Manure vs. compost — which is the better choice? Here are a couple of clues:
- The best thing about raw manure or poultry litter? It’s free.
- The best thing about compost? It works.
- Organic material (OM) is added to soils through manure decomposition. But the amount is about equal to the amount of organic matter lost through natural processes. That’s why you may see no rise in field OM even after years of manure applications. Compost adds stable organic matter.
- Compost is a concentrate. The amount of compost required is much less than the amount of manure required. This helps to cut total number of trips over the field.
- Compost keeps water and fertilizers at the root zone, mitigating fertilizer leaching, erosion and topsoil loss.
- The natural microbial activity of compost does lots of good things for soil which, in turn, does good things for plants. Researchers report improved nutrient uptake and resistance to pests and diseases.
- Compost is best for pasture and hay fields where raw manure applications can reinfect livestock with internal parasites, bacteria and viruses. Compost may be more palatable to grazing horses than untreated manure.
In the compost vs. manure debate, compost is the clear winner.
Yale professors “invented” the Freedom Lawn in the early 1990s. It’s a concept rooted in low maintenance residential turf areas. No watering, chemical management, or power mowers allowed.
Freedom Lawns replace the intensively-managed suburban lawn. They offer joyously weedy landscapes as a more environmentally-responsible option.
You’ll note the word invented is in quotes. Some forward-thinking homeowners have long used this method of lawn care. But growing awareness of “greener” practices draws more and more people to the Freedom Lawn. It’s an intentional lawn management method designed to protect ground and surface waters.
Unfortunately, great ideas don’t always work quite the way visionaries expect. There’s a difference between the drawing board and real life situations. So, the Virginia Turfgrass Council’s journal added a caveat to the no-maintenance lawn.
The intention of the Freedom Lawn may be right for the times. But research shows the reality can do more damage to water quality than traditional care. In a nutshell, it says Freedom Lawns can be environmentally irresponsible.
The article offers a few tweaks to correct the failings of the no-input Freedom Lawn. At no surprise to us, many of these suggestions include the use of compost.
Among 12 Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Sustainable Lawns are the following tenets:
- Add a 1″-2” layer of quality compost before seedbed prep to benefit lawn health and aid water infiltration.
- Repeatedly apply organic matter via the compost. Builds topsoil, binds nutrients and water, and promotes soil aggregation. This improves water infiltration and compaction resistance.
- Add two compost applications per year at 100 lbs./1,000 sq. ft. (500 lbs. per application of compost for the typical 5,000 sq. ft. suburban lawn). This provides all the fertility the lawn requires and limits any potential P or N runoff.
- Phosphorous (P) does not leach if there’s enough clay and/or organic matter in the soil. Leaves, clippings, and compost add organic matter. Because it’s slow-release, compost can help with N runoff, too.
High maintenance lawns are fast becoming as passé as the era of poodle skirts from which they came. Learn to love those dandelions. Rejoice to find ourselves, quite literally, in the clover. It’s important to remember the role healthy soil plays in maintaining a healthy lawn and planet.
Use chemicals or not, embrace species diversity for your lawn or not, mow it or not. But do maintain soil organic matter. Healthy soil makes any lawn care regime an environmentally-responsible effort.
Access the full article: Are Freedom Lawns Environmentally Responsible? It’s well worth the read, even if your lawn is still stuck in the ‘50s.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE this blog post: Fixing patches in a centipede lawn — why use compost?
PHOTO: Flickr/by Susan Harris
A: No. Our compost meets EPA Exceptional Quality standards for these types of products.
A: Yes. Our premium SoilBuilder compost is an excellent soil amendment for lawns and gardens and is very suitable for food crops. Some of the largest commercial produce farms on the East Coast are using our products with excellent results.
Prior to planting, incorporate 2-3 inches of compost into the top 6-8 inches of soil. Some gardeners will also periodically topdress with a sprinkle of compost throughout the growing season or use it as mulch.
At the end of the growing season, add a layer of compost on top of the dormant bed. Soil critters will do the job of “tilling” the soil amendment in over the winter months, prepping the bed for spring activity.
Use compost to make your own potting and landscape mixes
SoilBuilder can also be used as an ingredient in potting mixes for container gardens and landscape mixes for raised beds. Just blend about 30 percent compost in with topsoil and other soil amendments or ingredients. We use SoilBuilder in much the same way when we make McGill LandscapeMix and other blended soil amendment products.
A: Biosolids are a by-product of biological wastewater treatment systems.
A: One of the most common questions asked of our compost products team is — “How much compost should I use?”
A good rule of thumb is no more than 30 percent in any mix or soil profile if using a compost product for the first time.
Volumes and types of specific feedstocks or ingredients used in the compost formulation will influence the quality and nutrient value of the resulting compost products. Therefore, there may be some variations in compost product quality, depending on the specific manufacturer.
McGill products, for example, are considered performance composts, because the feedstocks used in the blend are richer than those products made from yard waste only.
When using a McGill compost for the first time, ask to see an analysis and correlate the application rate to a recent soil sample and the requirements of the crop or turfgrass variety. A knowledgeable compost sales representatives can help determine the right product and volume for your project.
Compost is not topsoil
Do not make the mistake of using compost as fill. It is not topsoil. However, you can make an enriched soil by mixing a native soils and compost. How much compost? Mix it 50/50. Studies have shown blending compost with soil already on site can be more cost-effective than buying topsoil.