It may be helpful for new victims of manure contamination to know what the situation is for those who suffered from this problem last year. I have emailed where possible victims who made contact with me last year and asked for an update. The comments of those who have responded are given below. More will be added as they come in. Even if you didn't make contact last year but had a problem with suspected herbicide damage then please feel free to contact me with information on how you are faring this year.
My comments are in green
- Kathryn from Stokesley, near Middlesbrough: Before we planted out we did a runner bean test and things seemed fine. We had dug over the affected beds five times between July and April and there was no trace of any manure left. However about a quarter of our newly planted dahlias are showing effected leaves. But they aren't dying of just struggling. The dahlias have only been out three weeks and have yet to do the big spurt of growth that will happen now they are rooted so any other effects will be obvious soon. We talked to the stable last year and they swore blind that they had only had one delivery of hay that was dodgy so we took more manure at the end of the year. This manure is as polluted as it was last year and is unusable. So somewhere someone is not reading the labels and telling the truth about where the aminopyralid is coming from. We wrote to the pesticides agency who said that there is no test only symptoms so we sent them the photos and have had no reply. I wrote to my MP Ben Wallace about the committee decision pending on aminopyralid and asked if he had any say into he matter and if other people had written to him about this stable or any other. I asked him to find out what provision there is on our area to dispose of contaminated manure and I suggested a future where stables develop toxic mountains. I've had a confirmation of my letter but no response. Its so disgusting that this is happening and I'm furious that a company can effectively severe the traditional link between organic gardeners and stable/livestock keeping and pay no consequences.
- Charlotte Stamford in Lincolnshire: I have been careful about what I planted in the worst affected bed ie the one with the most manure. So far cabbages are fine, and I have just planted out leeks. The French Beans are stunted but that is probably down to my inadequacies! Other beds do not appear to have any residue of the chemical. Tomatoes, potatoes, peas, salad, raspberries, corn all doing well.T he roses in the garden have recovered,a part from one. It seems that I am in the clear.....and have not used manure this year.
- Last year Hugh reported contamination on his parents allotment site in Knowle near Birmingham: At my parents site in Knowle (Birmingham area) most plots appear OK. We removed all of the remaining manure on the surface and disposed of it, after virtually losing all last summer's crops. This was an enormous job involving filling sacks and taking it to the refuse tip for use in soil/rubble, we worked through the winter and spring to complete it, I estimated we probably moved a dozen or more car loads. This seems to have prevented any further problems this year apart from where I think traces may have been washed into the ground. On a visit last week I spotted cupped leaves on runner beans growing in soil where the affected manure had been stacked close by, but on another plot where a large amount of the contaminated manure had been used last year, the crops this year (broad beans, runner beans, potatoes) seem perfectly healthy (so far).
- Julia from Hampton in Middlesex: After last year's disaster with aminopyralid we decided to grass over the plot where we grew our vegetables and this year we are growing them all in containers on our patio using multi-purpose compost. Things are doing well but the yields are not as good. We have enjoyed some very nice potatoes already but they're all quite small in comparison to what we might have achieved from the garden soil. The areas of the flower garden where we spread the affected manure last spring are still showing quite significant damage to foliage. Leaves of many subjects still have holes and distortion but I would say that the effect, although still very obvious , is not quite as severe as last year. Plants affected include hydrangeas, Japanese anemones, purple loosestrife, ferns etc.
- Barry from Scunthorpe: Things have quietened down here and returning to growing for pleasure rather than growing with fear. All the affected plots have returned to normal with the affected manure dissipating into the soil as stated by the RHS. One plot however had the manure piled in one spot until autumn and planted potatoes this year. They have been as affected as those last year.
- Nicolette in Suffolk: I still have residual probs. Patchily but definitely still here! Some potatoes affected and feeble runners. Not great!
- John - Chair of Sandwell Allotments Council in the Midlands: Johns tomatoes are affected by groundwater seepage from his manure pile 2 metres away. The kids tomatoes in the School plot greenhouse were transplanted in a healthy state, but within days were distorted. That bed in the greenhouse was manured last year; upon the failure of last year's tomatoes, we dug out the bed and replaced the soil. We obviously didn't remove enough. This stuff seems to be more persistent than we are led to believe. The same applies to Pat's tomatoes as to the children's. The bed was manured last year, then the affected soil was removed. The herbicide however can be see still affecting this years plants
For the plant material in the manure to break down it needs exposure to air, warmth and moisture. Sometimes when a problem has been noted in a greenhouse or polytunnel the lacking ingredient is moisture. If contamination manure is present in the greenhouse keep the soil watered even if nothing is growing. Once the residue is released it needs contact with soil microbes inorder to break it down and render it harmless.
