Composted Manure
January 27, 2021 01:46AM
Hi Everyone,

I am in the process of starting a 1 acre orchard (apples, pears and plums) and just cleared the land which was heavy manzanita and scattered conifer trees. We had to remove most of the top soil unfortunately to get all the roots out, but am planning on building the soil back up with fungal dominance over time. I just got access to unlimited free horse manure and was considering tilling in a decent amount of aged manure (at least a month) to replace the nitrogen a few months prior to planting the trees. Anyone have any opinion on this? I feel if I do it a few months prior to planting, the chance of burning the roots will be mitigated. Also this will be the last time I till the soil and will be doing it in conjunction with any soil amendments I need based on the soil test I am getting soon.

Thanks for all the help!

Nathan Parker
Fiona's Apples
Zone 7b - Northern California
Re: Composted Manure
January 27, 2021 02:10AM
Hi Nathan,
So, when you say removed most of the top soil, I am not sure what that means - 6", 12", 18" or just the humus layer? That said, the amount of damage done by removing that much soil can't simply be rebuilt with horse manure and some amendments. Not in less than a year's time, certainly not just a month or so. A soil is so much more that its physical constituents, as you are aware. You also need also some green manures (cover crops), horse manure, amendments, inoculants, and time. Horse manure isn't that hot to begin with but you do want it to decompose and blend it with other components. I would suggest taking the horse manure, making a nice layered compost [multiple materials] out of it, waiting at least a season and then spreading at a rate of at least 3-4 tons per acre, incorporate it, let it settle and then plant. You can't rush good soils. And what you described I feel is actually pretty dangerous - not that it would kill the trees, but it is certainly not a "finished" soil and they wouldn't thrive vs if you waited and built it back completely.

Mike Biltonen, Know Your Roots
Zone 5b in New York
Re: Composted Manure
January 27, 2021 02:45AM
Hi Mike,
Thanks for the reply. The top 6 inches were removed. I guess I should have also mentioned that I plan on covering the site with 6” of ramial Woodchips and letting them sit to encourage fungal growth. I also have mycorrhizal root dips to get things started. I also plan on cover cropping this summer prior to hopefully doing a fall planting. I’m definitely not under the impression that the soil will be built back over months, I’m in it for the long haul and am anticipating at least 5 years to get it back to a good spot. That being said, I would like to get the trees in sooner than later, and feel this spring and summer prepping should be enough to allow them to get established? I’m anticipating the soil will improve with time as the trees get larger and will mature together. Not planting dwarf trees, mostly M111 so I’m looking a few years down the road until they start bearing.

Nathan Parker
Fiona's Apples
Zone 7b - Northern California
Re: Composted Manure
January 27, 2021 04:34AM
I totally get the wanting to get trees in sooner rather than later. Something to consider: let the site go through one winter after the wood chips and manure have been incorporated. The winter months are when the earth breathes in, summer when it breathes out. Letting it go through one winter will pull those physical components into the soil and help them decompose, while at the same time resting and drawing in nutrients and vitality over the winter. The soil will be much stronger in the spring than in the fall, esp after everything you did to it. Something to consider...if you plants the trees too soon you will be planting them into basically raw or at best partially decomposed materials as opposed to fully (or nearly so) decomposed or composted materials. There will not be any cohesiveness to soil...or not much.

Mike Biltonen, Know Your Roots
Zone 5b in New York
Re: Composted Manure
January 27, 2021 04:19PM
One tangential consideration on manure application: weed seeds. I spent years remediating an old tobacco field that had been fumigated with something that had killed off virtually every living thing in the soil. In the beginning, we would apply organic fertilizers and they wouldn't even register on subsequent soil tests because there wasn't any bacteria left in the soil to break anything down and make it available. In addition to cover-cropping and repeated sub-soiling (compaction was also a huge issue), the application of composted cow and horse manure from neighbors was crucial. However, while that field is now in good working shape for crop production, the weed situation is almost untenable from bringing in so many undesirables like spiny amaranth and cocklebur with all that manure. If you can bear to wait a bit, Mike's suggestion that you layer additional materials with that horse manure and let it further compost before incorporating may also have the added benefit of preventing the seeding of your orchard with undesirables. Not only will you give any seeds in the manure more of a chance to be "killed," but it will also give you a chance to see what sprouts in the meantime. If you wait to incorporate it, hopefully, a lot of sprouting will have already occurred, and you can even use the incorporation as a kill step if necessary. If you just till the manure in now, you run the risk of truly seeding your orchard for years to come.

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/29/2021 01:07AM by Brittany Kordick.
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