It’s that time of year when people are out getting their gardens going. One of the questions I’ve seen asked a number of times is how to compost horse manure. Horse Manure is one of the best types of fertilizer you can add to your garden and is called “Garden Gold” by a number of people. Horse manure can be very effective in your garden if its composted properly. In this article we discuss that very thing and give you a step by step process on how to compost your horse manure so it will supercharge your garden this year.
How long does it take?
Horse manure takes between 4 and 6 weeks to fully compost to the point where you can add it to your garden. It’s not a good idea to use fresh manure as it can burn the roots of your plants.
If you are starting a new garden that you don’t plan to use for several months, then you could spread fresh horse manure on it. But, composting the manure before using it is the best idea. Although horse manure contain less nitrogen than poultry or sheep manure, they can still damage young plants. Fresh manure also attracts flies and has a strong odor, and manure runoff can pollute nearby streams and lakes.
Horse manure is very easy to compost and takes about 4 to 6 weeks to turn from stable waste into garden gold if it’s done properly. Composting does take a bit of work but it can pay off big time come harvest season. Constructing a small pile of 3 by 3 and 3 to 4 feet high helps the process to go much faster. A purchased or constructed bin helps keep the contents in place. Moisture is also necessary for composting, so if it hasn’t rained in a week or more, spray the pile with a garden hose until you dampen the material slightly to the consistency of a well-wrung out sponge. If you have accidently over-watered then you can add some dried leaves to the pile.
Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio
The most important part of the composting process is the carbon to nitrogen ration. This is what allows you to turn fresh horse manure and bedding into finished compost in a few weeks. Layering the manure with dried leaves allows the air to flow freely and keeps the pile from smelling too bad. The ratio for horse manure is 15 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, so for every inch of horse manure added to the pile, add a 15-inch layer of high carbon material, such as dried plants or leaves.
Turning up the heat
To go from fresh horse manure and bedding to finished compost in a month, make sure the pile gets enough oxygen. Turning the pile, ideally about three times per week, adds oxygen that speeds up the composting process. A properly built compost pile heats up to 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit as it works. When the pile no longer feels hot and the composted manure resembles dark brown garden soil, it is safe to use on your garden.
Fresh manure transforms a cold frame for over-wintering plants into a hot frame where you can grow vegetables and plants even in the middle of winter. Cold frames, small garden enclosures covered by windows or heavy plastic lids, only keep plants from dying in freezing temperatures, but do NOT encourage plant growth. To make a hot frame, dig a two-foot hold underneath the frame, add about four inches of gravel for drainage, one foot of horse manure, tapped down and moistened with water, and six inches of garden soil. Check the temperature of the soil with a soil thermometer, and place your plants in the hot frame when the temperature registeres between 70 and 75 F.
Word of Caution
Hot compost piles can catch on fire, so make sure that you locate your pile away from buildings or combustible materials. Do not smoke near a compost pile, and if the contents begin to smell like alcohol, DO NOT add water but instead turn the pile to give it more air.
What is Composting?
Composting is the process of allowing organic materials to decompose in a more or less controlled environment, so that the resulting material can be used as a beneficial soil additive. For gardeners and farmers, composting is an essential activity; it is easy to do, and makes use of large amounts of organic waste. Growing with compost allows you to recycle naturally. This can be a convenient option for your home’s farm.