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Manure or Compost?

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on August 10, 2011

When I was a teenager, I had a horse.  When I cleaned her pen, I put the manure in a pile in a remote part of the yard.  There it sat, and we referred to it as the compost pile.  However, it was not compost, but old manure.  There is a difference.

In most cases, manure has too much nitrogen to put it directly one plants.  They get fertilizer burn and can die.  Compost, on the other hand, is safe to put down as long as it is worked in the soil.

Manure can be an important component of compost.  However, it needs to be layered with vegetative matter such as grass clippings, hay, or leaves.  You are sort of building a compost lasagna.  Microbes then break down everything into rich humus.  This smells like rich dirt and you cannot tell what went into the mixture that created it.  So if you take a whiff and it stinks, it isn’t ready.  If you can tell what animal provided the manure, or what plant provided the plant material, it isn’t ready.

Compost, when it is ready, can be worked into the topsoil to enrich your garden.  If you till the dirt to a depth of six inches, then cover that with three inches of compost and till it in good, your plants will love you.  If you do that with manure, they will die.  Don’t love your plants to death.  Serve compost, not old manure.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy August 12, 2011 at 11:20 am

Great article! You always read about the benefits and methods for creating compost. But very rarely does someone actually explain how to tell when it is ready. Thank you.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith August 12, 2011 at 11:26 am

You are welcome. Sometimes you buy bags of “compost” and you can still tell what animal it came from. Take it back, it isn’t ripe yet.

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Sab from Rubber Ducks August 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

Hi Stephanie,

I didn’t know the big difference between manure and compost. My mom used to put the “dried” manure directly on the plants. I think she should be delighted to read your post. 🙂

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Stephanie Suesan Smith August 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Your mom is not alone. Lots of people do that. Not as bad as “fresh” manure, but not good, either.

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Bill Brikiatis August 13, 2011 at 7:36 am

I’m always tempted to use compost before it’s time. There never seems to be enough compost available and I really hate to buy soil amendments. Sometimes there’s no other choice. Having a horse would be a great source of raw material.
Bill Brikiatis recently posted..How to Compost FasterMy Profile

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Stephanie Suesan Smith August 13, 2011 at 8:00 am

Yes, a horse or a cow. But then you have to care for the animal and that is expensive if done well. Probably cheaper to buy it in the long run. Or make friends with a riding stable owner who will let you have it by the pickup load to get rid of it.

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