The first gardening question I received for 2013 was "Can I use chicken droppings for my garden?" This is a good question since more and more people have household flocks. A chicken produces about four ounces of manure each day, a valuable fertilizer for plants. Chicken manure contains the most plant nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur, of any animal manure.
However, the nutrients alone aren't all that make poultry manure valuable. It also builds up organic matter in the soil, makes the soil easier to manage and less likely to erode, helps it absorb water more efficiently, and improves microorganism activity. These are all good for improving plant health and yield.
• Using raw manure - wear gloves because it can harbor viruses, worm eggs or bacteria:
• Work manure into the soil as soon as you apply it to avoid losing nitrogen.
• Avoid applying manure to bare, frozen ground, or just before rain or snow to avoid losing nutrients and polluting surface waters.
• Do not apply raw manure close to harvest. If you want to use manure on vegetables, you may want to follow the USDA organic standards for timing your application for food safety reasons: 120 days between the addition of raw uncomposted manure and the harvest of a crop whose edible portion has contact with the soil and 90 days before for crops without direct contact.
• Manure may contain weed seeds.
• Raw manure may burn plants because fresh manure is "hot," meaning it is very high in nitrogen.
Advantages of composting manure:
• Composting converts nutrients into more stable forms, which are slowly released to plants and less easily lost.
• Composted manure tends to have a better nutrient balance than raw manure.
• Composting kills many weed seeds.
• Composting breaks down most hormones, antibiotics and pesticides found in manure (but concentrates any that aren't broken down).
• Composting at high temperatures kills most disease-causing organisms.
Research specialists at www.extension.org, the national Cooperative Extension website, recommend using a moderate application rate of 20 pounds of raw manure of laying hens per 100 square feet of garden. You can cut this rate in half to fertilize light feeding vegetables such as peas or beans and double it for heavy feeders such as onions, sweet corn or potatoes. You could also use the 20-pound rate per 100 square feet to fertilize flowerbeds, roses, shrubs and trees.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.