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Using Manures in Your Vegetable Garden: Basic Guide

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Using Manure in Your Vegetable Garden: Basic Guide

You can use manure to fertilize the vegetable garden. For centuries, farmers and gardeners have been using it to aid in the development of crops.

What is Manure?

Manure refers to organic matter that you can use to fertilize the soil. It is more widely used in organic gardening. Most manure is made up of animal dung and urine.

Manure adds nutrients to the soil. Farmyard animals such as cows, sheep, and goats provide a great deal of excrement. You can compost these to make organic fertilizer for gardens.

Chicken poop and rabbit droppings are other options. There is also donkey dung, llama beans, and horse dung.

Manure is high in essential plant nutrients such as nitrogen (N), potassium (K), and phosphorus (P) in varying amounts.

There is also green manure, where an entire fresh plant or plant part is incorporated into the soil as manure while still green [1].

Types of Animal Manure

Animal manure is classified as ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, depending on the nutrient content. However, you should not use fresh manure on plants. Well-aged manure works best.


Gardeners generally refer to those higher in nitrogen as “hot manures”. If not properly composted, these will burn plant roots.

Compost them with carbon-rich materials such as straw and leaves before applying them to the soil. Below are examples of hot manures.

  • Horse manure is useful for some nitrogen-needy vegetables such as kale, peppers, cucumbers, spinach, and okra. Tomatoes benefit from high nitrogen levels too. Horse dung takes 3 to 6 months to age. Donkeys, zebras, and mules are also of the same family as horses.
  • Chicken manure is considered very hot. Poultry manure, in general, contains Phosphorus, Nitrogen, Potassium, and other essential plant nutrients. It is safe to use chicken manure compost in your vegetable garden after a period of 6 to 12 months.


Cold manures release nutrients more slowly, and you can add them directly to the soil. However, it’s best to let them decompose a bit before applying them around plants.

  • Cow manure is one of the most popular cold manures. It contains NPK and other nutrients and is generally thought to work better when used as composted manure.
  • Sheep manure contains plenty of phosphorus and potassium, as well as other nutrients. It is also one of the richest fertilizers and does not burn plants.
  • Rabbit manure is rich in nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and minerals.
  • Alpaca and llama manures are rich soil conditioners that are free of weed seeds.
  • Goat manure is also a great soil conditioner, and it is basically odorless. Besides, it is one of the best animal manures for plants and soil.

Pet and Human Wastes

Some sources say you can compost waste from domestic pets like cats and dogs as long as you use poop from your own pets. Human waste is also a possibility if properly managed.

However, for hygienic reasons, our recommendation is that poop from domestic pets and unprocessed human feces should never be used as manure fertilizer in vegetable garden soils. They may contain parasites and bacteria that can make you sick if not properly managed [2, 3].

Pig Slurry 

Pig slurry may carry salmonella, E. coli [4], and parasitic worms, so it’s best to avoid it.

Synthetic Fertilizers vs. Manure

Animal dung can be smelly and messy, and it takes time to decompose. As a result, some farmers prefer synthetic fertilizers.

However, synthetic fertilizers do not impart organic compounds into the soil that help retain moisture, improve drainage, and encourage microbial activity.

Synthetic fertilizers feed the plant, while organic fertilizers feed both the soil and the plant.

Animal Manure vs. Plant-Based Fertilizers

One of the main disadvantages of fresh livestock manure is the risk of contamination for edible plants.

Animal dung may contain potentially dangerous pathogens like E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. If it touches food through improper handling, foodborne illnesses could result [5].

Crops grown under or near manured soil surfaces are most susceptible to pathogenic contamination. As a result, only use composted or well-aged manure.

Plant-based fertilizers such as hay, kelp & seaweed, or green compost reduce these risks. There’s also green manure from cover crops. These are crops or crop parts that are uprooted and left to wither to return to the ground naturally or dug in to enrich the soil.

Cover crops like ryegrass, alfalfa, and certain clovers can add valuable nutrients to the soil as they break down. They also help improve soil structure and promote good drainage.

How to Use Manure for Growing Vegetables

There are two ways to use manure in the vegetable patch. Applied directly to the ground or composted and incorporated into the soil.

However, using it fresh and raw is not the best option. It may contain harmful pathogens, weeds, or insect pests. It can also burn plants and may be unpleasant to transport and offensively smelly, attracting even more pests.

Farmers spread fresh ‘dung’ on fields or pile it up, but leave it to decompose. When you leave it to dry and ‘age’, the odor will diminish. It will also be easier to transport and less likely to cause contamination or burn plants.

Work aged manure into the soil about two weeks before transplanting seedlings. You can also make a ‘tea’ of a liquid or water solution, which is easy to apply and very beneficial.

Adding to the Compost

Compost on its own may not have sufficient nutrients for all crops to thrive. Therefore, a mix of compost and aged manure is the ideal combination and base for growing organic vegetables successfully.


Crop residue and animal droppings or dung have been composted to produce healthy plant fertilizers. This type of fertilization is regularly and successfully employed in organic agriculture. Using manure correctly can help promote healthy plants.

Andre Campbell

Organic farmer and co-founder of Dre Campbell Farm. He appreciates everything in nature—sunshine, plants, animals, and human life.

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