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Laying it on thick

PUBLISHED: 11:16 04 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:16 04 March 2014

dig it in

dig it in

Archant

When it comes to feeding your vegetable plot it pays to know what's in your muck, says grow-your-own expert Belinda Gray

When people ask me about the most important aspect of a successful allotment or kitchen garden I always come back with a four-letter word – muck.

If you are a productive, year-round grower you have to put in the goodness you hope to take out. Crops are thirsty, hungry, require good drainage and lashings of rich, dark, fertile soil improvement – in spade loads – each year.

Home composting is the way to go, supplemented with some well-rotted muck from a reliable source. Weed seed, grazing land treated with herbicides, use of drugs in livestock and rat poison are just some of the hazards you need to know about before piling muck on your edible garden. So ask questions before you get muck from a local, organic farm or stables.

Cows and horses eat a vegetarian diet. Manure from a herbivore is the best – to put it crudely, this poop is more digestible by the bacteria vital to the decomposition process. Horses supposedly only digest about a quarter of the grass they chomp on, resulting in weedy manure. Cows, on the other hand, with their four stomachs, digest efficiently making weed-less muck.

Chicken manure is fair, in small quantities as it is very high in nitrogen but not as well balanced in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium as horse or cow muck. Animal bedding is a bonus because not only does it contain useful nutrients, it provides a necessary brown, carbon-rich balance to the green, nitrogen content. Once you have found a successful source of muck ensure you dig out the well-rotted stuff, at least a year old, as the fresh stuff is far too potent and will burn or kill your plants. It is easy to spot the difference, as the old stuff is dark and crumbly – pure nectar for hungry beds.

So if you haven’t yet improved your soil get on to it now and reap the benefits of fabulously healthy crops to harvest this growing year ahead.

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