Know your manures!

Credit: iStockphoto

I avoid cow and chicken manure, unless I know the farmer uses organic practices and has not been feeding the animals with hormone-laced feed and routinely treating them with antibiotics.

The safest way to go is sheep, llama and horse manure, horse being the most commonly available and probably cheapest too. This is because generally the ‘pharmaceutical’ input for these animals is minimal, therefore reducing the potential for adding unwanted chemicals to your soil.

Watch out for hayseeds in horse manure, they can sprout and be a pain. Hog fuel, (not from treated wood), is a good mix with horse manure, the nitrogen from the manure and carbon from the woodchips makes for speedy decomposition and good humus formation. Usually sheep and llama manure is unadulterated, you only get pure pellets, which is why the cost is greater.

Mushroom manure is a rich, dark, moist mixture of wheat straw, peat moss, cottonseed meal, gypsum, lime, and chicken litter. This combination of ingredients is used in commercial mushroom farms to grow mushrooms. These materials are composted for many weeks and then placed into a huge room where it is completely sterilized and then the mushroom growing cycle begins. Strangely enough, mushrooms will only grow in this mixture for a very short time, usually 18 to 20 days. At this time the compost has to be removed and a brand new batch will already have been prepared for the next crop.

I have reservations about using mushroom manure because of the chicken litter input and the fact that the cottonseed meal is most likely genetically modified. Cotton, corn and soy seed meals are all most likely genetically modified nowadays. Organic seed meals are the only way to be sure that you are not contaminating your soil with GM substances.

It’s not too late to add seaweed to your garden, you can mulch with seaweed any time of the year. Usually winter storms bring it in, which is when we go collecting. Granular seaweed is a good alternative for the garden. Liquid seaweed is perfect for watering containers.

Stockpile leaves in fall for the following year. Oak Bay’s boulevard piles of oak and maple leaves are great for this. I used to collect them in my trailer, but stuffed into garbage bags works too. Just be ready to answer the householder who comes out to ask you what you are doing with their leaves. The answer is “What you could be doing with your leaves-using them for feeding my garden as a fantastic leaf mulch.”

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