October 27, 2009

The Manure Experiment of 2009


I have been adding composted manure to my gardens ever since I listened to my college professors expound, extensively and repeatedly, on the miracle that humus enacts on soil structure and plant health. But in 2009 I went a little farther with it than usual. Above, a hellebore leaf.


It started when WalMart reduced their prices on 1 cubic foot bags of composted manure blend. Or maybe it started way back when the builder spread 'sandy loam' over our clay-and-river-rock native soil. Sandy loam drains well but doesn't retain nutrients or water well enough to keep many plants happy. So compost was needed - lots of compost. Peony leaves showing their fall colors.


Ninety-seven cents for a bag of composted manure seemed like too good of a deal to pass up. So I picked up 20 or 25 bags each time I was in the vicinity of WalMart's garden center. I stopped counting at 200, but I think I ended up with between 250 and 300 bags of manure by September, when they stopped stocking it. I know that's when they finished because I was disappointed when I tried to purchase just a few more bags. Apparently buying manure can be addictive. Maiden-hair fern dances above various leaves in the shady garden.


This manure blend was composted well enough that it didn't have much of a smell. We spread several inches of it all over our beds and veggie garden. We even spread dusty, smelly manure from Lowes all over the front lawn, but that's another story (a success story, so I might do it again next spring). I kept spreading a few more bags here and there as the season progressed. Jack Frost brunnera leaves sparkle in the shade.


I learned a few things along the way. First, 3 inches of manure only works as a short-term mulch, because it rots into the soil within a few months. Second, worms LOVE manure. Some people pay lots of money for worm castings; I just ramped up the worm factory in my garden by laying out a manure feast for them. I dug up a grundle of worms every time I used my shovel. Lady's mantle grew like gangbusters in the amended soil.


Third, manure plus regular 10-10-10 Miracle Grow gives plants too much nitrogen and can lead to floppy growth. Especially for english roses that tend to have weak stems anyway. Next year I'll supplement my manure with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, like bone meal or Miracle Grow's 'Bloom Booster' (shh, don't tell the organic gardeners). Manure makes great leaves, though, which is why I have illustrated this post with leaf photos. Leaves of heuchera 'Green Spice' in autumn's late afternoon sun.


Overall, the manure spreading of 2009 was a strong start to the long process of creating great soil. I'm still dreaming about digging into 'chocolate cake' soil like what Dee has in her veggie garden. That requires years of amending when you start with as poor of soil as I have. But I've got help in the form of a worm army, plus the billions of beneficial microbes at work. We'll get there someday. Brookside geranium leaf.

17 comments:

  1. Hello,

    I love the smell of aged manure. I used to use lots of it when I grew roses at my old house. The results were amazing.

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  2. MuST-gO-GeT-MAnuRE!!!! You have a subliminal, or not so subby message here, VW! I am sold! Our garden has poor nutrient quality, except in the veggie bed where I add Black Kow, the expensive stuff liberally. This year the flower beds are up for some pampering. Your leaves are proof positive of what can happen when manure is added. I always thought it had to be delivered by the truck load. Can't handle that wheelbarrow up the slope anymore, but bags we can do. Thanks! :-)
    Frances

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  3. Beautiful foliage! Can't get over those peony leaves that are simply gorgeous. The manure must be working well.

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  4. Well now, you have inspired me to add manure to my regiment for next year. Your garden growth looks amazing and the benefits go deeper than the initial layer!

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  5. VW, May I digress here...I so want to get 25 bags of manure every day until it sold out! ...But my sweet husband...detailed my subaru (surprise gail, isn't this a wonderful gift!) and I can't disappoint him by totally trashing it one week later~~I can wait two weeks! I agree with Frances, manure, composted manure seems to be a miracle grower all by it self!
    gail

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  6. You have created a post close to my heart. Glad you have lots of worms, they are friends of the garden.
    Rosey

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  7. Let's hear it for the worm army and the woman who keeps them so well fed. Thanks for the inspiration VW!

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  8. I remember your post about getting all that manure and how your whole family helped. That was a lot of manure. I'm glad you saw such great results. I hope I can find such a great deal in the spring. Your pictures are beautiful!

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  9. I wish it could be as cheap here. It is difficult to get good quality sterilized manure here. Your caladiums are looking in great shape. The manure must have a great effect on them.

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  10. Love this blog and really glad I found you! Great pictures.

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  11. VW, wow, 200 bags. That's a lot of hefting. Although I have found that bagged manure is often cut with sand... with a sandy garden, I'm extra-sensitive to every little added grain. But 200 bags! Even with the extra sand, that's going to do a lot of good in your garden.

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  12. Yes, I agree, I've used manure to change my soil's condition, I dug in quite a bit into the sand even before I started planting. It's not totally chocolate cake yet, but I can see it's becoming darker and darker, instead of just sand. I love seeing the worms as much as you do.

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  13. I always get bags of composted cow manure like what you used, and sometimes add peat and my own compost when I start a new bed, but tend to forget to add some each year. I have access to some horse manure from an acreage, but keep forgetting to go get it. I think I'll compost that.

    I love how you told 2 stories at a time, and then tied them together. Yes, your leaves look nice and healthy. I'm excited for my hellebores to bloom in late winter or early spring. I did get some compost added to the front ones.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. We must not have gotten as cold as you. I think the temp was hovering around 20 degrees one of the early mornings. We turned the sprinkler on to wash the frost off one or more of the mornings. The water is turned off, so next time, the cold will have its way.

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  14. 97 cents a bag - that is a good deal.
    I am a big fan of compost and composted manure, I cannot imagine what it must be like to dig into good soil (one day, sigh).

    Lovely images of the leaves, particularly the Jack Frost.
    K

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  15. Oops, internet connection died when I posted my last comment so if you get this twice, sorry.

    Manure is a superb soil conditioner and feed.I do resent paying for it mind as I have friends with horses thus an unlimited supply but I'm too scared to rot it down here as it's a bit whiffy for the guests.

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  16. Thank you so much for the link love. You'll get your chocolate cake soil soon. I love manure and compost, especially shredded leaves. All good.~~Dee

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