Horse Manure Compost
Gardening Question from Dave:
I have a very reliable and steady source of horse manure (1 quarter horse, 1 draft horse and 1 shetland pony) and an equally reliable source of pine needles. Using the old compost addage “something green and something brown” can I combine the two to create useful compost?
Answer from Pat:
You are very lucky to have a steady supply of horse and pony manure, but I would not mix pine needles with the manure if I were you. This actually won’t create the correct green/brown mix (Ie: carbonaceous mixed with nitrogenous.) Straight horse manure, alone, (unmixed with anything) is close to the correct green/brown ratio already. One can just pile it on the ground and let it age and once aged it can then be combined into garden soil. In some cases stable bedding is included with the manure. Usually there is enough liquid nitrogenous stuff (horse urine) included with the bedding to sufficiently rot it in time, but this would not apply to pine needles. The needles most likely wouldn’t rot.
Since we are having such good rains right now it’s an ideal time to spread the clean manure directly onto the ground over the roots of plants you want to mulch and gradually feed. Let it age right there and dig it in in spring prior to planting. By spreading it right on top of the ground all the goodness of the manure will be washed down into the ground by these rains and not wasted on the ground under the manure pile. It also causes less runoff this way since it is less concentrated and there is more ground to hold the nutrients in the soil instead of letting them wash away. Spread the manure on top of any ground that you want to improve with organics, such as a vegetable garden or flowerbed or over the roots of fruit trees or ornamentals. There is no reason to add the pine needles to the manure.
In my book I describe a compost made from alfalfa and manure layered together. This combination is different from one using pine needles, since it makes a great quick compost which is ready in about two months. (As soon as it cools down and you can no longer see what went into it, it is ready.) You can then use it as mulch all over the garden or dig it right into the ground. The reason this works so well and makes such a nutritious compost so quickly is because alfalfa is not carbonaceous but green or nitrogenous waste. In fact alfalfa is a major source of nitrogen when used alone as fertilizer and it rots quickly in the ground. Pine needles, by contrast, have no nitrogen in them. They are pure carbonaceous material, and they have a hard coating and texture that means they take much longer to disintegrate. (It should be noted, however, that the needles of certain pine trees, such as Aleppo Pines, are smaller and thinner and rot quicker than those of other pines such as Torrey pine trees, whose needles take months or even years to rot.) Composting pine needles is usually a long process and they are also highly acid. The best use for pine needles in a garden is as a long-lasting mulch covering the root zones of acid-loving plants, such as azaleas and camellias. Some people like to make a separate compost pile for pine needles, simply leaving them piled up until they age. Then they can even be used in soil mixes for acid loving plants. Other folks use them on garden paths in woodland areas under trees and shrubs, or at the backs of wide flower beds, but always on top of the ground. They make a very clean, good looking path cover.
Photo by Tavallai