Why I am Saying Goodbye to Composted Manure
By Anne-Marie Miller
About twice a year I make a trip to my favorite horse barn to pick up a load of well-composted horse manure for my garden. When I say “pick up” that makes it sound so easy. In reality, what I do is bribe one of my strong boys with a pint of their favorite ice cream to join me. My boy stands on one side of the pickup bed knee-deep in manure and I stand on the other. We both shovel, lifting shovelful after shovelful up and over the bed of the pickup until our arms ache. I always try to outlast my boy, but never can.
I have always been so thankful for composted horse manure as a valuable nutrient source for my garden. Sadly, times have changed and herbicides have changed. Now, I feel like I am playing a game of Russian roulette with my front yard garden and it makes me furious!
As hard as it is to believe, several herbicides currently made can travel through the intestines of the herbivore and come out on the other side still able to kill broadleaf plants. Even after composting, this chemical can last in the soil for years. For a gardener that means death to the food that they are trying to grow for their family. Once you have this herbicide-laden compost in your beds it is a long, expensive, labor-intensive path to getting rid of it. The active ingredients of greatest concern are picloram, clopyralid, and aminopyralid, which are sold under several brand names such as Grazon. (See brand names below). Although there is no scientific evidence yet, I can’t help but wonder how this strong herbicide affects the gut health of these animals that consume it in the hay that they eat. Every time a horse dies from colic or a rabbit mysteriously passes, I can’t help but wonder. For those of us that use this “killer compost” in our home gardens the proof is clear to see. Twisted and stunted plants are the product of using this resistant herbicide-laden compost. It happened to Joe Lamp’l of the popular PBS show Growing a Greener World and it can happen to you or I (See article linked below).
What is an urban gardener to do? I am lucky enough to live in an area that allows me to keep chickens. A lot of the surrounding communities are not so lucky. If you have chickens, using the deep litter method along with added shredded leaves makes a great nutrient-rich compost. Rabbits are another valuable source of manure. However, if you raise rabbits, you will know that they consume hay to keep their digestive tracts moving. You must find out what that hay was treated with before you can use their manure in your garden. Although I don’t have a leg to stand on when I am scooping up free manure, I do have a stake to find out if the hay I am spending my money on is sprayed with these chemicals. After all, I can take my money elsewhere. The way I went about my investigation was to print out several articles explaining the effects of “killer compost.” I then took them in to my local feed store and gave them a few days to look them over. I contacted the manager a few days later to ask her if she could work with me in making sure the hay I purchased from their store was free of these chemicals. I may or may not have mentioned the fact that I write for a very popular gardening website and had many people that were interested in the outcome. Never hurts to have friends in high places, right?
There is one group of people that this affects the most: gardeners that don’t have any animals on their property to help heat up their compost. I would tell these people that shredded leaves in fall are going to be your most valuable source of compost. You can gather them from the curb all bagged up and ready to go. Spread them out on your lawn and run them over with your lawn mower a few times to shred them before using in the garden. Coffee grounds from your local coffee shop are a great addition. Hey, there are certain advantages to living in the city! Grass clippings in spring (from a herbicide-free lawn) are another great way to heat up that compost pile.
I, myself, am known to be a bit stubborn, so I don’t think I am willing to give up my composted manure source. Truth is, this horse ranch owner and I have become good friends. I have come to enjoy her wisdom and she has come to enjoy my youthful exuberance. I am not exceptionally youthful, so that kind of hints at how old she is. We have been known to sit on the porch swing with watermelon dripping down our chins and swap stories. Boy, she has some good ones! Yeah, I am not willing to give this up.
Thankfully, there is one thing I can do. It is a bean test. When I bring home a load of composted manure I can unload it off to the side until I can make sure that it is safe. By putting it in a tray and planting beans in it I can ensure that it is safe for my garden. If those beans come up strong and green, then I know I am good to go. If they come up twisted and yellow, well then, I know I have to get rid of the stuff. A lot of trouble I know, but better safe than sorry!
Not much in life makes me truly mad, with the exception of this issue. When I think of an herbicide that can pass through an animal, compost for several months and then be lethal for me to grow food for my family in, I think that is just wrong on so many levels. Just the thought of this makes me want to jump up and down, turn red, cuss and spit fire. I know, weird things make me angry, but I am wagering that I am not the only gardener out there that feels this way. How about you?
How do you feel about this issue? Anyone out there had personal experience with “killer compost” in your garden?
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.
- See the experience that Joe Lamp’l had with “killer compost”
- Another story of “killer compost” July 2016
- Persistent Herbicide Trade Names (CompostingCouncil.org, 2016):
- Clopyralid: Cloypry AG, Confront, Lontrel, Mellenium Ultra, Reclaim, Stinger, Transline
- Aminopyralid: Chaparral, CleanWave, ForeFront, GrazonNext, Opensight, Milestone
- Aminocyclopyrachlor: Imprelis, Perspective, Plainview, Streamline, Viewpoint
- Picloram: Tordon, Grazon