Tag Archives: manure

Can I Use Manure On My Garden?

An abundant source of manure can seem like garden gold, especially for those moving away from commercial fertilizers. Manure provides important nutrients, improves texture, and increases soils’ water-holding capacity. However, like anything else in gardening, manure isn’t always a perfect solution. Here are a few things you should know if you’re considering using manure on your garden.

Using Manure Properly

Manure may be full of nutrients, but it can also contain bacteria. Some of the bacteria in manure can be transmitted to humans via vegetables if it’s not properly handled and applied to the garden. While many small gardeners feel perfectly safe using manure, especially from their own livestock, you should still generally avoid using fresh manure around crops that may come into contact with the soil.

If you’re looking for good guidelines, the USDA National Organic Program has standards for handling fresh manure. These are especially important if you sell or hope to sell some of your produce.

USDA National Organic Program (NOP) Standards

The NOP has specific rules for when growers may apply non-composted manure to their gardens.

If you’re using manure on crops with an edible portion that may come into contact with the soil, you must apply the fresh manure 120 days before harvest. This rule includes vegetables that come into direct contact with the soil, like carrots and melons, and those that may come into contact with it from irrigation or rain splash, including leafy greens, peas, and beans.

Fresh manure can be incorporated into the soil up to 90 days before harvest for crops that don’t have an edible portion that touches the soil, like tree fruits and sweet corn.

Note that the 90- and 120-day restrictions apply only to food crops; they do not apply to fiber crops, cover crops, or crops used as livestock feed.

Avoid Run-Off

When applying fresh manure to gardens, you also want to avoid run-off. Manure running into local streams, storm drains, and other waterways can lead to excessive amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients in the water, which may cause toxic algal blooms. To help prevent and control run-off, you can plant cover crops, better incorporate the manure into the soil, and create berms or swales.

Composting Manure

Alternatively, you can compost your manure. To kill bacteria and pathogens in compost, you’ll need reasonably high composting temperatures, between 131-170°F (54-60°C), for several days. These temperatures will also kill parasites, weed seeds, and harmful fungi.

Herbicide Contaminated Manure

The widespread use of commercial herbicides has also presented another issue for gardeners. Manure from animals that have eaten hay or forage from fields that were treated with aminopyralid or related herbicides like clopyralid or picloram may be contaminated. Animals’ digestive systems do not filter these chemicals out. Therefore, adding their manure to gardens can severely damage legumes like beans and peas, solanaceous crops like tomatoes and peppers, and other broadleaf crops. You can check for herbicide residues at home with a bioassay test.

Seedlings (manure post)Bioassay Test

You’ll need 6 to 10 pots and seeds or seedlings to conduct a bioassay test. In its simplest form, you will check and see how seedlings grow in soil you know to be safe compared with how seedlings grow in soil mixed with the unknown manure.

Fill half of the pots with soil you know is good quality and free from herbicides, like soil from your own garden. Fill the other half of the pots with a one-to-one mixture of soil and manure. When you collect manure for this, take samples from different areas and depths in the pile and mix them together.

Then plant the same type of seed or transplant the same age and type of seedling in each pot. Observe their growth over the next three weeks. Make notes on the plant’s overall growth, including the leaves and roots. Watch for signs of stunted growth, discoloration, abnormal growth, curled leaves, root swelling, or stunting.

The North Carolina Extension Agency has further instructions for Bioassay tests and a helpful table covering some recommended bioassay species for residual herbicides and the expected injury symptoms.

Can I Use Pet Waste?

No, you should not use pet waste in the garden or compost it for use in the garden. Waste from cats and dogs may contain heavy metals, bacteria like E. Coli and Salmonella, as well as parasites like tapeworms and ringworms. 

If you need to get rid of pet waste, make a separate compost pile, and don’t use it on the garden.

If you have a pet rabbit, their waste is safe for the garden as long as you use compostable litter.

Can I Use Human Waste?

It sounds weird, as most of us in the United States have modern plumbing, but the idea of using human waste on crops isn’t new. Until about 400 years ago, adding human waste back to the soil was commonplace.

Today, this practice is mostly followed by off-grid and sustainability enthusiasts. If you’re interested in these topics, you may have heard of “The Humane Handbook,” written by Joseph Jenkins in 1995, which helped to make waste composting systems more popular.

If properly managed, human waste can be safely composted and used. That said, you’ll need to be set up for it. Even then, you should only use human waste when it’s fully composted and only use it around fruit trees and ornamental plantings.

Manure is a wonderful garden amendment when handled properly. If you want to use manure in your garden, follow these steps to ensure it doesn’t contaminate your garden with herbicides or bacteria.

Using Manure in the Garden

It’s now believed that farmers have been using manure to fertilize their crops for at least 8000 years! Spreading manure on fields and gardens to increase soil fertility has long been common, especially when most folks were keeping livestock. Today, it can be more tricky. So whether you’ve got your own backyard farm or not, here are a few things you should know about using manure in the garden. 


  • It’s full of nutrients! Manure is an excellent source of primary plant nutrients nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It also includes secondary nutrients; calcium, magnesium, and sulfur that may not be found in commercial garden fertilizers.
  • Manure adds organic matter and improves soil structure. This allows optimum root growth and increases the soil’s ability to hold moisture.
  • You can often find manure for free or use your own from your own livestock.


  • Fresh manure can contain bacteria that can contaminate crops and make you sick.
  • It often contains weed seeds.
  • It may contain pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals.
  • Fresh manure contains high levels of nitrogen, ammonia, and salts which can burn crops. 

