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Old 03-14-2011, 12:54 PM   #1
leolady
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Default Unlimited aged Cow Manure

I have heavy clay soil and am using raised beds 8 by 16 feet each.

My farmer friend will sell me as many truckloads of manure as I want for $40 a load!

How much should be used on each bed?

TIA
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Old 03-14-2011, 09:36 PM   #2
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Assuming the soil depth is two feet (say 6" raised over double-dug soil) then each bed is about 9.5 cubic yards.

Good (gen purpose) garden soil is generally 1/3 ea clay, sand, humus.

It makes a huge difference as to what sort of clay that you have: is it red or gray or yellow in color? Red clay is good, gray is terrible, and yellow is blah--not so good (consider it better gray clay). The colors indicate the minerals the clay is made from and the different minerals have different electric potentials. Gray clay is full of alumina sorts of things that are acidic and because of it's electical charge sucks up minerals like crazy--including ph amendments--it bonds with these things tightly making them unavailable to plants albeit they are there. Red clay is the opposite in behavior and extremely fertile freely giving up a steady stream of minerals to plants (the other clays in a sense are fertile--it just is not available to plants because the clay has the fertile elements tightly bonded to it and won't let go). They have known that red clay soils are extremely fertile for a long time and this is why early agrarian aristocrats coming to the Americas headed first to the Virginia Piedmont. You can still grow on poor clays--its just tuffer. We do it. It's a lot more work than the Virginia soil i was brought up on.

As for the manure, i don't care how aged it supposedly is, I would use it to make a lot of compost and add the finished compost rather than manure per se. The manure is the green component that is mixed with 9 parts 'brown' material and so on. If it is truely agged, then its nitrogen component would be low and you'd need to add other sources of nitrogen to your compost mix of aged manure and brown stuff (lignocellulose).

As for your soil--you should be able to estimate how much sand to work in--say about 3 cu. yds per bed if we assume you have 100% clay for the moment. Dump truck load is 20 cubic yards i recall. Guess about $300-$400 a load--been awhile and it will vary by location and trucking distance anyway. There are many sources of humus--including compost (good compost properly made being the best. Peat is often used as it is the most convenient--especially in the quantities needed to amend soils of new gardens. A bale is 3.8 cubic feet--27 cubic feet per cubic yard or 7 bales/cubic yard. if you want 3 cubic yards that is roughly 1/2 a pallet of 40 bales. (you can use some peat and some compost).

The actuality is that your clay soil does contain some percentage of both and you might make a best guess and find you can use a lot less of these.

The humus and sand will help break up the clay and head it in the right direction of having the proper texture and tilth. You also need to add a lot of gypsum to break up clay. It will also help stablize the soil (help free up what the clay is otherwise holding onto too tightly). I'd dig out the soil and work 6in tillable depths at a time to the side covering each bed of clay with a good layer of gypsum.

You may need to adjust the ph and fertility otherwise and make as much good compost as possible use manure and green plant "manure" to break down leaves, straw, sawdust, and a favorite of mine--pine bark-- to use instead of peat (i would add some peat anyway.) The peat will last about 5 years and allows more time to work in other forms of humus, including green manures. You can subsititute other things for sand too--sand tends to be the cheapest--but you can use perlite or possibly crushed marble. We did for dry gardens.

this is a general sort of way to go about it--it can be varied to suit particular tastes of particular plants.
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Old 03-15-2011, 09:32 AM   #3
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I don't have time/space/energy to do regular compost.

Won't sheet composting with hay & leaves work?
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Old 03-15-2011, 06:10 PM   #4
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Sheet composting will tend to work, although half the off-season is past, so it won't be as broken down come time to work it in. cow parsnip certainly covered the subject in depth and detail, but many of us might find such thorough exposition rather daunting, correct though it certainly is. Lazy devil that I am, I would sheet compost, expecting to add plenty of nitrogen (chicken poo, probably) when working up the bed.
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:12 AM   #5
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Given your limitations, reconsider the use of cow manure. Chicken or rabbit manure is better (anything is better than cow manure) and they still should actually be composted properly or else buried deep as in making a hot bed. But, buy compost or peat to amend heavy clay instead of manure if you can't make your own compost properly. Sheet compost with green manure--its healthier. (Manure is delivered free around here--and everyone claims theirs is 'aged' but...; but we say "no").

