How Important are Manures and Fertilizers for your Garden?
Do We Need Manures and Fertilizers in the Garden?
I came to realise from a very young age, that manure, compost and fertilizer were the mainspring on which the quality of ourand crops depend.
Horse manure, was the stuff that made the garden tick. The needs of the garden revolved around the horse droppings, muck heap and the muck hole. Because of this early imprinting I can never understand why animal manures, whatever their origin, should be separated from organic material designated as compost.
Compost is only as good as the material which is put into it and the more material which has had some animal contact the better, even if it is only the cleanings from the pet rabbit hutch or a few bantams or pigeons. Very often it is this which can act as a starter to a heap of garden debris, like yeast leavening bread. A shovelful of poultry or pigeon droppings introduced daily or weekly into the heap will make it infinitely better.
The long dissertations in the old gardening books about the qualities of the various types of organic manure such as horse manure, cow manure or pig manure and how they should be used and on what soils, I am afraid no longer apply. This is for the simple reason that as towns get bigger, so the source of the supply gets further away from the garden and it is no longer feasible or economic to bring this stuff from the country to the urban areas.
It was almost a gardener’s charter or bible at one time that a long strawy manure from the stable was the best for heavy land and cow and pig manure was best for light soils. Today, local bye-laws would prohibit having a load of pig manure tipped on the pavement to then be wheeled on to the garden at leisure. And, of course, the neighbours would likely and rightly complain. This all means that the would-be gardener is now thrown back on to his own resources.
What then can be put into the compost heap? How essential is organic matter in the soil?
As far as the plants themselves are concerned and as a short-term measure, I don’t think it matters at all. Plants appear to grow happily without it and anyone who has seen buddleias growing strongly in walls high above the ground and 20 or 30 year old shrubs and small trees growing in the tops of chimneys or towers and in crevices in rocks, cannot help but marvel at the persistence of life.
I am certain that the soil itself suffers and when deprived of organic matter gradually loses its ability to hold moisture, eventually becoming a desert. There cannot be anything very wrong with the routine practice which has stood the test of hundreds of years and is based on the return of organic matter in some form to the soil if only to keep it healthy.
Continuous manoeuvring of the soil and the addition of organic matter can be relied upon to keep the soil healthy, and any additional compounds in the form of nitrogen, phosphates, potash and trace elements are an added bonus. The soils in this country and in most other European countries can bear witness to this but one has only to go further afield to see how vast areas can be ruined by crude slash-and-burn techniques. This involves taking crop after crop from the land until it is exhausted and then moving on somewhere else.
Here in England, we can no longer afford these short-sighted practices. Plant analysis reveals there can be nearly a hundred different chemicals in minute proportions in plant tissue. Of these, there seem but a few which are really essential.