How To Use Fresh Horse Manure In The Garden

steaming hot horse manure piled up in a field and ready to transfer to the garden
A steaming pile of fresh manure is a treasure trove for the vegetable gardener!

If you are a gardener and you have a source of either fresh or composted horse manure, then you are indeed blessed for horse manure is particularly good for most garden plants and vegetables.

Most experienced gardeners will tell you that the manure must first of all be composted before you can use it to feed your plants, and indeed there is some merit in this advice. However there are a couple of instances where you can indeed just use the raw manure rather than wait the 4-6 months minimum composting time.

How to apply fresh horse manure in the garden

  • Manure tea. This is a slurry mix made by adding manure to a barrel of waterOpens in a new tab. and leaving for a couple of weeks or more to mature. Thereafter you just add 1-2 inches to the bottom of a watering can filled with water and feed your plants twice per week – especially fruiting plants like tomatoes.
  • Hot bed gardens. This is a technique that indeed relies on fresh manure to create heat and is particularly useful for those keen to get an early start in the vegetable garden. (See more below on hot bed gardening).
  • To use raw manure that has not been composted then dig it into the soil at the end of the season and over the next few months it will break down to some extent and add valuable nutrients for the spring plants.

Using composted horse manure

If you are lucky enough to have access to a dung heap, then be sure to pull away the manure on the top and concentrate on the manure at the bottom of the heap. This is the manure that will be most rotted and should ideally be moist and friable or crumbly to the touch – not smelly and slimy!

A number of 2 foot deep steel raised garden beds ready to recieve the fresh horse manure
Raised Beds like these from Vegega, are an excellent way to contain a Hot Bed garden – click the image for your 10% discount!

It is also important to choose a dung heap where the stables use straw for beddingOpens in a new tab. and not wood shavings. The wood shavings take years to compost down, making them not ideal for garden use. Indeed many farmers will not use dung that is mixed with wood shavings for this reason.

Sawdust which is also sometimes used for beddingOpens in a new tab. is also not ideal, but at least it will break down into compost a lot quicker than shavings.

Even straw will take 2 years or more to completely break down into compost, however it is excellent for conditioning and adding ‘friability’ into the soil as it does so.

The best time to add the composted manure is at the beginning of the season. This is done by simply digging it in to the soil. Some vegetables like Leeks, or flowers such as Roses, love the high nitrogen content of horse manure, so often a track is dug out first of all and a layer of the manure laid along the bottom then covered over before planting begins.

Hot Bed Gardening with fresh manure

Earlier I mentioned the idea of using fresh manure to create a ‘Hot Bed’. This is an excellent way to get an early start with vegetables in particular, and if you have a ready supply of fresh manure then it really is a no-brainer for the vegetable grower.

hot bed vegetable gardening guidebook cover image

The idea of using fresh manure to create a Hot Bed system was originally thought of by the Parisians in the late 19th century. They realised that they had mountains of manure from the horses that crammed the streets of Paris. Wondered what they could do with it all – and the Hot Bed Garden was formed.

This enabled them to produce and get on the market vegetables at least a month before everybody else. Other European cities soon clocked on to the idea though!

Creating a hot bed garden is quite a simple matter. The idea being that you are building up a base of fresh manure at least 18-24 inches deep, then covering it with a layer of topsoil for planting your veggies.

The fresh manure will begin to heat as it is in the beginning phase of composting, and this heating period will last for around 6 weeks or so. This is an important note – only fresh manure will heat up like this as the nitrogen in the manure excites the tiny microbes that start the composting process.

Manure that has already been rotting for some time is no use for a Hot Bed – but ideal for adding to your veggie plot or perhaps steel Raised bed garden.

This type of garden method is usually created inside a Raised Bed area or under a cold-frameOpens in a new tab. as you may see in the accompanying image. Either way, it is an excellent way to start the vegetable growing season.

Diagram showing the format layout for a typical hot bed garden in a 'cold frame' arrangement
A ‘Hot Bed’ in a cold-frame may seem like a contradiction – but here it is!

Should fresh manure be used in the garden?

Generally speaking, unless you are using the hot bed system the answer would be NO. Fresh manure of any kind (with the exception of rabbit manure) can carry dangerous organisms, worms, diseases, and bacteria like E.coliOpens in a new tab. or Salmonella amongst others.

Handling fresh manure has to be done with care and a strict hand washing routine in place.

Whilst manure has been used in the garden since the beginning of time, keeping basic precautions such as hand washing, will help you avoid any possible health problems that may occasionally arise.

Also as a rule you do not put raw manure on the ground where vegetables such as cucumber or melon may be in direct contact with it. This includes vegetables under the soil such as carrots, potatoes, beets.

To avoid the possibility of contamination from raw manure it is recommended that you stop feeding 120 days prior to harvesting any vegetable that may come in to contact with it.

This also applies to the use of manure ‘tea’ which by its very nature is a potential health risk.

This rule does not apply in the same way to fully composted manure, however general hygiene rules should always apply where manure of any kind is used – just to be on the safe side!

Other animal manure that can be used in the garden include…

  • Chicken manureOpens in a new tab.. Very high in nitrogen content. Best after composting for at least 1-2 years.
  • Cow manure. Similar to horse manure for nitrogen and other nutrients but not so good for soil conditioning.
  • Sheep manure. Similar to Goat, Llama, and Alpaca, sheep manure is high in nitrogen content making it an excellent choice for the vegetable plot. Best composted before use for at least a year before adding to the soil.
  • Pig manure. This manure is a little more controversial as a pig is an omnivore (meaning it eats vegetables and meat). Generally speaking you do not add the manure from any carnivore to compost because of the potential of parasitic contamination. This includes the dung from cats and dogs. Commercially composted pig manure that has been hot composted is a safe option for the garden.
  • Rabbit dung. Amongst all the small farm animals, the humble rabbit is popular for producing droppings that can be added directly to the soil without composting. Even direct to pots and containers. It is higher in nitrogen than goat, chicken, sheep, cow or horse manure

Final Thoughts

composting guidebook cover image

Out of all the choices of animal manure for the garden my favourite is still Horse manure – both in its raw form for hot bed gardens and liquid feeds, and composted to add to and rejuvenate my Raised Beds.Opens in a new tab.

Yes, there are some dangers involved with using raw manure from any animal. However this must be balanced against the benefits that these natural by-products ‘bring to the table’ literally in the form of fresh grown healthy vegetables.

Just take simple precautions and wash your hands regularly – something that most of us are familiar with in the 2020 covid-19 era!

 A selection of Vegega metal raised beds


Best Selling author of several no-dig gardening books, James has over 40 years of gardening knowledge and experience to share with like-minded gardening enthusiasts.

Recent Posts