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Using Manures in Your Vegetable Garden: Basic Guide

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Using Manure in Your Vegetable Garden: Basic Guide

It is very beneficial to use manure in the vegetable garden. For centuries, farmers and gardeners have been using it as fertilizer to aid in the development of healthy crops.

What is Manure?

Manure refers to the organic matter that is commonly used to fertilize the land in organic farming practices. It comes from solid animal waste and/or the decomposed form of dead plants [1].

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

Additionally, chicken ‘poo’ and rabbit droppings (bunny berries) are other types. 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 which comes from plant waste.

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 works best.


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

Compost them with carbon-rich materials such as straw and leaves before applying them to the soil.

  • Horse manure is useful for some nitrogen-needy vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage, sprouts, broccoli, spinach, and chard. Beets benefit from high nitrogen too. It takes 3 to 4 months to age if conditions are ideal. Moreover, donkeys, zebra, and mules are of the same family as horses.
  • Chicken ‘poo’ is considered the best manure for the garden. Poultry manure, in general, contains Phosphorus, Nitrogen, Potassium, and other essential plant nutrients. Wait up to 12 months to use chicken manure compost on your vegetables.


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 around plants.

  • Cow manure is one of the most popular. It contains 3-2-1 NPK and is generally thought to work better when used as composted manure.
  • Sheep manure contains plenty of phosphorus and potassium. It is also one of the richest fertilizers and does not burn plants.
  • Rabbit manure (bunny berries) is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. Additionally, it is dry and odorless.
  • Alpaca and llama manures are rich soil conditioners that are free of weed seeds.
  • Goat manure is a great soil conditioner that is basically odorless. It is one of the best animal manures for healthy plants and soil.

Pet and Human Wastes

Poo from domestic pets and unprocessed human feces should never be used as fertilizer in vegetable garden soils.

They may contain parasites and disease-causing pathogens that can be imparted into the soil. Therefore, this is a no-no for vegetable growers.

Pig Waste

Pig slurry may carry salmonella, E. coli [2], and parasitic worms, so it’s best to avoid it.

Synthetic Fertilizers vs. Animal Sources

Animal dung is smelly, messy, and takes time to decompose and be useful. As a result, bags of synthetic fertilizers may be preferable.

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

Animal Sources vs. Plant-Based Fertilizers

One of the main disadvantages of fresh livestock manure is the risk of contamination in 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 [3].

Crops grown under or near manured soil surface are most susceptible to pathogenic contamination. As a result, you should only use the stuff if it is composted or aged.

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 Animal Manure for Growing Vegetables

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

However, using it fresh is not the best option. It may contain harmful pathogens, weeds, or insect pests. It may also 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.

For vegetables and crops, work the manure into the soil many weeks before harvest to provide nutrients and avoid tainted plants. You can also make a ‘tea’ of a liquid/water solution which is easy to apply and very beneficial.

Adding to Compost

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


Crop residue and droppings or dung from animals 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 and tasty 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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