compost. Applying a uniform layer of compost or other mulch really helps young landscapes like ours look clean and lovely, since the little plants leave so much of the ground around them exposed. The dark color of the compost causes the green leaves and colored flowers to pop out in contrast.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the WalMart manure blend didn’t smell very bad. In fact, some bags even had that sweet, earthy compost smell. Obviously the manure and other inputs had been well composted before bagging. It’s always a nice surprise when the least expensive product is a good quality one.
We ended up buying some of the manure from Lowe’s. The manure from WalMart was moist and we had to break up the clumps as we spread it. The manure from Lowe’s was dry and powdery, which made it easier to spread thinly into our grass. Unfortunately, the Lowe’s manure had not been composted long enough to get rid of the smell. It really stunk! And now our front yard smells like a dairy farm, though the smell should fade away soon.
The downside to this project is our trash can full of compost bags – 135 of them. The sturdy bags will now take up space in a landfill, something I didn’t think about when we started buying them. Obviously buying the bulk compost would have been a ‘Greener’ option, though buying 5 cubic yards in bulk would have been $100 more expensive than buying the same amount in bags from WalMart. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Green option was less expensive for once?
Other than my regrets about the landfill, I’m very pleased with our project. We also spread a large amount of bark/pine needle mulch (that our neighbors were throwing away – a story for another day) around the newly planted trees in the backyard. That will help them grow both roots and branches more quickly and provide extra protection during the hot days of summer. All of my young plants should grow happily this year thanks to the increased moisture, cooler temperatures and greater amounts of nutrients that will be enjoyed by their roots. The beneficial earthworms will happily feast on the manure and spread it through the soil. And my children – including the cute cow poop daughter – have learned all sorts of things about soil and growing and how good it feels to work together as a family.