Manure, from the proper sources, gives the average vegetable gardener a great opportunity to add much-needed nutrients back into the soil. I would also recommend that you brew a wonderful elixir called manure tea using seasoned manure from a reputable source. We’ll cover manure tea sometime in the future.
Manure is organic matter that contains large amounts of nutrients for your vegetable plants, such as nitrogen. As with everything, there is a good and a bad with using manure in your vegetable garden. Using dog, cat and human manure is bad and can be toxic to your plants as well as the ecosystem. Do not use these manures, ever. Good manure comes from sources such as cows, horses, chickens and other types of animals that are fed grain or grass.
Fresh manure that is less than 6 months old should not be applied directly to the garden or around your plants. It is best to wait until the end of the growing season to add fresh manure to the soil. Be sure to thoroughly incorporate the fresh manure into the soil. Now, if the manure has been seasoned, meaning it is typically older than 6 months, you can add it lightly around your plants. Typically it is good practice in a vegetable garden to add manure at least 4 -6 weeks prior to planting in the vegetable bed. This allows the manure to start releasing the nutrients as well as time for your friendly earthworms to find the manure where they will also help to break it down.
So where do you get manure? You could buy it at a local home or garden center, but why do that if you can get it for free from a local horse or cow farm. You can search on the internet for local horse or dairy farms. Many of these farms will offer to give the manure away as long as you have a way to load and transport it but usually there is a small fee charged if they offer to transport it.
You can sometimes find horse or dairy farms in Georgia advertising their free manure or manure compost on the Georgia Department of Agriculture Market Bulletin publication and website. Although this Market Bulletin is not free, I think it is well worth the $10 / year for a bi-weekly mailed publication ($11 is you order the subscription online). You can find more information about the Market Bulletin as well as upcoming Agriculture news and events @ http://agr.georgia.gov/