How to use manure safely
24 Oct 2013 09.41 am by Renny Wijeyamohan
Despite the decline of manure use on commercial farms due to the development of synthetic fertilisers – manure has remained in vogue as a fertiliser of choice for food gardeners, organic farmers and hobby-growers.
But with reports emerging of manure’s potential to harbour harmful E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella pathogens and contaminate food - like this from Germany and this from California - growers of all types have questioned the continued use of manure as a staple organic fertiliser.
Nutrient rich manure can be an amazing asset for your fruit and vegetable garden. But you do need to understand how to use manure safely to minimise risk to yourself and anyone else who consumes your produce.
Tips for safe use:
Location, location, location: Place your manure facility and animals well away from your garden and any water sources to prevent contamination. Think about where your garden is located and if it will be exposed to any run off from manure facilities on your land or nearby land.
Composted manure is best: Composted manure (meaning manure that has been in a pile that has reached 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit) is the safest kind of manure that you can use. Experts from Colorado State University recommend mixing your compost pile regularly, measuring its heat with a long stem thermometer, making sure it hits the necessary temperatures for two 5-day heating cycles and allowing it to cure for 2 to 4 months before use.
Never apply fresh manure to growing crops: If you intend to use fresh manure, do it before your garden is planted. A good time to do this is after harvest. The USDA National Organic Program rules suggest you should then wait 120 days from the time of application before harvesting crops which are in direct contact with soil (think onions, carrots, lettuce or spinach) or 90 days from the time of application for crops that have a protective outer layer (like corn or pumpkin). Turn the manure through the soil when you apply it so it is evenly dispersed.
Never use cat, dog or pig manure: These manures contain parasites thatlinger in soil and can be transferred to humans like roundworms and toxoplasma.
In the kitchen: Wash your hands after handling manure, soil or food that has been in contact with either. Make sure you wash, scrub and peel any fruits, vegetables or roots that have been harvested from soil fertilised with manure before preparation.
By using these tips when you handle manure, you can give yourself the best chance at removing foodborne pathogens from your food and still benefit from using an organic, accessible and value for money fertiliser.
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