National Cow Chip Day isn’t some kind of big secret. This important national holiday–celebrated on April 19th–is usually marked by all kind of festivals. The humble cow chip certainly deserves the attention, too. Without it, the abundance we enjoy from everyplace from our nations largest farms to our smallest backyard gardens would be greatly diminished. The nutrients it provides to the soils where we grow our food is vital to the continued renewal of many of our most important natural resources. So let’s tip our hats while we wrinkle our noses to our friend, the cow chip, and pay homage to it in all its fragrant forms. [photo via pixabay]
For many small backyard gardens, fresh manure is a good choice of fertilizer owing to its abundance of cellulose decomposing bacteria and fresh digestive enzymatic properties. The enzymes actually accelerate the decomposition process on organic materials resulting in a faster release of nutrient to the plants.
The one disadvantage to fresh manure is its acidic quality that may prove volatile to sensitive, growing plant roots. To get the most out of fresh manure, consider one of these three options:
- Apply it to a section of unused space in your garden to use later as sheet compost
- Mix it well into tilled soil 30 days before planting
- Use it in a conventional compost pile.
As cow manure ages, the nutrient value changes. Manure that has been allowed to heat up in the sun loses much of its nitrogen as is dissipates as ammonia. The digestive enzymes mentioned earlier will also be almost completely destroyed. Manure that has been dried also loses most of its enzymatic material.
Fortunately, nutrients are only a small part of the usefulness of cow manure. Of all the types of manure commonly used as vegetable fertilizer, cow manure supplies one of the highest amounts of useful organic material, second only to horse manure. Cow manure is less expensive and does an excellent job of conditioning the soil to be uniformly fertile making it the most practical and effective option for a vibrant garden and bountiful harvest.
Applying Manure to Your Garden
To get the most effective use out of your fertilizer, you need to know how to apply it. For starters, you should plan to apply somewhere between 25 and 100 pounds of manure per 100 square feet. The more you apply, the better overall effect it will have on the soil structure.
While there are at least three distinct methods for applying cow manure (sheet composting, broadcast and side dressing), sheet composting is the most uniformly effective and allows you to use either fresh or dried manure. Apply the fertilizer in the fall as part of a sheet composting mixture and leave it alone over winter. When the ground thaws, till it into the top six inches of soil. 25-50 pounds of manure per 100 square feet will yield a nutrient-rich soil that will last the entire growing season. For new gardens, the broadcast method is a fast, effective way to spread fertilizer and till it in as few as 30 days before planting.