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The Difference Between Compost and Manure

Gewürzgurken im Gewächshaus image by Ralph Klein from

Organic gardening relies on natural methods of fertilization and enhancing the soil. Both compost and manure have a role to play in organic gardening. Using these natural products is a cost-effective, sustainable way to grow healthier fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers and other plants. Those who are relatively new to gardening might wonder what the difference between the two is and how to make the most effective use of compost and manure.

Compost 101

Composting occurs naturally in the woods when dead leaves, plants and trees decompose and go back to the earth, creating a rich, healthy soil where new plants can thrive. It also occurs with a little human help when people decide to recycle material they would otherwise send to the landfill, such as yard waste and kitchen scraps. The type of composting you do at home goes much quicker than what occurs in nature, however. Instead of taking many years to break down, the material you compost at home breaks down in a few months' time. Using enhancers such as manure speeds up the process.

Manure as Fertilizer

Manure, of course, is animal feces. People sometimes spread manure alone on their garden plots, and that can be very effective in and of itself for increasing your yield. Horse, cow, sheep and poultry manure are commonly used this way. Straight manure is high in nitrogen, a main ingredient in commercial fertilizer. It will also contain traces of any food or pharmaceutical products the animal has ingested, which should also be a consideration, especially for organic gardening.

Concerns with Manure

There are other concerns with using straight manure. According the University of Minnesota Extension Service, you should not eat crops grown in areas where manure was applied until at least three months after application. Prior to that, pathogens present in manure, such as E.coli, can contaminate the food. Also, raw manure should not be applied under fruit trees where fruit will fall from the trees and come into contact with the manure. Manure used alone can also cause more weeds to grow in your garden because of weed seeds in the manure. Certain types of manure should not be used in the garden such as dog, cat and human feces, which are not suitable for soil enhancement.

Compost Components

Compost can be made up of many ingredients. These include, but are not limited to, grass clippings, dead plants, mulched leaves, twigs and other yard waste; kitchen scraps such as banana peels, apple cores, orange and grapefruit rinds, rotting vegetables, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags; paper waste including newspaper, cardboard egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, shredded office paper; water and activators. The ingredients are combined in layers in a bin, allowed to ripen in the sun, and turned every couple of months. Over time, the materials break down and become compost, a natural soil enhancement product. The activators help the compost decompose more quickly. Several ingredients can be used as activators, including dried blood, lime, a scoop of dirt or compost, urine and manure.

Manure's Role in Compost

Manure, as mentioned, can be used as an activator for compost. Rabbit or poultry manure, as well as manure from larger animals such as horses, cows and sheep, are all effective activators. When combined with the other ingredients and heated, nitrogen from the manure is lost, so another fertilizer might be needed along with the compost. The dangers of using manure are minimized, however, since the heating process destroys most of the pathogens and kills the weeds.

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