Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Manure Tea: Or, Fertilizer Ethics

I have been very public about the fact that I’ve procured rabbits for the primary purpose of fertilizing my garden.  So far, I count the experiment as a success.  All the manure from January to mid-March went into my winter compost and then went into the three raised beds I built for our garden.  Rabbit poo is virtually odorless and dry—nothing really nasty about it.

But, this week I decided to try out the “manure tea” that I’ve read about in countless organic gardening publications and websites (Don’t believe it’s so popular? Just google it—54,800 hits).  I tried it, and I found it absolutely revolting.  First, “manure tea” may be the grandest euphemism I’ve ever confronted.  One blogger more appropriately terms this liquid fertilizer “poop soup.” It’s nasty.

Here is the basic premise: you put manure in a bucket of water for a  few days and then you have an organic hippy version of Miracle Gro: just pour it into a watering pot, sprinkle it on the garden, and book yourself a spot in the watermelon competition at the state fair. 

I do everything I can to keep chemicals and synthetic fertilizers out of my garden, but I can only carry this ethic so far.  In my defense, I am willing to deal with rabbit manure, and I am the father of three little kids.  I firmly believe that there are things in life that are unpleasant—dirty diapers, wiping the rear-ends of the helpless, the stomach flu—but that the call of duty grants no allowances for squeamishness.

But I draw the line at “poop soup” for my garden.  To all of those champions of the muck, I salute you.  I know you will probably want to tell me that it’s not so gross and my experiment was gross because I did something wrong.  For now, however, I’ll listen to none of that and move forward believing I’ve learned my limits. I will do everything I can with my dry organic fertilizers.  I will use all the rabbit manure my trusty brood can generate (in its naturally dry form), and I will supplement that with the great Putney Farms composted chicken manure that I buy through Upstate Locally Grown. 

For me, living an organic life is something that has happened bit by bit.  It started with simply learning about the problems associated with high fructose corn syrup.  Then it involved trying to avoid produce on the constant “dirty dozen” lists.  It eventually turned into growing as much of my own food as possible.  I think it’s the same with everyone, and it always involved figuring out what we can do, what we can afford to do, what we cannot do, and what we do not want to do.  I do not want to make, use, or be in the presence of manure tea.  In my learning process, I can now say I’ve figured out how I feel about fertilizer and how I will feed my plants.


  1. It's always great to read how others tend their garden I'm so happy your using sustainable methods in your garden. Sharing ones opinion is great. For all those gardeners who wish to grow #chemical free and are not able to raise rabbits and don't have access to good clean manure. I will continue to package my manure teas (which do not smell)and are harvested, processed and Eco packaged by hand from my Grass Fed livestock raised FREE of antibiotics, growth hormones, GMO/GE feed, herbicides and pesticides. Is your rabbit food GMO/GE free?

    1. I'm so glad read my post, and I would love to try your product. I'm fairly certain it would be more effective than my feeble attempt. The issue of GMO/GE free animal fees is important to me, and I've spent a great deal of time looking into it. So far, I cannot guarantee that I'm feeding my rabbits non-GMO feed, so I think it's pretty likely that their feed contains GMO ingredients.

      In South Carolina, it is difficult to find GMO-free organic feed, and the products I have located on the internet are too expensive to be practical.

      The best solution I have found is to grow my own alfalfa. I haven't done this yet, but I am planning to experiment with it.