Let’s just De-Gentrify Organic Gardening a little, shall we?
For today’s post, I would like to talk about poop.
Surprise! Not baby poop! (But for the record, Baby C started eating sweet potatoes on Tuesday the 24th, and no significant poop changes have been detected.)
I have been thinking about composted steer manure. If that’s not your thing, I will provide a diversion now, right upfront, because after this paragraph I will be droning on and on about it.
Here, have a half-done toy elephant being knitted for Baby C. I enjoy calling it the headless heffalump and I find it very, very adorable, even without a head.
And here’s a cat tree kindly given to us last night by some friends who are moving. It was very well-loved, so we immediately cleaned it up and replaced the carpeting on the post. Our two furry neuropaths seem satisfied with it.
So. Composted steer manure. I bought some recently and scratched it in a bit in the garden bed.
Some people think that steer manure is not good enough to use as a soil amendment, just too plebian or something. They like to claim that compost is better (and their definition of compost is both stringent and, um, incorrect). They are not fully informed. If you should encounter one of these people and you feel that this is, indeed, a battle you’d like to pick, here’s a little help:
1. Steer manure can be composted. That makes it compost. It is not non-compost. When it’s composted, it smells like compost, not poop. I can barely smell anything, and even I can tell. Follow your nose on this.
If it’s uncomposted, then it stinks and may burn your plants. If it’s insufficiently composted, then it stinks and may burn your plants, but less.
2. It may not contain every micronutrient your plants need (depending on your soil). That is okay. Just accept that it does not contain all that is needed and find other ways to supplement.
3. It is very cheap. Yay! This is crucial sometimes, damn it.
4. Since it is compost, it can improve your soil’s structure (which improves all sorts of water movement. Seriously. Good idea.)
5. It is even better in combination with other types of soil amendments, since they may contain other nutrients and different particle sizes. That’s even better for your soil’s structure. Yup, so I’m not saying it’s the ONLY good thing for your soil, but that it can have a role. If it’s all you can afford, go for it. You’ll probably be fine (again, depending on your soil).
6. While it may or may not be true (I don’t know) that modern steer manure is not as full of nutrients as old-timey steer manure due to modern cattle-raising methods, that doesn’t mean that it is useless. I know this is not a real scientific test, but it has a humus-y smell, so I am pretty confident that it’s good and useful for soil.
There are two valid arguments I can think of against using composted steer manure:
A. It comes from feedlot cattle and cattle in feedlots is not a very good thing for many reasons. And y’all, I’m a vegetarian, so this one holds water for me. Not enough water, though. I’ll go for it as a byproduct of an industry that makes the VAST majority of its money from other products of the feedlot confinement.
B. It can contain an undesirable level of salts. If that’s a concern, don’t use it. I have never encountered any real situation where this was a problem, though, and I live in an area where saline and even sodic soils are issues and I’ve talked to many, many people about garden problems. So take this concern with a grain of salt (ha!)
I think this is a reasonable topic for discussion because I am concerned about the gentrification of all things healthy, like organic gardening (among oh-so-many other things). Gardening can save money in some situations. Using fewer pesticides can save money. Working on improving your garden soil instead of investing a lot in fertilizers can save money. But some people insist that one spend a lot of money of fancy composts, and that prices a bunch of people out. It’s so, so wrong.
So if you’re auditioning soil conditioners, at least let composted steer manure read a few lines.
Maybe I should make a t-shirt about composted steer manure.