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Green Manure

A Red Pine Mountain LogoGreen manure; do you know what it is?  If so, then this entry will be too simplistic for you.  But if you're a novice like me and have no clue about green manure then this post might help explain it.

I've been interested in bringing our hay fields back into production.  They've been dormant for years and silly me, I thought we could just get out there and start cutting again and all would be well. 

"You can't just start cutting hay on those fields." the always knowledgeable Mountain Man said.  "There's work to be done to them and they also need fertilizing."

"Not a problem." I reply.  "I'll just take my band of horses and we'll tromp through the fields leaving fertilizer as we walk."


"We don't have enough horses to get the job done."

"Maybe we could get more horses?" I ask hopefully.

"No, we sure don't need any more hay burners."  That's Mountain Man for you; always putting a damper on my horse expansion plans.  "And besides there's more to it than that.  I think we should look into using green manure for our hay fields.

"Ewwww, how do we get green poop?  Feed the dogs grass?  And Mountain Man, I know we have a lot of dogs but if we don't have enough horses to get the job wouldn't we need more dogs?  Really Mountain Man, green manure sounds disgusting." 

But, naturally, I was wrong.

"No, silly," Mountain Man informed me "green manure doesn't come from animals.  It comes from crops.  Crops grown for no other purpose than to be sown back into the soil to nourish it."

Well strike me dead with an Emu feather.  No feeding the dogs grass and harvesting green poo.  There's a lot to learn about country living,  I headed to the internet and started to do research on green manure and here is what I learned. 

Green manure is basically a crop that is grown to maturity with no intention of harvesting it.  Once it reaches maturity, it is plowed back into the field to provide the field with necessary nutrients.  And there are advantages to green manure beyond nourishing the fields.  Green manure also provides weed control and insect control.

What crops are used for green manure? Rye, alfalfa, clover, comfrey, winter tare, the list goes on and on.  If you are considering green manure, you can take into account your climate, your objectives and pick the right green manure crop for your situation.  One thing green manure crops have in common is that they are easy to grow even for novices like me.  And, green manure can be used in small gardens as well as large fields.  It's definitely not a quick fix.  You have to have patience to use green manure and allow nature to take it's course, but the rewards are plentiful.

And instead of adding more horses and dogs, we are going to be planting green manure crops.   

I asked Mountain Man how he knew about green manure and he said it was something he's known about for ages.  Probably something he learned years ago from Mother Earth News (besides GRIT, his other favorite magazine).

So there you have a novice's explanation of green manure.  In a nutshell, think plants not poop, and let your fields flourish.

Mountain Man, Mountain Woman and their zoo can be found at

mountain woman
7/23/2011 6:17:29 AM

Cindy, just read your comment to Mountain Man. How interesting. I was hoping you'd wander over here because I knew you'd have great insights to share on this topic. I'm just learning and totally fascinated. Just amazing to me the things we can do if we put our minds to it without resorting to harmful chemicals. Definitely going to find out even mroe about radishes. Thanks a bunch!!! P.S. - I know you had an article in Grit about asparagus. Maybe you could do an article on Green Manure. Lots of people would love to learn more I'm sure and I'm not the one to teach them.

cindy murphy
7/22/2011 6:29:56 AM

Cute conversation between you and Mountain Man, Mountain Woman. Informative too. Last fall, I learned about tillage radishes when my boss planted them in the growing fields at the nursery - not necessarily green manure, but they do a lot more than traditional cover crops. They're kinda cool, actually. The taproot (an edible radish) can be more than a couple of feet deep, which breaks up and helps in aeration of compacted soils. They also store nutrients, which are recycled back into the soil after winterkill, in addition to helping keep nitrogen from leaching down into the soil, and keeping it up near the surface for the following year's planting. The winterkilled radishes decompose, adding organic matter to the soil, and there are no seeds left to worry about as there are with other cover crops. And perhaps the greatest benefit over other cover crops, is tillage radishes are a no-till alternative; always good for the land not to have to till. Maybe you guys should check them out if you haven't already. Great post, Mountain Woman. Enjoy your weekend.

mountain woman
7/20/2011 12:02:37 PM

Dave, Thanks for the info. I'm just starting the learning process. This post was definitely for someone who had never heard of the term and really it is such an interesting subject and so exciting to learn more about. It's amazing what can be accomplished using the earth's on resources to replenish. Thank you so much for your kind words. They mean so much to me.

dave larson
7/20/2011 10:41:50 AM

Hi Mountain Woman, I enjoy your blogs so much, not just for the content, but for your "voice". You make your blog so real it is almost as if I am privy to a conversation at Red Mountain. Have you looked at the work being done at the Land Institute near Salina, Kansas by Wes Jackson and his group? They have done some interesting work with green manure and crop rotation, in addition to a variety of pretty revolutionary crop breakthroughs. Love reading your work. Enjoy your day!