adding raw manure to fruit trees

thomis(7)January 16, 2009

Greetings ya'll

I have an opportunity to get some manure this weekend. Basically patties in an open pasture I am going to shovel into my truck.

My question is what is the best time of the year to add this raw manure around the trees in my orchard? (They are apples) And should I stock pile it for a while and try and let it decompose or compost or can I just add it around the trees?

Lastly, my trees are mulched. Should I pull the mulch back and then apply the manure or can I just add the manure on top of the mulch?

I am in central NC if that makes any difference. Thanks much.


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alan haigh

I'd compost it first if only because it could be washed away or its nutrients and end up in an estuary. Fall would be better for fresh when soil can absorb. With compost you can do no harm unless trees are already very vigorous. Fresh, you have to be careful not to overstimulate vegetative growth though it can be used with care (don't over do it).

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 2:03PM
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Can I compost it by simply piling it in a heap and leave it for a few months? or do I need to turn it over etc.. every so often?

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 2:59PM
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alan haigh

Stirring speeds the process. Are you using this as a nitrogen source? Trees will get more N sooner if some N stays free (it gets tied up in micro-orgnanisms as it composts for slow release). Trees can take up N in early spring. If you don't turn over pile only the interior of a hot pile composts and the outer part will stay fresh- like steaks in the freezer.

A lot of people are reluctant to use fresh manure on fruit trees because of the lack of measurable control of N application. Too much and trees grow too much wood and leaves at the expense of fruit. What fruit there is becomes watery and bland but trees in most soils benifit from moderate amounts of supplemetary N.

People who don't take chances don't learn nothing but how to echo. Proceed with appropriate courage er caution.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 3:50PM
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theaceofspades(7 Long Island)

thomis, Upstate NY we use decomposed, fairly decomposed, and fresh greenish Horse manure around the flowers, vegetables, brambles and fruit trees. It doesn't seem to matter much. Except the green manure washes out to look like dried ground grass. The decomposed stays fine brown. Although, fresh Cow might be too rich and should be composted.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 4:41PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

If you are gathering cowpies in a pasture, there won't be much fresh urine mixed in which is where most of the nitrogen in fresh manure comes from. In general you are probably better off dumping it in a pile for a couple months until it has time to rot and mellow a little, then spread it around the trees when it is easier to work with. This is especially true if the cow pies are dry.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 2:59AM
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alan haigh

Bee is on. Cow manure is relatively low in N to begin with. I'm not really in farm country, although there's a lot of open land. I get my manure in the form of horse stable waste that always has lots of urine in the mix. It also has a majority of soft wood shavings that balances out the urine. I always wait for it to mellow and then use it as mulch over usually a few sheets of newspaper to keep weeds down.

This mixture is sold as Sweet-peet for rediculous money around here but commercial stables load it up in my truck for free. Sometimes it is already mellowed.

Because of the wood shavings, if you incorporate it into soil before it is pretty well composted it will temporarily suck the N right out of the soil.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 10:06AM
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I don't see the difference. By the time your trees are out of dormancy, anything unpleasant in the manure will be long gone. Same for any bacteria by August, if you worry about eating drops. You would be risking your trees more by adding, say, wood ash, yet many people I know amend with wood ash through the winter.

The only real minus, as others have said, is if there is a chance that you will kill trouts in the nearby stream, but if you have a flat, unfrozen field, any N-rich compound will percolate.

Re: under or over mulch. Little difference here too. The problem is which option makes you work less. If you put it over, your mulch will degrade substantially faster, so you will have to bring in more mulch one year ahead of schedule. The mulch will also absorb most fresh N that may percolate. But, if you put it on top, you don't have to shovel mulch now.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 1:44PM
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alan haigh

Glib, you seem a tad sanguine about the movement of N and I might add P which may be the larger issue. Fact is winter application of anything containing nitrate or ammonium has risks of moving where you'd rather it didn't. Movement of the actual manure and with it phospherus would be likely as well. Percolating soil in the winter? Tends to be totally saturated at this time.

