For generations, chicken manure has been prized by gardeners for its incredible fertilizing qualities. As backyard chicken keeping grows in popularity, more home gardeners have access to this organic gold mine right in their own coops. But fresh manure can actually damage plants if applied directly. The secret is in the aging process, which reduces the nitrogen levels and unlocks a host of valuable nutrients. Read on to discover the amazing benefits of using properly aged chicken manure in your home vegetable and flower beds.

A Nutritional Goldmine

Chicken manure provides a lot of nutrients that plants crave. First, it is rich in the macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – the keystone ingredients in packaged fertilizers. Nitrogen stimulates lush, green, leafy growth and prepares the plant to set flowers and fruit. Phosphorus encourages root, flower, and fruit production. And potassium promotes overall plant health and resilience against pests and disease. Chicken manure also contains micronutrients like copper, boron, zinc, iron, manganese, and molybdenum which facilitate specific plant functions and healthy growth.

In addition, aged chicken manure contains billions of beneficial microbes which enrich the soil. Earthworms and other decomposers break down the manure and release nutrients. Mycorrhizal fungi colonize plant roots and supply water, phosphorus, and trace minerals in exchange for sugars. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria covert nitrogen gas from the air into compounds the plants can absorb. Applying aged chicken manure is like giving your plants a probiotic boost.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Fresh chicken droppings are potent – sometimes too potent for direct application. The high ammonia content can burn plant roots and leaves if overapplied. Instead of just scooping droppings from the coop, allow the manure to age and mellow under cover for 4-6 months before using. Place the manure in a compost bin or pile it in a corner of your yard covered with a tarp to protect it from excess rain. Turn the pile occasionally to aerate it and combine layers. In time, beneficial microbes will colonize the manure and the nitrogen will convert from ammonia to milder nitrates the plants can readily use.

Ammonia Gas is Not Your Friend

One caution about aging chicken manure – it will release ammonia gas as part of the decomposition process. Avoid breathing the fumes directly as the ammonia can irritate your eyes and respiratory tract. Turn the pile using a pitchfork while standing upwind and wear goggles and a breathing mask if needed. Never add fresh droppings to an active compost pile – let them age separately first. Once aged, the chicken manure is safe and smell-free to handle.

Black Gold for Your Vegetable Garden

Aged chicken manure makes an exceptional fertilizer for vegetable gardens. Spread 1-2 inches over the soil surface and turn it under before planting. You can also bury it in holes when transplanting seedlings like tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli. Over the season, the nutrients will steadily release and feed the growing plants. For quick results, brew up some chicken manure compost tea. Stuff a burlap sack with aged manure and steep it in a bucket of water for few days. The resulting nutritious tea can be used to water plants or sprayed foliarly to boost fruit and vegetable growth and yield.

Flowers Love Chicken Manure Too

Chicken manure is an excellent, gentle fertilizer for flowering annuals, perennials, bulbs, and ornamental shrubs. In early spring, spread about an inch of it around established plants and lightly mix it into the top few inches of soil. Plants such as roses, dahlias, irises, peonies, and other prolific bloomers will flourish, producing a plethora of flowers. Notably, hydrangeas benefit from chicken manure; its phosphorus content promotes vibrant blue or pink blossoms, depending on the soil’s pH level. For new flower beds, incorporate composted chicken manure before planting bulbs or setting transplants. This addition enriches the soil with essential nutrients and organic matter throughout the season.

Tips for Aging Chicken Manure

While fresh chicken manure can burn plants, properly aged droppings provide incredible nourishment. Follow these handy tips for safely preparing chicken manure for use in your home garden.

1. Choose a Convenient Spot

Find a place to age the manure that is out of the way but easy to access. Near your compost area works well, or designate a wasted corner of the yard. You’ll be visiting it regularly!

2. Layer the Litter

Add accumulated manure in thin layers without dumping all at once. This allows each addition to begin decomposing as the pile builds up.

3. Brown It Down

Mixing in brown materials like dried leaves, shredded paper, or straw will aerate the pile and balance the carbon-nitrogen ratio. This speeds up composting and reduces ammonia odor.

4. Turn the Compost

Use a pitchfork to periodically turn and fluff up the aging manure pile. This blends the layers and allows air circulation to aid decomposition.

5. Monitor the Moisture

The manure should be moist but not wet. Turn the pile after rains to dry it out. In dry weather, sprinkle with hose periodically to restart microbial activity.

6. Let it Breathe

Make sure the aging manure gets plenty of air flow. Cover loosely with a tarp or burlap rather than heavy plastic sheeting.

7. No Fresh Additions

Resist mixing any new droppings into the actively decomposing pile – prepare them separately. This prevents ammonia spikes that slow progress.

8. Six Month Minimum

Plan to let the chicken manure age for at least 6 months before using in your garden. Time and microbes are needed to fully decompose and stabilize the nutrients.

9. When in Doubt, Wait it Out

If the aged manure still smells strongly instead of earthy, give it more time to cure before applying to plants.

Final Thoughts

Properly aged chicken manure is a fantastic organic fertilizer for gardens. While fresh manure can burn plants due to its high ammonia content, given time to decompose, it transforms into a nutritional powerhouse for vegetables, flowers, and other plants. The aging process allows microbial activity to reduce the nitrogen levels and unlock an abundance of essential macro and micronutrients.

Following proper composting techniques, like layering thin additions of manure, turning the pile for aeration, and monitoring moisture, ensures thorough, safe decomposition. Plan to allow the manure to age for a minimum of 6 months before use. The wait is well worth it, as chicken droppings that has fully composted makes plants thrive with its mix of readily available nutrients and soil enriching organic matter. With its excellent fertilizing qualities, properly prepared aged chicken manure is indeed a gardening goldmine right in your own backyard.