Sourcing Good Manure

If you own livestock, using their manure is the best choice. To fertilize your garden, you can use chicken, goat, cow, horse, rabbit, and other livestock manure. Avoid cat and dog waste as their feces can contain toxins and heavy metals that will remain in your garden. 

If you don’t own animals, it may be possible to source manure from a local farm. However, you may want to ask some questions. Herbicides can stay in manure and ruin your garden, so it’s essential to ask if the animals were allowed to graze where an herbicide was sprayed. 

It’s also worth noting that not all animal manures are the same. Manure from herbivores like horses and cows has a lower nitrogen to carbon ratio than omnivore manure like that from pigs and chickens. Therefore herbivore manure won’t burn your crops even if it’s fresh. You should also note that horses don’t digest seeds, so horse manure will have more weed seeds in it. 

Composting Manure

Some of the “cons” of manure are easily taken care of by composting it. Composting your manure will kill any bacteria and allow it to mellow, so it’s not high in nitrogen, ammonia, or salts and won’t burn your crops. A good, hot compost pile can also render weed seed inviable. 

To compost manure, you’ll want to follow the same techniques we discussed in Black Gold: Making Compost. Mix your nitrogen-rich manure with good sources of carbon such as old leaves, straw, or shredded paper; alternate layers as you build your pile. Keep the pile moist and turn it over every few weeks to encourage aerobic decomposition. It’s ready when it looks like black, crumbly soil and is no longer hot or smelly. 

You can apply composted manure to the garden the same way you use your regular compost. Spread a few inches on a bed before planting, add it to homemade potting mixes, or side-dress crops. 

Aging Manure

Your other option is to age manure rather than compost it. It’s exactly like what it sounds. You pile it and leave it. This process can take longer than composting, particularly if you’re starting with manure that’s high in nitrogen, like pig manure. 

Applying Fresh Manure

If you want to apply fresh manure, you need to select “cool” manure like horse, cow, or rabbit manure. Other manures, including goat, poultry, and pig, may burn your crops. Goat and sheep manure may be okay if it’s mixed in with carbon-rich bedding like straw or hay.

One of the safest ways to use fresh manure is to follow the USDA National Organic Program Guidelines. They state that if the crop may come into contact with the soil, whether it’s touching them directly like with beets or splashing on them like with Swiss chard or cucumbers, it must be applied 120 prior to harvest. If the crop won’t be in contact with the soil like corn or dry beans, the manure must be applied 90 days prior to harvest. 

It’s a long time! This timeframe keeps crops safe from bacterial contamination such as E. coli and Salmonella. However, many home gardens don’t feel the need to follow such stringent guidelines. Just make sure you wash your veggies well if there’s a chance they’ve come into contact with the manure, especially if you don’t know where the manure came from.

Can You Use “Humanure?”

Using composted human waste to fertilize crops used to be common throughout much of the world. Composting human waste can reduce pollution and water consumption. Setting up a composting toilet is also much easier and cost-effective than installing a septic system and is a popular choice for off-grid and tiny homes. 

So is it safe? Yes, when done correctly. There are a number of fairly basic considerations to composting human waste. For example, you want to ensure your compost bins aren’t on wet ground or somewhere they could contaminate ground or surface water. You should also compost your waste for a year before use, and you should use it around fruit trees, berry bushes, and ornamental plants where it won’t get on food crops. Modern Farmer has a more detailed piece on humanure you can find here.


Pros and Cons of Gardening with Ducks

Animals are part of any natural ecosystem. Adding small livestock to your garden can provide a host of benefits. One great option is ducks. However, there are pros and cons to adding ducks to your garden.


They’re great at slug patrol.

Having a couple ducks roam through your garden is one of the easiest ways to deal with your slug problem. They love slugs! They’ll happily wander around keeping your plants or mushrooms slug-free. They’ll also eat a host of other pests. 

They don’t scratch like chickens.

Unlike chickens, ducks don’t scratch to forage for food. While chickens are helpful to turn over a plot after or before the growing season they can be destructive to plants in the garden. Their vigorous efforts tear up roots and shorter plants. Ducks on the other hand simply plod flat-footed through the garden. They’re generally not destructive. However, they may eat or trample seedlings and some greens. 

They provide fertility.

Ducks obviously produce manure which is an excellent source of fertility for the garden. If they’re allowed to roam the garden during the day they’ll add fertilizer as they go. Ducks should be kept in a coop at night and you can compost the manure/bedding from their coop.

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They need a water source.

Ducks need a water source big enough for them to bath in. It helps keep their feathers in good condition. Muscovy ducks, native to South America, need less water than other breeds but still benefit from being able to bath.

They’re noisy.

I’ve heard some people claim that ducks are a quiet alternative to chickens but in my experience it isn’t true. Ducks quacking can rival a rooster’s crow. They may not be a great choice if you have close neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate barnyard noise.

They need a coop, space, and other care.

Ducks aren’t free. You’ll need to build or buy a sturdy coop, predator proof coop as well as feed. You’ll also need to care for them at least twice a day all year round which can make it tougher to leave for family vacations. The more space you can offer them to roam the happier they’ll be/

They can be destructive. 

They’ll dabble in wet areas adding to any mud problems you may have. As mentioned above they can also destroy small plants and won’t hesitate to sample your lettuce!

If you decide to add ducks to your garden system consider the pros and cons. They can be very helpful and rewarding but they still require money, time, and patience.