Can You Grow Vegetables Without Manure?

It’s entirely possible to grow vegetables without using manure—and many people do. There are several reasons why you might want to forego the use of manure. Before getting into that, let’s look at what manure is.

Manure is organic material usually consisting of animal dung and urine that is used to fertilize the land. Manure consists of environmentally recyclable components like solids, organic matter, nutrients, fiber, and energy. 

This article aims to answer some questions about manure, like:

  • Is manure necessary for agriculture?
  • What vegetables do not like manure?
  • What can you use instead of manure?
  • How can you grow food without manure?

So, without further ado, let’s explore manure and its uses in more detail to give you a better idea of how you can grow vegetables without manure.

Manure being spread on a vegetable garden

What Can I Use in Place of Manure in My Vegetable Garden?

You could use silage, leaves, half-finished compost, and grass clippings. 

Some will argue you can’t grow food without manure as a fertilizer, but that’s not true. There are many ways to fertilize soils without the use of animal manure. There are great alternatives to manure, including:

  1. Green manure
  2. Bokashi compost
  3. Crop-rotation
  4. Diluted urine
  5. Liquid fertilizer
  6. Mulching

Can I Grow Vegetables Without Compost?

Compost is considered essential for a productive vegetable garden, but it isn’t necessary if you have fertile soil. That said, compost has its benefits.

  1. It builds up soil life—a combination of fungi, bacteria, and worms eat organic matter, which is what creates compost.
  2. It slowly releases nutrients into the soil over time, which are then absorbed by your vegetables.
  3. It adds to soil structure by improving water and nutrient retention in sandy soils while improving drainage and aeration in clay soils and silt.

Is Manure Necessary for Agriculture?

Manure isn’t necessary for crop production. The agroindustry shows that it is possible to grow food without manure. Vegetables can be grown by using fertilizers.

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They can even be grown without soil, using hydroponic culture and liquid fertilizers. At the other end of the spectrum, natural systems, i.e., forests, and plants, grow quite well without the addition of manure.

Manure used in most organic farms is sourced from animals most likely raised in conditions that expose them to contaminants like antibiotics, GMOs, and pesticides.

Instead of adding manure to the soil, we can use plant-based fertilizers like green manure, mulch, chipped branch wood, and compost. 

This provides food for organisms that live in the soil. The organic material decomposes and is eaten by arthropods, fungus, earthworms, and bacteria. This brings about the availability of nutrients for the plants.

How Can I Grow Food Without Fertilizer?

To grow food without fertilizers, we need to do things more naturally when we grow food, and this is much simpler than having to measure and apply chemicals. 

By following examples of the natural ecosystem, we can create healthy gardens, increase our soil’s mineral content, enrich its life, and build our soils. 

Here’s what to do:

Don’t Dig

When we dig, we turn the soil that exposes and kills the organisms in the ground. This increases fertility due to the decomposition of the microorganisms, thus providing nutrients.

This explains why tilled soil is usually heavy with weeds. Let’s build gardens on top of the ground, leaving undisturbed what is beneath the ground.

Mix Plants

Naturally, plants are meant to mingle. Some roots spread horizontally, keeping the topsoil in place, some run so deep to pull nutrients, and some, like legume roots, deposit nodes that build fertility in the soil.

Mulch Heavily

Mulching protects the soil, and its organisms trap moisture and build layers of nutrients, allowing the old layers to wash away. In a forest setting, organic debris piles atop each other on the soil surface. 

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This enriches and protects the soil surface. We can replicate this by adding the leaves we rake from the farm, spreading grass cutting, dropping weeds we pull from the farm, using wood shavings, and only the things we plan to eat or use. By allowing the ecosystem to function, we are of help.

What Vegetables Do Not Like Manure?

Avoid fresh raw manure on your root vegetables, i.e., potato, beetroot, carrot, and radish. It burns and damages crops. And those that lean on the ground, i.e., spinach, squash, cucumber, and lettuce.

Due to the diseases, pathogens, and bacteria found in fresh manure, they can be contaminated. But this does not apply to well-composted manure.

Animal manure is very beneficial for plant growth. It is considered the best organic fertilizer. However, growers have experienced problems with its use.

While manure aids in developing healthy soils, you need to know that manure can cause more harm than good if improperly used.

Herbicide Residue

Herbicide residue can be found in animal manure, which can damage your garden. Plants treated with herbicides can retain herbicidal activity even after going through the animal’s digestive system and decomposing.

Vegetables affected by manure-containing herbicides are lettuce, tomato, solanaceous crops, grapes, beans, and strawberries.

Herbicide-contaminated manure can also kill seedlings and deform new leaves.

Can I Garden Without Manure?

Yes, there are many ways to fertilize your soil without the use of manure.

However, doing so can be more challenging as you’ll need a solid understanding of soil management and how to improve fertility by other means, like green manure, crop rotation, and under-cropping.

What Are Vegetables Farmed Without Fertilizers Called?

Crop and animal production without pesticides, transgenic species, antibiotics, growth-enhancing steroids, and chemical fertilizers is defined as organic farming, also known as biological or ecological farming.

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This agricultural system uses organic origin fertilizers such as:

And it also emphasizes farming techniques such as:

  • Companion planting
  • Crop rotation

Mixed cropping, insect predators, and biological pest control are encouraged. Organic farming allows the use of natural substances while prohibiting synthetic substances.

What Is Veganic Manure?

Vegan manure is green manure or composted plant matter. Veganic farmers don’t use pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic ingredients as organic farmers do. 

Veganic farmers don’t use manures or byproducts from the slaughterhouse, and they don’t even use pesticides approved organically. Instead, veganic farmers use composted plant matter, also known as green manure, and crop rotation to fertilize crops.

Non-Manure Compost

Non-manure composts use silage, half-finished compost, and grass clippings. This transforms into fertilizer after breaking down.

Plant-Based Fertilizer

Plant-based fertilizers break down more easily than other organics. They condition the soil more than the actual nutrients. Materials such as compost or alfalfa meal help in drainage and moisture retention of poor soils. Plant-based fertilizers include:

  • Molasses
  • Compost tea
  • Kelp seaweed
  • Legume cover crops
  • Green manure cover crops
  • Cottonseed meal

Why Do Most Modern Farms Not Use Manure on Their Fields?

Raw manure harbors potentially deadly pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and monocytes.

Due to this, raw manure can contaminate crops that are eaten raw such as strawberries, carrots, tomatoes, green peppers, spinach, and leaf lettuce. If you ingest contaminated raw produce, you can fall ill. You can suffer from kidney failure and, in extreme cases, death.

In comparison to fertilizers, manure provides fewer nutrients, and it doesn’t offer high yields as farms that use fertilizers.