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Gardening Carol O'Meara

5/7/2006

Soil amendment debate gets deep

 I have a theory that the phrase “How do you do?” originated among gardeners from days long past. Before English historians reach for their computers to launch a debate, indulge me a little by considering the tremendous amount of thought involved in the selection of a good soil amendment. Good soil is critical to successful growing, and gardeners often have deeply entrenched feelings about the best type of material to plow under when preparing to plant.

Naturally, manure floats to the top of any discussion on amendments. At spring gatherings many gardeners question each other closely on the manure they use, comparing its age, crumble-ability and animal source as if it were a fine wine for plants. In situations such as this, “How do you do?” is really an inquiry that can best be answered by “With composted cow this year, but I had great success with sheep last year.” Yes, it’s true that the obsessive gardener will keep track of manure’s success and failures from year to year.

When planning to amend your soil, any herbivore’s “doo” will do, as long as it’s aged before application. All animals carry eColi in their waste, which can be splashed onto plants during rain or irrigation, so it is important to use manure that has been aged four months or longer. The relative benefits or drawbacks of which herbivore manure is best is decided by personal choice, ready access and quantity desired.

Quality is important

In some cases cattle manure is high in salts, particularly if it comes from animals confined to feedlots. Those needing a large enough quantity to buy by the truckload may be able to ask for an analysis of nutrients, including salts, from the landscape supply company. This is somewhat hard to come by, as many places don’t spend time analyzing manure, and asking for a detailed analysis may get you thrown off the property.

Horse manure is always an option, but it can be high in weed seed. I’m no veterinarian, but I have been told that a horse will pass what it’s eaten through its system and out the other end every 45 minutes, leaving no time for weed seeds to process. If the horse is on a good pasture without many weeds or is fed with certified hay, the problem of weed seeds is eliminated and gardeners can happily shovel it all over their garden.

Manure options expand if the quantity needed is small enough to include sheep, llama, rabbit or even designer types such as Zoo Doo. Rabbits produce great manure that is high in nitrogen but won’t harm or burn plants. However, their pellets should be separated from wood bedding chips before tilling into the garden to avoid having the nitrogen from them and the soil tied up in decomposing the wood chips.

A little goes a long way when adding manure to the garden. Applications should be no thicker than one-quarter to one-half inch across the surface of the area before tilling in. Now is the time to prepare the soil with your choice of amendment and proudly ask the neighbors, “How do you doo?”

Visit master gardener plant sale

Once the soil is prepared, stop by the master gardener plant sale at the parking lot of the Public Health Department from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 20 and 21 to select the right plants to accessorize your garden. This fundraiser benefits the Master Gardeners and Growing Gardens of Boulder County, which helps provide programs such as the Boulder Food Project, Cultiva, the Boulder County Jail Garden, Earth Gardens elementary school program and other gardening outreach programs from both organizations.

Carol O’Meara is with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information, about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information, contact Cooperative Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303-678-6238 or visit www.coopext.colostate. edu/boulder.

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