Manure adds essential nitrogen to garden soil

Is all-natural farm manure right for your garden? Could be. But manure is one of those rare things that is better when it is NOT so fresh, as I remind the reader who e-mailed me this question:
QUESTION: My husband owns a landscape materials business and has had a hard time getting “supersoil”. We have access to a large amount of horse manure and were wondering if you can make your own supersoil with manure? It sure would help him out if there is a way! Thanks! Kate
ANSWER: It’s difficult to think of a more “natural” substance than manure! Manure is certainly a great resource for gardeners and landscapers, but you do need to know a few basics to get the best results. Here is a link that will give you more information on using manure around your plants:
Manure's carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is a key factor in making nitrogen available to plants, because it drives microbial decomposition. As Alina Rice, the author of that Web article points out, before putting manure on your soil, make sure it is well decomposed. Let the microbes fight it out while the manure sits in a steaming pile. Well decomposed manure has a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of between 15-to-1 and 20-to-1, depending on what the animal has been eating.
A word of warning from Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture: “Homeowners should not use any manure from dogs, cats, or other meat-eating animals, since there is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans.”
Again, if you are thinking of using manure in your garden, I advise you to read the online Rural Heritage article. You can click on a direct link when you find this column at my Web site,
Here is question I responded to at the end of last winter. With frost once again threatening much of the country, I thought it might be the right time to include it in this week’s column.
QUESTION: “I am hoping that you can help me out. I have never had any plants hit by frost but this year it got a lot of my plants. I was wondering, will my tomato plants survive the frost or should I pull them up and replant? It also got my potato vines. Will this hurt my potatoes? My tomato plants are still standing (some of them anyway) but they have a lot of browned leaves. Please let me know if you have any ideas on helping me out. Thanks for your time.” – Candy Dove
ANSWER: Generally, as long as the vegetable sets have had a bit of a chance to root in, they usually come out of frost nips. However, extended cold periods can cause freeze damage and kill the plants. As long as air has movement, frost damage isn’t as likely.
Also, if you know that there is going to be frost the next morning, you can either water the plants heavily including the soil at the base of the plants (the water acts like an insulator) or cover them with an old sheet or something similar, forming a sort of tent and making sure that the fabric doesn’t touch the plants. Damage from frost doesn’t happen until the following morning. Do NOT spray water on plants the morning after a frost in an attempt to wash the frost off.
Once the frost has passed, clip off any browning leaves or branches of plants. Sometimes this can take a few days to show up. Most vegetable plants, though tender, are really quite tough when it comes to frosts.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit

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