Sheet Composting – My Cow Manure Adventure ~ Part 2

” … many people will insist that this pile of organic matter
must be combined with manure to make good compost.
I’ll get into that in a moment, as manure is not necessarily
essential for making good quality compost. (There … those of you
who just had a horrible vision of toting home bushels of cow manure
and stinking up your nice car can relax! πŸ™‚ )”

~~The Shoestring Gardener eBook

Part 2

Yes happy composters, here is an action shot of me holding what is referred to as a “cow patty”! cow manure patty for sheet composting bed

Cow patties are definitely not the reason for this post, nor do you want to collect a pile of them for composting purposes (they’re way too hard and won’t decompose fast enough in most circumstances), but I thought this was a light-hearted way to start off this post that does revolve around cow manure. Anyhoo …

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this fall-time sheet composting, aka layer composting tutorial, some people swear that you’ve got to add in manure of some sort (not human, cat or dog manure though!) in order to achieve a high quality composted humus. Many people, myself included, don’t believe that, and have practiced composting of one method or another over the years with great success. Our happy, lush flower and vegetable gardens prove it. But, if you can get your hands on (so to speak! :)) some manure, then go for it!

So, that’s a decision I made last fall – and that was to incorporate cow manure into my sheet compost garden bed this time. I did try first to get horse manure, but in my particular situation, it proved to be more difficult than I had hoped – it was going to be way more labor intensive for me to acquire than I had thought. Local horse stables said I could have all I wanted, but they wouldn’t help me load it into my truck.

My only option then was that I’d have to shovel it up into my truck bed – I didn’t want to kill myself effort-wise – I’m not as strong as I was in my 20’s or 30’s … sigh. I just couldn’t fathom myself having the energy to shovel the amount I needed up into the back of a pick-up truck, and then out of the truck bed and into my garden. I didn’t want to totally wear myself out! You see, I didn’t have anyone else available who could help me, so this was totally a one-woman project.

The other option would be a little pricey, as my only other alternative was to have the horse manure delivered to my home. But that idea wasn’t in keeping with my belief of trying to do this project frugally. So, the next best bet was … cow manure!

I was able to get lots of FREE cow manure. As a matter of fact I could have gotten all I would ever want and even more than that … I could have supplied the entire neighborhood! I made a phone call to my county’s Agricultural Extension office and was directed to a source that, it turned out, would gladly load all the manure I wanted into the back of my truck for free. Hey! You bet I jumped on the opportunity! Where was this manure coming from, you ask? Where they have livestock auctions.

Unfortunately there weren’t any cows penned up the day I arrived to pick up the manure – that’s why this photo doesn’t look too interesting! Sorry …

Anyway … here’s another one of my fabulous action shots of my truck getting loaded up with manure. The young man who helped me was so nice and would have scooped up all the manure I wanted with his bobcat loader.

loading cow manure for sheet composting bed

The rest of this part of the instructional story is that I drove home without any trouble with my truck bed loaded up with manure. Then I had the “fun” of distributing every shovel-full of this wonderful amendment into my new layered sheet compost bed all by myself. (Great exercise for the arms!)

Here I am adding in a layer of manure …

shoveling cow manure into my garden bed

But, I still had to get some “green” stuff to round out the proper carbon to nitrogen ratio, and since I didn’t have a whole lot of veggie scraps on hand as I mentioned in my last post (I needed a lot of green and brown matter to layer a bed this large) I opted to make use of used coffee grounds as a sensible second-best choice in my “get some greens” situation.

So, to not make you have to read too much and nod off … I’ll get into explaining how I got my hands on lots of free coffee grounds in Part 4 which I’ll be posting after Sheet Composting – Gettin’ My Hands on Brown Matter ~ Part 3. πŸ˜‰

If you want to learn more about composting, and lots of other eco-friendly gardening methods and great DIY projects, please head over to The Shoestring Gardener information page. Thanks!


