Manure in a Garden – Not Harmful

Q: We are new to gardening. My husband wants to put horse manure in our vegetable garden prior to planting. I don’t agree with this as I don’t want bacteria that close to my food. Can you please tell him this is a health hazard or tell me that I’m wrong? (I still won’t eat/pick/cook it if I am wrong!)

A: I recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of my wedding…and one of the ways I’ve stayed married is to avoid using the word “wrong”.

You and your husband are both motivated by the same thing: to have healthy vegetables, but you’re looking at the process from different angles.

Horse manure has been used in gardens for thousands of years. It adds vital organic matter and nutrients to the soil. It also contains bacteria, as does the manure of any animal. For that reason, I don’t advocate spreading un-composted manure on top of the soil around plants.

On the other hand, composted manure or manure that is mixed with the underlying soil in a garden before planting seems safe to me. After all, there are millions of different bacteria in regular soil. What difference does adding a few more million make?

My advice is to add composted manure to your garden and to wash your vegetables before cooking. The benefits of the fresh vegetables far outweigh the risks of contamination.

For more information, see an article called, Does Horse Manure Pose a Significant Threat to Human Health?. Look about half way down the page.

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