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.


  1. It's pretty funny what kids can get away with :)
    I agree it just makes everything look so much nicer, not to mention healthier. I originally planned to get compost delivered too, but it was mostly the big pile to deal with that changed our minds. I've just been getting 10 bags at a time and spreading it. I can't believe what a deal you got!! I wish we had a Walmart nearby!

  2. The Lowe's manure smell should keep the door-to-door solicitors away for awhile! Seriously, it all looks yummy and wonderful. Now for a soaking rain.

  3. VW~~ I'd say it's a WIN all around. Kids just drink up this stuff, don't they? As for the "Green" method, those delivery trucks spew forth a ton of nasty, horrid black exhaust so in some ways you did choose the green option.

    Your borders look fantastic. I like your choice of edging material. The lawn mower tires can roll right over it, I bet.

    Thank you for the nice comments on my blog, VW. I'm curious about your rock situation. Did you find a use for all of those little buggers?

  4. Very thrifty of you and smart too! I think the smaller sizes would be so much easiers as well. It looks fantastic.

  5. I'm surprised you had the strength to type out this post, if you've spent the last several days working like a farm hand! Wonderful that your compost choice turned out so well - you're right, that sweet smell means it was thoroughly composted, a much more desirable state, and as composting becomes more mainstream, more purveyors are shortening the process.

    I am also a fan of black around new plants, although generally I spread just a thin layer of compost and then finish with a couple of inches of black mini bark mulch. Your plants are going to love the cadillac version you're giving them!

  6. Haha smart girl!!!

    Hi! My name is Lindsay and I run a blog called Frugal and Fabulous. I just stumbled upon your blog! I'm currently running a giveaway for a one year subscription to Flower Magazine. I thought this was something you and your readers might be interested in! :)

    The direct link is here: http://www.frugalandfabulous.org/2009/04/giveaway-subscription-to-flower.html

    I'd love it if you'd enter! :)

  7. Hi VW

    Think of the health benefits of all that exercise.

    Your borders look spiffy too!


  8. Hi there VW! Looks like you guys have been up to a lot of great stuff! It all looks good, too;-) We just brought in 140 bags of mulch (70 were from H.D., and another 70 were from my son's boyscout mulch sale)...and my husband has put down half of them so far. We also had a whole truckload of compost/manure/soil dumped on our driveway and spread throughout gardens in my backyard. We're getting a trailer so my husband can haul in another half a truck load and dump in on the driveway again tomorrow! I haven't posted about this yet...it's going to be a lot of posts because we have redone our whole backyard!!! Have fun in your garden, with your kiddos!!

  9. Holy Shmoly Jan, you are definitely the mulch queen this spring! I look forward to seeing the results on your blog.
    And Grace - "kids just drink this stuff up" - actually our big challenge was keeping the 1-year old from eating up the manure. Composted or not, that's gross!

  10. Hi VW, That is a weekends worth of work and a good project for the family! I use the bag stuff from our favorite nursery... I called the local compost farm and the cost of delivery was more then the cost of compost! We need a truck and a few friends who want to share the the compost to make it worth while to deliver in quantity! gail

  11. Kids are pretty funny. Looking forward to seeing your garden take hold and explode! The hyacinths are very pretty.

  12. Hi VW, how satisfying spreading all that compost and mulch, rolls royce treatment for your precious plants, which are already looking happy and appreciative. And it is great that children recognize the virtues of poo. Do you make your own compost? cheers, catmint

  13. This post brought back lots of memories of gardening with my children when they were small. It's great that she knows where and what manure comes from. Other kids will think it's made at Wal Mart. I worry about the bags too, but sometimes, you have to go with the less expensive option and not the greenest one.

    So, when are you going to introduce her to worm composting? :) ~~Dee

  14. I was going to go back to tell you great job on getting all that manure spread, but clicked to see this post, so I'll tell you here, great job getting all that cow poop spread!

  15. Do you always mix the composted manure in all of the soil where you are planting something new? I think I'm going to have to get rid of some of my newly planted wintersown plants if I want to plant more that's on my wish list. I'm running out of room..I haven't heard or seen any coreopsis in your garden, like Moonbeam or
    Zareb. No clematis? Did I miss your peonies? I saw them listed on your 2009 list that you purchased but don't recall coming across it in photos or writings on it.


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