  1. I have 2 3×3 square plastic composters that I just started using. For years, I have kept redworms in a plastic storage bin and all I ever put in for dirt is coffee and tea grounds. We go through alot. Actually, you would not believe how fast it builds up. I’d give them shredded newspaper and junk mail, and banana peels when I had them. In return, they gave me rich dirt and tea.

  2. Hey Julie – so, you’re an avid worm composter. πŸ™‚ That’s great that you’re into this type of composting, because for those who might be reading our comments and live in apartments, as example, but think they can’t compost … well having worm bins is something that can be done in a very small space and if done correctly, there’s no smell. I’m sure you are very accomplished in composting this way and have figured it out what your worms do and don’t like to eat to give you that great dirt and worm tea!!

    AAMOF, I have a nice chapter all about worm composting and how to be successful with it from the get-go in my 300+ page eBook The Shoestring Gardener. There are tons of eco-friendly ideas, tips, and advice for all gardeners.

  3. My question answered in PART 2! Does manure need to be dry and powdery, like yours? what if it is not quite that old to be dry and powdery? Will it “ccok” faster vs slower and still be ready for Spriing planting?

  4. Hi Linda:

    First – lucky you if you’ve got a constant source of horse manure! I’m going to guess you’ve got horses. I’m jealous … I’ve always thought being able to up and ride whenever one wants is so cool. But of course, there’s the constant shoveling out the stables and other chores that maybe aren’t quite so “romantic” on a day-to-day basis! πŸ˜€

    Anyway … about using dry manure. I had a choice between wetter vs. drier when I went to the stockyard to get my truck loaded up. From the research I had done beforehand, either will be just fine. I choose the drier option because:

    • The best thing about dry is that it doesn’t stick to your shovel as much.
    • Drier manure is much less heavy than wet, which was a big consideration for me (I had to tackle this manure-collecting and shoveling project all by myself), so this made the transporting and shoveling a whole lot easier.
    • But maybe MOST importantly – it really didn’t stink like the wet cow manure did!!

    My only “mistake” was that I didn’t realize that when the guy was scooping it up from the floor of the stalls, he was getting down to some heavily trodded-upon manure. This resulted in a large number of big flatten, hard-as-rock chunks about the size of large saucers in with the rest of my load. Most of those chunks had not decomposed into soft friable compost when spring rolled around. So … I had the small hassle of picking them out of my garden bed. They were still hard as rocks – most I couldn’t even break apart by hand! Maybe if I’d had a strong rototiller, they’d have broken up and gotten incorporated into the soil.

    So … I will advise everyone to not use super-hard chunks of any type of manure!

    You’ll be fine with wet or dry. Depending where people can get manure, dry manure has probably been out in the elements while it aged, so maybe a little bit of the original nutrients have leached out in the rain. But it is still very beneficial to a compost pile and the finished compost should turn out to be awesome.

    A tip to anyone using a drier manure: It might be too dry to decompose easily in a pile, so be sure to sprinkle plenty of water onto your layered pile! That’s what I did and like I said, I had a wonderful garden bed to plant in when springtime rolled around.

    Happy shoveling! πŸ™‚

  5. Vicki Zadina says:

    I have composted using green grass clippings from our yard and nothing else. This has turned into a very rich dirt. My husband is not bagging this year, so I pull crabgrass and add it to my dead leaves for some green. This is also working great. I have also used this(after it dries out) for winter mulch to protect my plants thru the winter. It works great and adds a layer of good soil by spring.

  6. Vicki:

    What are you mixing your green grass clippings with in order to get “compost”?? Are you just working it into your garden soil? Or letting it sit as mulch on your soil and then working in after it has decomposed? To make compost we need carbon and nitrogen rich materials. They work hand-in-hand.

    I understand and do write about using grass clippings as mulch or as an addition of greens to a compost pile in my Shoestring Gardener eBook.

    And yes, it is a great mulch for sure.


  1. […] I’ll be adding more posts about this whole process soon. As a matter of fact, here’s Part 2 ~ What’s Cow Manure Got to Do With It? I want you to be able to learn just what you need to do to try your hand with sheet composting in […]

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