Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Manure Tea

In the last two years I have learned it is possible to use every piece of everything you cook, bake, butcher, pick, and weed. We all know fertilizer has manure in it, but while I was in Indonesia I learned to complete the cycle of sustainable living by returning manure produced by goats to the ground they grazed.

My first morning in Indonesia I was handed a 2-gallon bucket and a stick with a jagged aluminum can on the end and pointed to large fields with big blue vats. Between jet lag, a two mile hike, an hour of sleep, and the four am call to prayer, I was not expecting an oil drum full of goat urine and feces. The first time I nearly threw up! We started hauling two gallons of the fertilizer into the fields. It seemed I was going to spend a lot of time ladling manure tea onto plants and I wandered what was so great about this fertilizer.

Turns out, unlike most commercial fertilizers, it's all natural, returning to the soil the nutrients that were harvested. In particularly, it's filled with nitrogen which is often one of the primary deficiencies in nitrogen loving plants such as tomatoes (causing bottom rot). Manure tea continues to compost and amends the soil gradually instead of all at once, strengthening the plant so that it can defend its self. Plus, it adds micro nutrients and natural enzymes that can’t be found in chemical fertilizers. It cycles through your garden, balancing the soil, leading to a healthier garden, a healthier produce, and a healthier you. 

Manure Tea Recipes

Asian Style...

Mix one part each of water, goat urine, and manure. A bucket of water is then added to the vat every morning, mixed in, and finally, ladled onto each individual plant. 

How do you get goat urine, you ask? It's not extracted, but gathered. The goat house on the farm in Indonesia was made of spaced slats, so that every time the goat eliminated, the manure and urine would drain below and be routed into a bucket for gathering. Goats do NOT like to be wet, and in this tropical part of the world, their average rainfall for the year is around 79 inches! So while this may seem inhumane to most of us, it's actually preferable for the caprines.

American Style...

Thankfully, there are several easier options than the "Asian way" to make manure tea! Especially if you don't want a fifty gallon drum trying to out-stink your compost pile. A simple cotton bag, such as a pillow case, filled with manure and steeped for at least twenty four hours in water will work just fine. You can also use a burlap bag or an old feed sack (if you still get your feed in cloth bags). 

Additional thoughts...

• Manure tea differs from compost tea. Compost tea is made from brown and green plant material that has been allowed to break down before using (decomposed matter), while manure tea is typically from animals droppings.

• Cow, horse, goat, sheep, chicken, turkey, geese, and even rabbit manure can be used to make manure tea (although I hear rabbit manure smells more?). However, not all have the same N-P-K values (see NPK Values in Manures). Rabbit manure is the highest in nitrogen and potassium, so use it carefully!

• Do not use dog or cat droppings to make tea! Meat eating animals can pass along parasites and disease directly to humans.

• The longer you let it brew, the stronger the tea... apply sparingly at first until you're sure it won't burn your plants. To avoid nitrogen burn, allow your manure age before using.

• It is typically recommended that you aerate your tea while making it, but unless you have a set up for this, it's not very feasible. 

• Manure from properly managed animals should not have an issue with e.coli. If you're still concerned, allow your manure to compost for a season before making it into tea. Apply to the soil around the plant but not directly on the leaves. (For further information, read Manure Composting as a Pathogen Reduction Strategy Fact Sheet).

• Just to be safe, don't use on plants prior to harvesting. However, it's great for new seedlings!


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