The Manure Maker

Oh how we love our manure maker. Her name is Coco, and her poo turns to garden gold.

Coco has been part of our family since 2014, when we inherited her from a neighbor. Soon we learned how to be backyard horse keepers.

Coco likes to eat a LOT. I was planning to ride her, but she was planning to eat.

How I use horse manure in the garden

People seem to have strong points of view on horse manure and when you can use it. For example, one gardening friend warned me to “age” horse manure for six months before using it, while another said she drops fresh manure right onto her roses and they love it. I did the same and found that my roses like fresh manure too. The danger of using fresh manure is that it could put too much nitrogen into your soil, burning roots or boosting growth without flowering. However, our roses seem cool with it.

When it comes to vegetables, I typically integrate manure into our compost pile first. For vegetables, I use manure two ways:

  1. Use manure to fill the bottoms of raised garden beds. My husband built some amazing raised beds for our vegetables, and he built them about three feet tall so I can sit while gardening. Having tall beds meant I needed LOT of soil to fill them, so I dumped a ton of horse manure to fill them up. I didn’t want to plant veggies in pure horse manure, however, so for the upper portion of raised beds, I usually splurge on a mixture of 420 or Ocean Forest soil plus chicken manure and worm castings. Sometimes I’ll work in some peat moss and perlite as well. Since I’m constantly constructing new raised beds that I need to fill, it’s a great benefit to have free horse manure.
  2. Compost manure and use the compost to feed vegetables. I also add manure to our compost piles, which contain kitchen scraps and trimmings of plants I’ve pruned as well. Once in a while I water the piles and move the contents around and it seems to all break down pretty well. I use compost either as part of my planting mix or as “side dressing,” meaning I add it to the base of growing plants so it can act as mulch and nutrition.
Coco has two close friends, South African Boer goats named Tonya and Lizzie. The goats are pretty big–200+ pounds each–as they’re a breed grown for their meat (vs. milk). We keep them as pets and as companions for Coco.

Benefits of horse manure

If you’re going to use horse manure, it will boost your soil in several ways:

  • Manure breaks up compact soils.
  • Manure helps sandy soils hold moisture.
  • Manure as mulch is a slow-release fertilizer.
  • Manure is nitrogen-rich, which is beneficial for nitrogen-loving plants.
Coco is famous. She once walked up to my home-office window and joined my video conference. My colleague pitched the story to BBC News, where Coco got her 15 minutes of fame.

A few things to look out for

It’s a good idea to know where your manure comes from. Some of Coco’s manure goes to an organic farm, which means we’ve had to verify what she consumes, confirming for example that she doesn’t take anti-biotics. Horse manure can also contain too much salt if the “source horse” consumes a lot of salt licks. Coco’s diet includes two types of hay, rice bran, flaxseed oil and two types of supplements from SmartPak as well as the occasional carrot or apple. We hope that she absorbs most of this nutrition but wouldn’t mind if a little of the non-absorbed supplements passed into her manure and added value to our soil as well.

What are your experiences with manure? Do you have tips or best practices on how to use it?

Also, if you need horse manure, let me know. In addition to offering Coco-poo for free to local gardeners, we have friends and neighbors with horses who could do the same.