Everything Manure: Making Your Own Manure Compost
I have written quite a few articles about making your own compost using your kitchen garbage, manure, leaves and other carbonaceous wastes. In my last article Composted Cow Manure and The Commando Garden I wrote about composted cow manure and how to use it as a stand in when all of your home made compost is gone. I make my own manure compost piles because I acquire great piles of manure and I need to be able to keep it on my property without offending whichever neighbor is down wind. My husband says that makes me a pilot.
My manure composting area was recently cut out of the woods, so when I make a new pile I put down some cardboard to help keep things from growing up into the manure compost piles.
Once the cardboard is down I pile the manure onto it and I cover it over well with straw, water it once and walk away.
The manure begins to break down and change very quickly, and in no time I find earthworms and other compost invertebrates working the manure piles when I dig down into them.
How big the piles are and their dimensions is relative to how much manure I acquire, and how much cardboard I have.
I like the cardboard to stick out a little beyond the pile to keep the grass away. Grass gets very excited when it finds a manure pile and will try to climb it. The cardboard will not last very long beneath the manure, but it breaks down more slowly outside of the pile and so helps keep the grass from coming up the edges.
It is ok to pile the manure very high. My piles are often 10 feet long by 5 feet wide and 3 feet high. I don’t add any carbonaceous wastes except for the cardboard below and the straw above. You can add leaves or old hay, or even sawdust if you want, but if you are getting stable scrapings the carbonaceous wastes are already included in the form of stable bedding like pine flake or straw and feed wastes like hay. I still don’t add carbonaceous wastes to my manure piles even when they are pasture scrapings, and therefore free of carbonaceous wastes because although I am glad that the piles breakdown a bit before I use them I am still using them as manure rather than compost. I either build that manure into my no dig garden, or I add it into my compost piles when they need a green or nitrogen rich ingredient, or I use it to fertilize fruit trees sandwiching it between the old mulch and a new layer of mulch above.
How long it will take for your manure pile to become soil, and worthy of planting into is not so easy to predict. Some of the factors that affect the speed of breakdown are what type of manure you acquired, how old the manure is when you first pile it up, weather conditions around the pile, and how deep the pile is. Cow manure can take a full year of composting before it is mellow enough to grow into, while horse manure will cool off faster. Wet weather will speed the breakdown of the pile. Deeper piles will break down more slowly. Piles of old manure mixed with hot manure will help the hot manure to break down more quickly.
If you are not sure your composted manure is ready to grow into you can test it. Clear off some straw, make a depression and plant some seeds into it. If they sprout and thrive it’s probably ready. If you get yellow colored sprouts the manure compost is still too hot. Remember, the longer a compost pile sits the greater number of beneficial soil organisms it supports. This is called curing. Beneficial soil organisms are absolutely necessary for plant health, so give your composted manure piles lots of time to cure. You might also consider adding your composted manure into your kitchen/yard compost pile.
Now go out there and pile it on!