I'm no chemist but I have often read of needed caution about winter applications. It's not just about pollution in the immediate vicinity. Once it gets in waterways it keeps moving and this kind of pollution is extremely problematic. Algae bloom and all that. Granted, it would be no big deal in the scale we are speaking of but awareness should be wide spread. Homeowners are important contributors of this kind of polution as I understand the issue.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 3:24PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

This may be a dumb question, but what's the difference between a pile of manure percolating N down while it's waiting to be put around the trees, vs. the N percolating down when it's already around the trees. Either way were going to be drinking N.
Bottoms up,

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 5:44PM
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As far as eating things that fall into manure is concerned, why take the risk? If the bacteria don't survive waiting around, the viruses certainly can for an extremely long time. Unlike fungi however, both bacteria and viruses need help to get around. Many people eat drops, make cider out of them and have no problems at all, great. I grew up in Colorado drinking straight out of streams and lakes and rivers, no problem. Then one day I had a very small sip of water from a stream in the Smokeys. For 4 years after that I couldn't digest any dairy products or dairy derivatives. That was horrible, my health suffered. No longer do I take microbiology lightly. You don't have to drink from the Ganges river to get sick.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 8:35PM
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theaceofspades(7 Long Island)

Since Cows have several stomachs they remove a lot of nutrients. The links says fresh cow is ok for soil top dressing. Horse's passes most of the nutrients through, which makes it better for mulching.

Here is a link that might be useful: Manure Matters

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 9:03PM
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alan haigh

The pile of manure creates a bacterial orgy of feasting that quickly ties up N into bacterial bodies. The increased heating of the biological activity increases biological activity faster and faster until the free N is tied up in dead organisms for slow release or the process generates too much heat and N ends up in the atmosphere instead of the pile. Actually, some N ends up in the atmosphere with any heating. That's why anerobic composting is more efficient.

There is also relatively less leaching because proportionally less water is passing through the mass of manure. Just as firewood seasons better if you stack it up because the water is dispersed through more wood. 6" of rain over a 3' high pile would be like 3" over a 6' pile. Of course getting most of it off the moist ground is also a factor.

On the other hand, I'm not even sure I've seen any data that proves what I've just written- glad I'm not a politician. My career won't be threatened if I'm called out on my BS. You should have a good text book on soil if you want a really good answer.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 8:49AM
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Actually, aerobic decomposition is both more efficient at decomposition and leads to less loss of N to the atmosphere. It is ammonia (NH4) that is volatilized and lost and production of ammonia requires anaerobic conditions. (Everything stated should have a "mostly" or "essentially" or "basically" added as there are various other quirks. For instance, you can have anaerobic microsites in overall aerobic systems.)

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 9:20AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

As with other nutrient sources there should be a soil test first to see if fertilization is likely to be helpful. Unless it is composted first and put on as a mulch, instead of a fertilizer.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 12:34PM
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alan haigh

Wrong, go to the textbooks. Anaerobic composting is utilized on many modern farms because less N is lost if it is properly controlled in composting tanks or pits- at least that's what I remember being taught in hort-school. You may be talking about uncontrolled composting, I guess, so maybe you aren't wrong but I don't think I am either.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 6:48PM
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Ammonia is NH3-, ammonium is NH4+. Being negatively charged like soil particles, ammonia is free to convert to nitrogen gas and pass to the atmosphere. Ammonium which is positively charged and attracted to soil particles.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 8:39PM
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Thanks for all your input. I think I will just stockpile it for a few months. My orchard is up on a long slant, about 200 yards away from even an ephemeral ditch, if that. I am not worried about losing any leachate of N or P. :)

I am however going to add some to the garden as a top dress for at least until April. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 4:52PM
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You boys lost me on all this scientific talk, but I think bboy makes a pertinent observation when he asks why you don't do an assessment first. thomis you never gave us any reason for needing to put on N.
What I do, and I am not saying this is what you should do, but should consider, is to do a fruitlet analysis and then treat accordingly with leaf feeds. Leaf feeds allow you to fine tune your crop production. I never apply anything to the ground unless it is compost in the garden and then I use no animal products.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 5:04PM
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alan haigh

On the other hand, I can pretty much tell if N is needed by how fast the darn thing is growing, how green the leaves, fruit too big and watery or small. Most home orchards don't require a whole lot of diagnostics unless things go wrong, but a little compost top dressing will probably be just fine. If your soil is already deep and rich and fruit trees tend to grow with excessive vigor, taking forever to fruit, than maybe not.

The problem with excessive diagnostics is they can lead to the loss of the engagement of the senses. Most sites, a simple pH test is adequate if you are a gardener or want to become one.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 8:09PM
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After forty years of doing this I can tell much from observation too, but I wouldn't call one leaf or fruitlet analysis excessive.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 8:16PM
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Just shovel the manure straight under your trees and forget about it. Composting it just adds extra labor.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 4:36PM
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I see Fruithack applies the "Shovel Once" principle, just as I do. When I balance a low probability of microbial attack against a 100% probability of a sore back (for shoveling manure! twice!), the back always wins.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 12:49AM
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