Manure’s allure

A chick sits on a bag of chicken manure. Many in the agriculture field value manure, setting it apart from commercial fertilizer for adding nutrients and organic material to soil. (CNJ Staff Photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

Chicken, horse, cow, bat and even human manure are nothing to turn your nose up at when it comes to soil enrichment, according to local gardening experts.

Using manure for gardening and lawn care is a timeless agriculture practice proponents swear by for its value in adding nutrients and organic material to soil.

What sets manure apart from commercial fertilizers is the organic component, according to Charles Guthal, owner of Guthal’s Nursery in Clovis.

Southwestern soil can lack organic content because of less natural composting compared with forested regions, Guthal explained.

When enriching soil through use of commercial products, nitrogen, phosphorous and potash are added. All can be found in manure with the added benefit of organic compounds from digested roughage, the lifelong gardener said.

Though he chooses to use his own mixture of blood and bone meal, potash and a decomposition catalyst to promote composting of dead plant matter from prior seasons, manure can achieve similar results and it’s natural, he said, emphasizing his preference for organic gardening.

“The bottom line is any time you put organic matter back into the soil in this part of the world, it’s good,” he said.

Curt Jaynes of Garden Source in Portales said he suggests two methods for applying manure. Tilling manure into the ground at the end of the season allows it to compost naturally through the winter, lending to a fertile start next season; or it can be applied to the top of the soil in existing lawns and gardens.

Jaynes advised caution with the latter method, explaining fresh manure can be higher in nitrates and phosphorus and inevitably burn plants. Used sparingly and combined with watering, the treatment can be done without damaging plants, he said.

With all the types of manure, Jaynes said his preference is based on local availability and personal experience.

“I prefer good old cow manure,” he said.

Manure history
1840s, Peru — Great deposits of saltpeter, in the form of eons of accumulated bird guano, or manure, were discovered on some Pacific islands off the coast. The guano made excellent fertilizer, and saltpeter is an essential ingredient for explosives. Harvesting the guano brought in a great deal of revenue for Peru. Spain seized the rich islands in 1864 until the Peruvians eventually drove them off. By 1874 the accumulated guano had been mostly harvested.


o Bat Guano — “Early civilizations guarded their guano deposits and anyone caught disturbing them could be punished by death. Guano has been mined in Texas since the 1800s but cheaper chemical fertilizers have almost destroyed this market. Confederate soldiers mined bat guano for saltpeter to make gunpowder. The U.S. government at one time even offered free land to those who found guano deposits and made it available to the public.”


o 1903, Carlsbad Caverns — A claim was filed for the cave’s bat guano, which made an excellent fertilizer because of its high nitrate content. This guano was mined for 20 years and sent to southern California by rail car to help in the planting of giant citrus groves. This mining ended because of the high cost of shipping and the fact that the fertilizer was so nitrate rich that it was similar to dynamite and would often spontaneously combust.


The elephants, man: Circus gives away product

Q: Ringling Brothers gives away elephant manure when the circus comes to Atlanta. Is pachyderm poop good for my garden? What is the best manure for gardening?

A: Assuming that the circus elephants are American born (there are no federal restrictions on their waste, although manure from imported animals must be burned or buried), elephant manure can be as useful as any other. However, we do not know the nutrient content. Horse manure is generally regarded as the best; it is rich in nitrogen and ferments easily. Cow or horse manure applied in the early spring is best for flower gardens; chicken, cow or horse manure applied in the spring and fall is best for vegetable gardens; cow or horse manure applied in the fall is best for potatoes or root crops. For acid-loving plants, cow or horse manure should be applied in the early fall or not at all. Never use fresh manure. Make sure it is aged or composted.

Source: Farmer’s Almanac, gardening question and answer archives:

Human waste

Waste is composted into a safe soil additive by the Clovis Wastewater treatment plant for use on city properties including school grounds, parks and golf courses, according to superintendent Durwood Billington.

Made from the bacteria used to consume human waste, Billington said the matter is cooked to about 150 degrees to kill harmful bacteria and then placed into a compost pile where it is “turned” or mixed daily for 15 days and then allowed to cure for a month, Billington said.

Do not try this at home. The process is heavily regulated and dangerous bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella are killed through the cooking process, Billington said.

The final product is a soil additive with a high humus content that smells like rich dirt, he said, explaining it is safe enough that he handles it with his bare hands and uses it in his own garden.

“I don’t have enough to go around. We save it all for the schools and parks,” he said.

All manure is not created equal

Experts classify manure as hot or cold, terms that have nothing to do with temperature.

Poultry manure is considered hot, containing more nitrogen and phosphorus than other types. A little goes a long way, Stan Jones, Curry County Extension agent said.

“It’s the best there is — there’s not any better fertilizer than chicken manure,” said Joe Rhodes of Joe’s Boot shop in Clovis. He said he carries refined chicken manure in his shop that runs about $16 for a 40-pound bag, which will cover around 1,000 square feet.

A 5-pound bag of “ChickyPoo” recently sold on eBay for $8.95. The seller boasted “an all-natural, organic way to fertilize gardens, lawns and/or plants. It is a unique compost of chicken litter and cotton gin extracts blended to maximize its fertilizing value.”