February 2017 I: Building a new horse manure pile

Horse Manure is a boon to urban gardeners, provided that you can get hold of it.

There are a few caveats to this:

  1. Horse Manure mixed with straw is much superior to manure mixed with wood shavings. This is because the wood shavings take much longer to rot down and, if placed on the garden, rob the soil of useful fertility whilst breaking down.
  2. Horse Manure can cause bad problems if the horses were fed on feed contaminated with aminopyralid, which causes serious problems to growing many crops.

Having said that, I have been using manure from a local stables in Northwood for 4 years and have had few problems.

Benefits from applying horse manure, particularly to infertile ground, include:

  1. An expansion in the population of earthworms in the soil.
  2. Marked improvements in crop yields of asparagus (20lb vs 12lb on our 5m  * 1m permanent bed).
  3. Ability of rhubarb and comfrey plants to thrive on fresh manure (against most traditional lores but the test of the cake is in the eating, after all).

For me, a pile of 1m*1m*1.5-2.0m requires four trips to the stables, each trip yielding 4 full bags of London Borough of Hillingdon Green Waste receptacles. Thankfully, the stables leave a manure fork in the pile, which resides conveniently at the edge of the customers’ car park.

The ideal scenario is building a pile in August and rotting for 15 months to November, before applying to the bed in which potatoes will be grown. Last summer, however, all the manure was full of wood shavings, so this year’s pile was half constructed in November and half in February, when straw-based manure was abundant.

Three days after completing the pile, the internal temperature was 55C, less than the 70C hoped for, but still a useful temperature for composting.

To learn about how horse manure piles evolve, acquire a soil thermometer and measure the temperature daily – it is quite surprising how consistent the results are. The pile is ready for turning once the temperature drops to 30C.

Author: Rhys

Rhys trained as a research biologist, working for a decade in the cancer research charity sector, before completing an MBA and working in management consultancy, technology transfer and early technology investment spaces, mostly working with UK academics to turn their scientific discoveries into value for society. AS a younger man, he was fascinated with mountains, both climbing them and ski-ing down them. Whilst living in Scotland, he completed a round of (then) all 277 Munros, the independent mountains over 3000ft originally complied as a list by Munro. He also spent his holidays representing the Ski Club of GB, as a Representative and Party Leader between 1990 and 1997. During that time, he found to his bemusement that he was able to predict, without understanding fully why, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, when good snow conditions would occur in the Alps, gaining an unworthy reputation for predictive genius in 1990 when predicting the evolution of the 1989/90 winter in Wengen, Switzerland for his CEO boss. He used this skill for the next seven years to ensure that he enjoyed powder snow pretty much every time he went ski-ing. An MD student he was training in Oxford also impressed his wife by taking Rhys' advice about when to take her to Italy in the mid 1990s! In recent years, Rhys has turned his mind toward how to grow prize tomatoes, winning several prizes in local and London shows and has, in the past 3 years, moved toward taking over a 50 square metre urban vegetable patch, which he has turned into a no-dig area since autumn 2014.

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