Dung Dilemma

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This week on the plot we’ve been experiencing a rookie dilemma. Every now and then, a large pile of fresh horse manure is deposited at the gates of the allotments, for communal use in our plots. Not particularly au fait with the how’s and where’s of horse poo, we took a look around the other plots and followed our fellow allotmenteers by digging a fair quantity into our large bed, which is yet to be planted. This bed is awaiting some of our veg when they get a little bigger. We also put some fresh manure in the bottom of each of our ‘raised baths’ before planting them a couple of months ago – the crops in which (Shallots, Onions, Spring Onions, Garlic, Leeks) are growing rather rapidly !

This week however, I stumbled across an article in a local magazine, which discussed the dangers of using fresh manure directly into beds being used to grow crops – firstly the risk of ‘burning’ crops with the high nitrogen and ammonia content of the manure, and secondly (and rather more worryingly), the risk of picking up serious nasties such as E coli from the veggies grown in soil containing it.

What ensued was an hour long conversation about dung and a restless night (I kid you not !) The following day, Mr O and I took to Google to try and discover the real risk of this and what we should do. Should we rake the dung back up (requiring lots of effort and the nagging worry of leaving some nasties behind), should we cover the bed and let it overwinter (wasting a whole big bed worth of space in our allotment and lots of seedlings with no homes to go to), or should we just throw caution to the wind (risking being very poorly indeed) ?!

The answers on the myriad of websites we visited were very variable – many advised to only ever consider using horse manure that had been well rotted down in a compost heap, some suggested that it was okay to use it if you did so in the winter, leaving it for several months before planting the following spring / summer. At the other end of the spectrum, many writers exhorted the benefits of using fresh dung, with many an anecdote about years gone by, when people used to scramble to scoop up fresh horse poo in the roads, to use directly on the veggies grown in their back yards.

The only definitive advice we could find was that from the (albeit American) Department of Agriculture, who give farmers specific guidelines on this subject. These are that if using fresh manure on your plot, you must leave at least 120 days between putting it on the land to harvesting root crops, or 90 days for crops that grow on top of the soil (their words, not mine !) I believe this varies slightly depending on your exact circumstances, but what I gleaned from this is that if we ‘layeth the dung’ in April, we should survive as long as we don’t harvest until September at the earliest. The crops will of course need to be washed and cooked thoroughly once harvested. This should be fine for the crops we intend to grow in this area, so Mr O and I have breathed (half) a sigh of relief.

Of course, there’s still that nagging doubt … the idea of ‘growing our own’ was so we knew our harvest was fresh and unpolluted – not to risk E coli ! And what if we proudly give some of our veggies to friends and family ? Do we just give them to ones we don’t like ?! We’d be interested in any wise words on this subject – please add your two-penneth to the debate – to fresh dung or not to fresh dung, that is the question !

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. nicky says:

    Was your use of the word ‘nagging’ a clever pun (‘nag’ ie ‘horse’-get it?) or just pure coincidence?
    Sorry, haven’t got any pearls of wisdom- just hope we’re on your ‘like list’ when your distribute your harvest to friends and family!!x

    1. The use of ‘nag’ wasn’t intentional – must have been a subliminal pun ! Don’t worry, we’ll make sure everything is safe and edible before sharing any of our harvest !

  2. sarasinart says:

    I grow small amounts of things in my garden cos I’m getting old, lol. A farmer friend delivers horse manure to me, old stuff, cos he swears that the fresh stuff burns many plants. He’s been growing stuff a long time and keeping horses a loog time too, so I’ll take his word for it. There’s 2 penneth’s worth……….Good blog!

    1. Thanks for your comment – I think it’s best to take advice from those who have ‘been there and done it’ – after all, they’re still here to tell the tale !

      1. sarasinart says:

        You’re welcome. Your comment about fresh manure jumped right out at me. Good luck!

  3. Poop that has been left for a bit, and is no longer ‘hot’ tends to be most useful. It doesn’t look like ‘fresh’ poop earlier. It has a more soil like consistency. What I mean by left for a bit, is debateable. There are those gardeners who believe that you should only use the poop after a number of years, others would argue for a matter of months. The other issue, that you need to be aware of; is poop that might contain aminopyrlidsomething or other. A weedkiller of sorts that is applied to straw that horses eat and then naturally deposit as it were. I have used the poop that Pops and I got from the local stables for potatoes. So we shall see if we have any decent ‘tatos!

    1. Thanks for your comment. The manure that we’ve got looks somewhere in between – not ‘hot’ (i.e fresh and steamy) but not dark brown and composted either – it’s lumpy, but some of it is quite crumbly and straw-like. Never knew I’d have so much to say about cow poo – how delightful ! As for the weedkiller issue – it seems we just don’t know what is actually in the manure in terms of chemicals etc that the horses have been exposed to. I think we’ll be steering clear of it next year !

  4. gardeningvix says:

    I’ve noticed it does scorch plants! But only were the leaves actually touch the manure. In winter I spread barrows and barrows of it all over the allotment as a very thick mulch and dig it all in during spring. Don’t lose sleep over it though, I’m sure you will be fine!

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