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Free manure sometimes comes with price

The Craigslist ad was pretty straightforward: free horse manure without shavings, you load and haul. Something for free for a little effort; that’s a good deal!

Or is it?

Fall is the time of year to add organic material to a garden bed and manure is black gold when it comes to a soil amendment. As the Craigslist ad shows, finding a source of manure is little more than a mouse click away. All the easier if you have a truck or trailer to haul it home with.

Because manures can carry bacteria, weed seed and bugs, all manures need to be composted or aged before they are put into a vegetable garden. Ask how long the pile has been sitting: the answer should be about six months. This gives the pile enough time to heat up to above 130 degrees for a period of time which kills most of the bad stuff.

Not all manures are created equal. Manure from herbivores (horses, cows, chickens, goats, llama and other grass eating animals is OK to use. Manure from pigs, dogs and cats is not because they can carry parasites and diseases humans can pick up. Horse manure will have more weed seed in it than other types because of the way the horse digests its hay. Chicken manure can be a bit smelly.

Manure is a great source of organic material and helps build up the soil’s ability to hold water, support soil life and provide aeration. Manures are also a source of nitrogen and other nutrients with rabbit having the highest level of nitrogen at about 2 percent while chicken is usually about 1 percent. Beef, sheep and horse are just under a percent while dairy cow manure is the lowest. These ranges are not exact and can vary widely depending on how much bedding and wood shavings are mixed into the manure and how it was handled at the farm. The nitrogen is in a slow release form that is available to the plants over a longer period.

Now back to the practical side of the great Craigslist offer. First and foremost is how close to town is the farm. If you have to drive a distance, it might be cheaper to buy it. Manure, especially wet manure, is heavy and if you have to load it yourself with a shovel, you better find some hungry kids who will work for a pizza to go with you. If the farmer will load with a tractor for a fee, take him up on it.

Lastly, how are you going to get the manure from your truck to the garden spot? Free isn’t going to sound very good if you have to haul it up a flight of steps and through a narrow gate a bucket at a time. Maybe those kids need another pizza.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by email at pat@

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