Monday, February 23, 2015

Starting a New Garden - Questions about Bermudagrass & Horse Manure

Here's the "Question of the Day":


Dear Paul,

We plan to try our hand at gardening this year.  We have never done a garden before so this will be an adventure.  I tested the soil where the garden will be.  I picked a flat location, not too far from the house, that has a water supply and is next to our garden shed.  The only down side is that it may be great eating for the rabbits and deer, we will have to wait and see how that goes.  I checked out the NCDA&CS web site for all the applicable agronomy notes, etc but have a few questions specific to our situation.

We started a compost pile a few weeks ago near the garden shed.  I am using horse manure and kitchen scraps, mostly the manure.  Currently it is just a pile that is not in a container or covered.  I could put a lean-to on the side of the garden shed to cover it if you think that will make a big difference.  My question in regards to the compost pile is when should we incorporate it into the soil? That is, how decomposed should the compost be when we incorporate it into the soil?

The area where the garden will be located is all currently covered in bermudagrass, so that is something we will have to deal with.  I know it won't do any good to spray it with glyphosate until it is green again, but I didn't know if it would be too late to till, fertilize and plant by then.  If it is, we may need to spend this year killing the bermuda, working the soil and getting it ready for next year.

Thanks for your time,
Nancy & Sam


Dear Nancy & Sam,

How exciting! Wishing you great success with your endeavors, and please don't hesitate to call or e-mail anytime with questions.

Regarding your compost pile, you don't need to cover it. Rainfall will add needed moisture. Does the manure have some type of bedding material mixed in, such as wood chips? If not, you may want to add a carbon source such as shredded leaves.

The best and safest approach is to thoroughly compost the material before use. As an added precaution, I would add the finished compost to the garden sometime in the late fall or winter when all the crops have been removed. This approach will reduce the risk of contaminating the produce (e.g. e-coli) and also reduce the salt content of the manure which can "burn" plants.

Regarding the bermudagrass, that is going to be a challenge, but it's not insurmountable. One approach would be to let the bermuda green up and grow for a few weeks, then spray with glyphosate. Check the herbicide label for the waiting period (how long after application before you can plant), and once elapsed, till up and start sowing. This means you'd be starting your garden much later, but you could still have a very productive season. You will also get some regrowth of the bermudagrass, but that can be managed to some extent through directed sprays of glyphosate (Careful! Maybe hold a sheet of cardboard to shield the vegetable plants, or make a shield for the sprayer by duct-taping a 3-liter pop bottle with the bottom cut out to the wand). You can also use a selective grass control herbicide that contains sethoxydim and spray right over the top of many crops (but NOT corn!).

Another possibility would be to work solely on controlling the bermudagrass for this first season and wait until next year to plant the garden. With this approach, you could make two or three applications of glyphosate, or even lay down a thick layer of newspaper and cover with mulch.

It would also be wise to maintain a "bermudagrass-free" perimeter around the garden.

Hope this helps and keep me posted on your endeavors!

All the best,

Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent.

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