PhotoYou can spend a good chunk of money on fertilized soil with all kinds of toxins in it and watch your garden grow. And it will but you are putting all those chemicals in the soil.

You can also find some barnyard animals that have left a few droppings from their behinds and watch your garden blossom like it was on steroids. Manure is known as gardener’s gold but there are some things to know about it.

Here is the lowdown on manure and why it's so special. It consists of three basic elements critical to plant health: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. 

Nitrogen allows plants to produce the proteins needed to build living tissue for green stems, strong roots, and lots of leaves. Phosphorus helps move energy throughout the plant, especially important in maturing plants. Potassium aids plants in adapting sugars needed in growth and is especially helpful in root crops.

Together, these three elements form that magic formula, N-P-K, the backbone of all fertilizers, man-made or organic.

Manure inequality

Not all animal manures are equal. They don't all hold the same combinations or levels of nutrients. Chicken manure, for example, is especially high in ammonia, phosphorous and nitrogen. Even decomposed, it can damage tender plant roots.

All animals produce manure, but only livestock produce it in sufficient quantity and in a limited enough location to be of use to gardeners. And in case you’re wondering, it’s not a good idea to use manure from household animals like dogs and cats. Their feces are more likely to contain pathogens harmful to humans. Stick with the droppings from barnyard animals. 

Know that using manure is not a overnight process. It actually is something that needs a little time to sit and stew. It's very similar to a recipe. You’ll need to do some composting before applying it to your plants. How long depends on the type of manure and the season.

Add the manure slowly to your compost pile over several days or weeks, allowing plenty of air to circulate in the compost bin. Add other organic matter like grass clippings and leaves to break up the manure and speed curing. It’s more a food safety issue rather than a nutrient issue. We've all seen the outbreaks of E. coli over the past couple of years. A good rule of thumb is spread it for at least 60 days before you plant.

If you aren't lucky enough to have barnyard animals in your yard, you might be wondering how you find this gold substance. Look online for people selling livestock. Craigslist has a farm and garden section. Tell them you will come haul it away for them. Or if you really want to be a manure over-achiever tell them you will muck the stalls for them in exchange for taking the manure. That is pretty hard to say no to if you are on the other end.

Remember to wash all of your vegetables thoroughly before eating them.

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