Small farms have used sustainable practices for thousands of years, recycling waste byproducts into valuable new products. These products include manure from livestock, which is cured and added to planting beds and compost piles or made into manure tea. Manure tea is made by steeping manure in water to draw out the nutrients. Nutrients and minerals in manure dissolve easily in water, resulting in an ideal fertilizer. Liquids rapidly penetrate the soil, allowing plants to absorb the nutrients immediately.
Late in the growing season, the growth of plants may slow because they have used up the available nutrients in the soil. Weekly applications of manure tea add the nutrients needed to recharge your crops’ growth.
You can use manure from many farm animals for making manure tea – cattle, sheep, horses, chickens, and turkeys. The carbon to nitrogen ratio of manures from herbivores, animals that eat plant material, is well balanced and meets the needs of microorganisms that help decompose organic material. Manure from cats or dogs should never be used because it contains harmful pathogens that even the high temperatures generated from curing cannot kill.
The nitrogen in fresh manure is so concentrated that it will burn or even kill plants. To be used effectively, you must cure it. Curing manure is much like composting, during which time the manure heats to a temperature that kills any weed seeds and harmful pathogens.
Place your manure pile in an area that receives full sun and where there is little chance of runoff. Periodically check the temperature of the interior of the pile. To effectively kill weed seeds and harmful pathogens, the temperature should reach 140 – 160 degrees Fahrenheit. To ensure even curing, turn the pile periodically. Curing manure takes six to twelve months, depending on how intensively you manage the pile.
If you prefer not to collect and cure fresh manure or if you don’t have a source of fresh manure, you can find composted manure in bags at most garden centers.
Manure tea is made from cured manure and water. The ratio should be one part manure to five parts water.
Shovel manure into a five-gallon bucket and add water. When the tea has finished brewing, simply pour off the liquid leaving the manure that has settled in the bottom of the bucket. The other method is to place the manure in a burlap bag, cheesecloth or old pillowcase, tie with a rope, and place in the bucket. When the tea has finished brewing, simply remove the tea bag and allow it to drain completely. The remaining solids can be spread in the garden or added to your compost pile.
If you have a large garden, manure tea can be made in small trashcans or fifty-gallon drums. A device called a ‘manure tea fertilizer’ utilizes a fifty-gallon drum, metal screening, and a spigot. The water percolates through a series of filters to the bottom of the barrel where the spigot.
Regardless of the method you choose, allow the mixture to sit for two to three days, stirring at least once a day. Use your compost tea immediately. If left to sit, the tea may begin to grow bacteria.
Ways to Use Manure Tea
Dilute the manure tea until your mixture is the color of weak tea, typically a ratio of four parts water to one part manure tea. The diluted tea can be applied directly to the soil using a watering can. To use as a foliar fertilizer, simply place in a spray bottle, along with 1/8 teaspoon of dishwashing soap or vegetable oil and spray your plants. The soap and oil make the manure tea stick to foliage.
Another option is to fill a hose end sprayer with the concentrated tea and let the water coming from the hose dilute the tea as you water the garden.
Beneficial microbes and fungi help plants develop strong root systems by making it easier for the plants to absorb nutrients from the soil. Chemical fertilizers kill these microbes and fungi, seriously damaging the soil. Making manure tea is a simple and inexpensive way to produce a superior fertilizer for a healthy garden.