Gardeners use many materials to encourage the growth of foliage and the development of fruit. Fertilizers of different proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are often recommended. For those who prefer more natural soil conditioning and fertilizing agents, compost and manure are among the first choices. These two material are totally organic, relatively inexpensive, and do not hurt the environment when they run off into nearby streams and rivers. While both are effective as soil amendments, they are formulated--and used--differently.
What Is Compost?
Compost is the product of decomposed organic material. It is a fluffy, humus-like material that is the end result of a specific method of processing yard trimmings, wood chips, paper products, and other materials. Compost is created by natural decomposition and chemical processes. Adding compost supplies nutrients that are essential for plant growth. Compost is also a good soil amendment, adding density, increasing porosity and reducing compaction.
How Is Compost Made?
A bin or container is used to hold the composting ingredients. For backyard gardeners, a 3-by-3-by-3-foot container that allows air to circulate is sufficient. A mixture of brown agents like dried leaves, twigs or straw is added to a mixture of green ingredients like grass clipping, kitchen scraps or coffee grounds in a 2 to 1 ratio. This mixture is kept moist to about the consistency of a wrung-out sponge, the mixture is turned regularly. Turning it will prevent it from creating foul odors. When this mixture looks and smells like rich topsoil, it is ready to be used in the garden.
What Is Manure?
Manure contains feces, urine, spilled feed, bedding and runoff from livestock. It also improves soil texture, aeration, water filtration ability and ability to hold moisture. Manure must be processed to remove E. coli and other contaminants so that it is safe to use. This can be done commercially with heat, or it can be done through a composting process in which the manure is mixed with straw or animal bedding and allowed to heat to 130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It must cure for 45 to 60 days before using.
What Are the Best Sources of Manure?
Chicken manure is considered a rich source of nutrients. Steer manure is less nutrient-rich. Cat, dog and pig manure should be avoided because parasites can be transmitted.
How to Use Compost in the Garden
Compost is effective in gardens as a mulch material on the surface. It can also be worked gently into the topsoil to improve texture and moisture holding ability. If it is laid on top of lawns, it settles into the soil.
How to Use Manure in the Garden
Processed manure is added to garden soil by spreading it on the surface or working it gently into the soil.