Manure, by itself, is not going to do much for heavy clay is the idea above. Turning (and this is hard work too) manure into your soil primarily adds nitrogen--a little goes a long way and there are healthier alternatives of purchased nitrogen such as liquid fish. The amount of manure you would need to add to help break down the clay (by adding organic matter) would turn your beds into greasy quasi-septic beds. Read up on bacteria hosted by manure such as "Helicobacter pylori" and what it can do to you--its role in colon cancer. They are still learning about its role and that a lot of people host it in their intestines. It's only one of several bacterial concerns. Several reasons to compost manure properly if you must use it rather than say green manure. It is one thing to spread manure on corn fields (which is frowned upon these days because of runnoff problems), but on your garden is quite another thing--it can't splash up on the inside of an ear of corn but hosted bacteria could be all over your lettuce.

Low on energy--proceed like a turtle--Work one bed at a time/say year--it is good aerobic excercise to dig, amend, and turn beds and personally rewarding to nuture good (living) soils in your beds.
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:42 AM   #6
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Thank you sooooooooo much for all of your advice cow parsnip! I truly appreciate it.
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Old 03-19-2011, 07:26 PM   #7
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should add for the benefit of those who might read these posts and not be aware that what we mean by "green manure" is green plant matter--that hasn't been digested by animals.
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Old 03-20-2011, 05:02 PM   #8
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For simple nutritional needs of your vegetables, figure about a gallon of pure manure per 3 square feet. Your beds are 128 square feet so you'd need roughly 45 gallons per bed. More than that and there'd be more nitrogen than most garden vegetables require.
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Old 03-21-2011, 07:42 AM   #9
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That helps WI LO M!
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Old 03-26-2011, 09:13 AM   #10
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Originally posted by leolady:
I don't have time/space/energy to do regular compost.

Won't sheet composting with hay & leaves work?
Yes, it will. Worms will create fantastic soil, which with time, will get mixed into the clay. That's how I create most of my soil in my main garden.

The key is to try to have the propper C:N ratio, and bugs will eat it fast.

There are crops that love manure ... squash, melons etc...
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Old 04-11-2011, 02:42 PM   #11
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I have been reading up on using cow manure in my garden, since i have a cattle pasture in my backyard. I've been trying to figure out whether or not it would be better to go collect when its all dry, or when its fresh. then I stumbled upon an article that claims most other countries burn manure and use it as fertilizer. Apparently, its much better. Has anyone else heard of/experienced this?
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Old 04-11-2011, 07:12 PM   #12
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Much of the Great Plains was settled by people who used cow chips for fuel. It works OK for K, P, and Ca, but drives off most of the N, which is mostly what growing plants want, which is why composting is better than burning, not to mention the structural value and lesser solubility of compost compared to ash.
Dry chips are less icky to work with, but if it's out in the rain, some of the good leaches away.
Any free poo is a benefit, but cows, pigs, and dogs are all pretty thorough about extracting the goodies from their food, so theirs is useful, but not premium.
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Old 04-12-2011, 02:41 PM   #13
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Originally posted by sb14:
I have been reading up on using cow manure in my garden, since i have a cattle pasture in my backyard. I've been trying to figure out whether or not it would be better to go collect when its all dry, or when its fresh. then I stumbled upon an article that claims most other countries burn manure and use it as fertilizer. Apparently, its much better. Has anyone else heard of/experienced this?
Dry is better than fresh. The "hot" is not nitrogen since cow manure is one of the lowest among farm manures. It's from the high percentage of salt, around 5%. That's 100 pounds of salt in a ton. Nothing will grow in the wet leach field around a manure pile for that reason.
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Old 04-12-2011, 06:29 PM   #14
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The salt is mainly a problem with feedlot cowpoo, since salt in the feed makes the cattle drink more and retain more water. That's why I NEVER buy or use bagged steer manure. This cowpoo was described as in a pasture, so I'm assuming not a feedlot, so probably good stuff, as far as cowpoo goes.
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Old 04-12-2011, 10:02 PM   #15
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I regularly get horse manure from a local boarder. It is free and they will load it for me. The way they rotate their pile, it is over a year old before they give it out. This week, I added 10 pickup loads to a 35X70 section of the garden that hasn't had any applied for several years. Weeds are not a problem, perhaps due to sawdust being used as bedding instead of straw. I do wonder about what medications could survive, however I doubt bacteria would be a problem with harvest of corn at about 1 1/2 yr's after the horses produced the manure. Hard to tell if nitrogen is lost too much, due to my mixing polebeans in with the corn that is planted here. I do need to have the soil analyzed again, it's been a few years.
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