They knew their dung
In this post continuing our ongoing discussion of manure and compost, Michele quotes Roy McGuiness as saying, “While it’s all right to add manure directly to garden soil in fall (farmers do it all the time), I’ve found that cow, horse, and bird manure are best if composted first.”
That’s what I’ve always thought, but then I read this article in the LA Times, where Jeff Spurrier has these words about cow manure: “What you’re buying is a bag of dust,” says Alan Gill, a staff member at Sunset Nursery in Silver Lake. “The only thing retained are the uric acids and the salts, and it’s going to salinate your soil to the point where it can inhibit plant growth.” Horse manure, although more nutritional (and obtained free from local stables), is not much better. It has a high straw content and often is full of weed seeds.
And here I was congratulating myself on the lovely aged horse manure I get from an equestrian friend. There are two issues here: one (Michele’s) has to do with the danger of e. coli, while the LA Times article is simply questioning the efficacy of manure in helping to renew tired turf (it does not mention vegetables). I’m with Michele and her commenters; I am not worried about e coli. But the salty dust part gives me pause—a bit.
At the risk of pushing the envelope of fair use, I must also quote this lovely passage from the LA paper about the ancient Romans: They targeted and categorized everything: night soil, offal and droppings from cesspits, privies, stables, corrals, aviaries, coops, butchers, tanneries and barnyards. They collected hair from the barbers and hoof shavings from the blacksmith, mixing up a heady concoction of organic putrefaction. Their dung palette was indeed rich: human, donkey, horse, sheep, goat, cattle, pigs and domesticated and wild fowl.
I really have no donkey, horse, sheep, goat cow pig, chicken, or dog in this fight; I can take manure or leave it, but I do find it fascinating, and in the end, I think what was good for the Romans probably still holds. After all, they had a good run!