Few would expect it to impact gardening, but the war in Ukraine has caused a shift in crop growing around the world. As one of the largest exporters of nitrogen, potash and other important plant nutrients, Russia plays a crucial role in the agricultural sector. Without fertilizer, crop yield and quality are significantly reduced. This in turn has a direct impact on the global food supply. After the invasion of Ukraine, fertilizer prices more than doubled year after year, forcing many farmers to stop buying. Due to lower demand, prices have started to fall in recent weeks, but this has led to stockpiling and further volatility in the fertilizer market.
While the fertilizer shortage has not yet had a major impact on home gardeners, it does present an opportunity to explore alternatives to synthetic plant fertilizers. Whether it’s due to tight supplies, increased costs, or simply because you want to be more self-sufficient in feeding your lawn and garden, composted manure is worth considering for your gardening season of 2022 and beyond.
Feed your garden only what it needs
While most lawns and gardens will benefit from some type of fertilizer, it’s a good idea to know what yours actually needs. Start with a soil test. Test kits like this highly rated option available on Amazon — a favorite in our tested buyer’s guide — can be purchased online and at local garden centers, or get help from your local Cooperative Extension Service.
Determining soil nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) levels can help determine imbalances. Of course, plants need more than just these three macronutrients, and commercial fertilizers are designed to contain various combinations of NPK along with micronutrients to meet different plant needs.
Synthetic fertilizers tend to be cheaper, but they don’t contribute microorganisms to the soil, so they don’t last as long as organic fertilizers. When properly stored, plastics generally have an indefinite shelf life.
Organic fertilizers introduce microorganisms into the soil that improve soil quality over time. They tend to be more expensive and work slower, but are durable. Their shelf life is shorter than that of plastics.
Composted manure fertilizer alternatives
Compost — decomposed organic matter — is often viewed as a supplement rather than fertilizer because it can improve soil structure for better drainage, aeration, and moisture retention. While compost also contains beneficial microorganisms that contribute to better plant health and disease resistance, it may not contain the specific nutrients your plants are lacking.
Composted animal manure is a complete fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients. However, its NPK ratio depends on the parent animal. Otherwise, if you apply it in your garden, waste from local livestock will be used. While it’s readily available at garden centers and online, it’s also possible to make your own composted manure at home or get it from a local farm.
It is important for home improvement to thoroughly research the manure source and allow it to decompose for at least four months to remove pathogens and odors. Not every fertilizer is suitable as fertilizer, especially when it comes to food crops. Dog and cat poop, for example, should be avoided as it may contain toxoplasmosis or roundworms, which can be transmitted to humans. Pig manure is another taboo for the garden because of its high risk of spreading disease. When in doubt, it’s best to buy pre-packaged bags of composted fertilizer that have all the ingredients clearly labeled.
The best animal manure for fertilizer
Nutrient values vary from one type of animal manure to another. Use the breakdown below as a starting point to determine which animal manure is best for your garden.
- cow dung is a good all-purpose fertilizer because it is low in nitrogen and therefore does not burn plants. Because cows are ruminants, there is little weed seed to worry about if you compost it yourself.
- alpaca crap has higher NPK numbers than cow dung, but is still low enough in nitrogen that it doesn’t burn plants. It is low in weed seeds as alpacas are also ruminants.
- horse manure can be a good all-purpose fertilizer, but is usually high in weed seeds. Slightly more nutritious than cow manure, it is considered a “hot” manure and can burn plants if not aged or composted.
- goat and sheep manure is easy to collect and use as it is drier than cow manure. It contains more nitrogen and potassium than horse manure, but also a lot of weed seeds. It does not attract insects such as cow and horse manure and is low in odor.
- rabbit dung is also easy to collect and is high in nitrogen and potassium, making it a good all-purpose fertilizer. It has four times the nutrients of cow and horse manure and doesn’t even need to be composted.
- chicken manure is the highest nitrogen fertilizer that is good for leafy greens but can burn plants if not thoroughly composted for at least six months. It is also the highest in potassium, phosphorus and calcium. The slow release of macro and micronutrients has long-term benefits.
- Bat Guano occurs naturally in commercial formulations with high phosphorus or nitrogen content or an average NPK ratio of 10-3-1. Used in Peru since the 17th century, its biological remediation microbes fight fungi, soil-borne diseases, nematodes and toxic substances.
- fish emulsion, composed of partially decomposed and powdered fish, has an NPK ratio of 2-4-1. It should be applied as a foliar spray. The smell will fade over time.