Hauling manure hardly seems to make sense these days, considering that lugging 500 pounds of horse manure gives plants about the same amount of food as a 50 pound bag of 10-10-10. And the latter for only about ten bucks!
Human manure piles, China, 1900
But whereas 10-10-10 supplies only food (and only three of the sixteen needed nutrients at that), manure has other benefits: it aerates the soil; it helps soil capture and cling to water; and it renders nutrients already in the soil more available to plants. Nutrients from synthetic fertilizers are used up or washed out of the soil by the end of a season, yet benefits from each application of manure last for years. Even ingredients of a concentrated organic fertilizer have little benefit as far as soil aeration and water retention are concerned.
Manure or not, it’s compost time. I like to make enough compost through summer so that it can get cooking before autumn’s cold weather sets in. Come spring, I give the pile one turn and by the midsummer the black gold is ready to slather onto vegetable beds or beneath choice trees and shrubs.
I haven’t gotten around to getting some manure for awhile so I just went ahead this morning and started building a new pile without manure. It’s true: You do not need manure to make compost. Any pile of organic materials will decompose into compost given enough time.
My piles are a little more deliberate than mere heaps of organic materials. For one thing, everything goes into square bins each about 4′ on a side and built up, along with the materials within, Lincoln-log style from notched 1 x 6 manufactured wood decking. Another nice feature of this …
Organic materials — that is, things that are or were once living — are the core of “organic” agriculture, and right from the get go, many years ago, I set out pitchfork in hand to gather these materials. Into large garbage pails toted around in my van I loaded manure from nearby stables. Neighbors let me haul away their bags of autumn leaves.
I even convinced city workers to dump a truckload of harvested lake weeds onto the side lawn of my small rented house. (That was in Madison, Wisconsin, where fertilizer runoff from lawns was spurring growth of lake weeds which, besides making swimming hazardous, were, upon their death, causing oxygen depletion of the lakes.)
Me mulching, even as a beginning gardener
Mowings of roadside hay, which I stuffed into the back of the van, were another source of organic matter, used …