Manure hot beds for plants

This is a very old fashioned Idea, and I have read about it in both books from England and France, I am sure that its done in a number of other countries as well but it does not seem to be something that I find in our typical N.A. Garden books and I don’t know why, other then you do need a good amount of fresh manure, so this is certainly more idea for someone that has a farm or access to a farm.

So for me a hot bed means a box or place for plants that need warm soil to grow in gets a boost, now if you want to google hot box gardening, they will be very happy to sell you lots of products that will go under the soil, warm it and help those plants grow, you might even find some creative ideas of using solor energy and black hoses with water that is warmed by the sun outside the box and the heat moves into and under the soil, which I am sure works great for warmer areas

However where I live, the ground freeze’s solid and so does the water, I don’t want to have to pay for power to make this work, so instead I build old fashion Manure hot box’s.. This is a way to take the very act of composting to a new level of use.. If you have read composting books or websites, you know that the center of the pile will heat up and there is nothing quite as lovely to a farmer gal like myself then to see steam rising out of my composting manure pile from the barn, cause its turning it into black gold for later use.

So you need to either a)build a box about three feet high or dig a hole in the fall down a good two feet and still build your cold frame at least two feet high, I perfer a mix, I like to dig a hole down about a foot, after removing the sod, then build a bottom box that is three feet high, on top of which goes the glass doors of the cold frame but it also has a inside lip, that the glass can be taken off, and a taller extra foot high plastic covered/wooden framed cold frame can be placed over top.

So you need fresh manure with bedding from the barn, deep packed bedding is what I use mostly, I fill the box three feet deep, mixing in rabbit manure/bedding on the top six inches, get this nice and damp and close it up and leave it for a week to really heat up and get going.. there is no missing it, when you lift the lids, there will be steam coming up from the pile.. at this point, It will already have gone down just a tiny bit and settled..add half a foot of prepared soil, I make buckets of my own premixed but you can buy soil in bags to place on top if you want, it will have to be one or the other, as the soil outside is frozen solid, its its homemade soil, don’t forget to bring it into the house in the buckets for a couple weeks to thaw out and warm up. Don’t scimp on the layer of dirt, you need to have that space between the plants and the compost, you need it while the compost is still that hot.

So now you have a a couple feet of compost under a nice good layer of dirt with a cold frame on top.. its a natural heat mat.. plant your early greens or different seeds for early spring planting and close up the cold frame and let it do its thing.

Yes, as the compost does its thing, the soil will sink, don’t worry about that, it just gives the plants more room to grow up.. Its a wonderful thing to sweep snow off of the top of the cold frame, to see that inside the box, you have a self-heating mini-greenhouse thriving away.

So after you harvest your greens and spring is now on its way properly, you can use the cold frame to start other plants etc, but by summer or fall at the latest, you will need to dig out that mix of well composted manure and good dirt, I give it a good mix and then refill the buckets for next years hot beds, or you can use it in the garden or to help top up raised garden beds or to top dress your flower beds etc.

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6 Responses to Manure hot beds for plants

  1. terry says:

    I have done the same with a hotbed in my polly tunel, but the tomato and pepper plants all died with in days after I added more manure, they were in pots, with out any other layer of soil, what went wrong?

    • Hi Terry,

      Here is a link that show’s me preparing a box,

      https://livingmydreamlifeonthefarm.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/garden-my-2-dollar-cold-frame-horse-trough/

      Questions on what went wrong, did you allow your manure to have its first major heat up and cool down before plants were allowed anywhere near it as stated above but the main problem was that you didn’t add more soil on top..

      ” Don’t scimp on the layer of dirt, you need to have that space between the plants and the compost, you need it while the compost is still that hot.”

      While the manure will create heat for you, you are not wanting your plants to be in the manure while its still that hot (it will kill them, just as your’s did) the manure below is a heater, the plants are in the soil, and ideally but the time the manure starts to “cool” off the plants will be growing well having been started with what is like a living heat mat under them and then will have rich compost to feed from..

      But its key to have a good thick layer of soil over top..

      • Joni says:

        Would a layer of straw work in place of soil and instead of planting the seeds straight into the soil put the seeds in little plastic boxes of soil like you would buy your plants in already grown at a greenhouse?

      • I guess you could do a good thickish layer of straw and then put the seeds in their containers or seeds starters in the straw, I would for sure put a temp gage in the box so you have a idea of how hot its making it, to much straw and it would not let the heat though, not enough straw and it won’t hold the heat the same way the soil will.. work yes, but need a little watching and tweeking while learning how to do it as well.

  2. Lisa Newey says:

    can you post pictures?

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