Raw cow manure is often too strong to apply directly to plants. It is high in nitrogen, and can burn foliage or kill plants completely. The manure also contains harmful components, such as E. coli, that can find their way onto garden produce and into your dinner. Composting manure before use reduces the potential that you will encounter these problems. In its composted form, cow manure can perform many helpful functions in the garden.
Spread the manure over the area in which you want to plant. This can be done by hand with a shovel or with a manure spreader. Spread the compost to a depth of 2 inches. Gardeners can complete this step in the fall before a spring planting or just before planting in the location. Adding organic matter to the garden improves the tilth of soils that have poor drainage and helps the soil hold nutrients, giving plants access to the nutrients slowly, over time as microbes consume the material.
Till or mix the compost into the soil before you add plants and seed. Dig and turn the soil by hand with a shovel or by using a tiller. Both the compost and the turning of the soil will allow air and water to more readily reach plant roots. According to the University of Massachusetts Extension Service, cow manure contains ammonia, which is converted in the soil to become nitrate. Finished manure slowly releases this nitrate over time, encouraging growth.
Add a thin layer of compost after you plant a bed of seeds. Wearing gloves, spread the compost by hand by sprinkling it over the area until it just covers the dirt. This will help feed the seedlings during a time of rapid growth.
Mix a batch of manure tea by soaking one shovel of manure in a 5-gallon bucket of water. Use the tea directly to water plants. The solids can be added to the garden in addition to the liquid or gardeners can retain the solids for use in multiple batches of tea. Discard the solids after three uses, or if the liquid begins to lose its rich brown-amber coloring.