Llama Beans for Your Beds
Written onJune 01 , 2008
At our small hilltop farm here in Craftsbury Common, the melting winter snow recently revealed piles of one of Vermont’s gardening treasures: llama manure. Also known as “llamanure” or “llama beans,” llama manure has become the fertilizer of choice for many friends and neighbors of llama farms. Thus, on a recent bright spring morning, our neighbors arrived in pick-ups, shovels in hand, ready for the spring ritual of scooping poop provided by our small herd here at Maple Leaf Llamas.
Our neighbors had come to load up on their annual supply—a win-win situation since their labor cleans up our winter dung piles and their gardens thrive and improve with the fertilizer. One neighbor reminisced about the year she never got over to collect the manure and what a difference she noticed in her vegetable garden. The soil texture was not as good and the harvest was uniformly down. Neighbors also appreciate that you can spread the manure right on the garden without composting, that it’s not as messy as other animal fertilizers due to the compact pellet size (similar in size to deer droppings), and that it’s virtually odor free. Llama friends of mine say their neighbors, initially skeptical of those unusual looking creatures that occupy the pastures, now eagerly line up for the ritual spring shoveling of the piles. One friend told me that a neighbor of hers hoped the word wouldn’t get out. “You won’t tell anyone else about this great stuff, will you?” she reportedly implored.
Llamas, members of the Camelid family, are modified ruminants with a three-chambered stomach. They chew a cud, have a super-efficient digestive system, and browse on a diet of shrubs, forbs, and grasses. Their soft, silky fiber can be shorn annually. In North America, llamas are generally not raised for their milk, which is challenging to obtain, but often sheep, goat, or alpaca owners will use one or two llamas as guard animals. About 90 farms belong to the Vermont Llama and Alpaca Association.
Evolving on sparse, arid plains at high altitude in South America, llamas traditionally thrived by foraging on scant grasses and shrubs, efficiently digesting and utilizing their intake. Their manure is thus almost completely devoid of weed seeds—a real garden plus, since there is no need for composting. Another reason it can be directly applied to the soil is because it has a nitrogen analysis of about 1.7 percent and therefore is not “hot,” although I know of several llama owners who prefer to allow their piles to compost for a year. Most people layer at least two inches of manure right onto their spring vegetable garden, tilling it in to create a rich, healthy soil that decreases pest and disease problems. Several gardeners I spoke with cautioned against using too much manure on tomatoes and peppers, since foliage, not fruiting, grows profusely, but others said they had excellent results with heavily fertilized tomatoes.
The more llama owners and llama manure users you talk with, the more diverse the opinions—typical of gardeners and very typical of llama owners! Yet most people proclaim that llama manure enhances everything, and they urge folks not to stop at the vegetable garden borders. For example, you can apply llama manure around the root base of bushes, shrubs, and trees. For beautiful perennial gardens and borders, a llama friend of mine liberally spreads manure onto his beds in the late fall and early winter and eagerly awaits the profusion he knows will greet him each spring.
For instant benefits, and for heavy feeding crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, try brewing up a batch of “Bean Tea.” Add a shovelful of pellets to a large container of water and let it brew for several hours or overnight. Then pour it directly around the roots of transplanted seedlings or heavy feeders for immediate results. Sprinkling Bean Tea directly onto plants also appears to be an effective deer repellent. Most llama farmers in Vermont do not sell their manure, preferring to give it away to neighbors, but some creative owners have sun-dried or oven-dried llama pellets, pulverized them, then packaged them in attractive two-pound bags and sold them for a high price to upscale homeowners for their potted plants. (I have found these offerings at farmers’ markets and on eBay.) Mixing two-thirds potting soil and one-third of this “llamanure” produces healthy plants, as the pulverized pellets do pack a punch.
A gardening friend recently notified me that someone on Craigslist had an ad titled “Wanted: Llama Manure.” Perhaps it’s my cousin in Chicago. Years ago, I brought him a giant box of fresh llama manure (via United Airlines!) as a housewarming present for his new rooftop garden. He now has a house in the city with a big backyard garden, and I told him that he needed more manure than I could send. I guess in this day and age, if you don’t have a farm nearby, Craigslist is the next best solution for obtaining those beneficial beans for your beds.
To locate a llama farm near you, ask around at feed stores, inquire with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, or contact a member of the Vermont Llama and Alpaca Association (http://vtllama.googlepages.com).