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.