- John from Guildford in Surrey: 2008 Background:In April 2008 I purchased 30 bags of 'Organic' compost and spread it over my vegetable patch. This wiped out my tomatoes, beans and potatoes making 2008 a complete disaster. Some vegetables like onions did not show any symptoms but given that the initial advice from the PSD was NOT to consume the produce it really was a bad year. This was one of my tomato plants (click here for taken in June 2008): Since then I have thoroughly mixed the contaminated compost into the soil to help break down the aminopyralid. Also I swapped soil from untreated beds. This seems to have worked as none of my crops show any damage this year. I have really concentrated on generating more of my own compost so I no longer need to buy so much. I've produced something like 2000 litres, which is double what I've made in previous years. The only compost I've bought is for seeds, maybe next year I'll try producing some of that. I still have one of the compost bags remaining from last year, so about 4 weeks ago I planted one tomato plant into a mixture of 50% contaminated compost with 50% garden soil. The tomato is just starting to show signs of fern like growth. This goes to show that aminopyralid does not break down in compost, even after a year it is still potent.
The breakdown does appear to be very variable. Maybe the prediction that after a year things will be back to normal is based on an ideal scenario. Variables that will affect breakdown would include:* How much on the manure used was actually contaminated as the pile could be made up of manure collected from different areas, from animals fed on different haylage etc.* Environmental conditions - see above comment* Treatment of the area - digging will speed up decay, covering will slow it down etc* How thickly manure was spread* I suppose soil type may also have an effect.
- Barrie from Chapel Allerton - Leeds: Well one year on things seem better - I've grown some crops that were badly affected last year to check any differences - runner beans are OK but potatoes are showing some leaf curl in some (not all ) of the plants. Obviously still some residue remains but a lot better than last year. The weather has been better this year and I grow mostly alliums which are thriving. Still got a pile of unused contaminated? compost - just going to let it lie for a year or two, we'll see....
- Roger from Stoke Rivers, North Devon EX32: June 23 2009 All veg growing well on land affected by contaminated manure in 2008. This land had been dug over during the winter 2008 and lay fallow till planted up Spring 2009. No manure used 2009 just seaweed and homemade compost. In 2008 the legumes which had been affected were a write off but some potatoes mildly affected at first seemed to recover and produce normal appearing tubers.
- Chris from Forge Farm Allotments, Sutton Coldfield: Haven't seen much of the others but my own situation seems to be aminopyralid has affected the onion bed again this year. Last year the onions went very deformed and twisted but then grew through it and in the end produced a good crop though many had a strange large oniony lump almost sloughing off the side. Didn't dig that one much. Didn't rotate so planted the same bed with sets this year, and they have done exactly the same so looks like it has lingered there. Happily they are again through the initial phase and growing strongly. Have a small home made polyhouse rather than a tunnel put early spuds in there and they seem Ok outdoor spuds do not appear much affected this year except for any rogues that are growing from last year's small missed potatoes which still show definite signs both in and outdoors. Three runner bean rows were affected at the end of last season they finally seemed to come through it. This year one row is way ahead of the other two so I shall reserve judgement on them. We ate all crops last year don't seem to be any immediate affects. So I feel the problem is still there to a diminished degree this year but it hasn't gone away in the 12 month period we were told last year. I think it will take at least this season to finally work through so that is at least two years for contaminated ground.
- Paul from an allotment site in Hertfordshire near Rickmansworth: Things are back to normal on our allotment this year. We still have some of our contaminated manure stored in a corner and will leave it to rot down for another year or so. One of our plotholders has tried to grow a few potatoes in the manure as an experiment but has had the same problems as previously. I myself am rotting down some of the manure in my own compost bins which is a much faster process as I add water and also turn regularly. I will let you know how this goes when I use it as a mulch on the fruit and other purposes maybe next season. It is alarming to think that Dow are planning to reinstate the chemical. Although farmers and others users may read the instructions on its its uses, there is no guarantee that they will follow them to the letter and we will be back to square one. It is very difficult to verify the source of manure. Ours came from a local stables but the straw was imported by him from other sources. I asked our supplier to let me know more about this but he has never come back to us.
Make sure that you add soil to your manure or the residue just won't break down. The residue needs to come into contact with the microbes in soil. Just stacking the stuff won't get rid of the contamination. Just as your plotholder friend has found out. It could be stacked for several years and still hold contamination. Don't mulch your fruit until you are really sure that the contamination has gone or you could lose your fruit. Avoid using it on raspberries in particular. Straw shouldn't be contaminated so it is unlikely that the straw was the source of contamination.
- Lloyd, in Bedfordshire: We are a lot happier this year. The garden is producing lots of produce that looks healthy and we are more than happy to eat. But in many ways we have avoided the issue. In the greenhouse I have used grow bags, and have nothing growing directly in the soil. Outside in the area where we spread manure last year we have put a couple of raised beds. These are only 6 or so inches tall, but having regularly dug over the contaminated patch last year, we made sure that we did not mix the new soil in the raised bed with the old soil. Above what was probably the most heavily manured area the raised bed has French beans, and these are growing well, with no distortion of leaves as we saw last year. We should be picking in a week or two. There is definitely still a problem, and we will not be buying any manure in the near future.
- Barrie from Basingstoke - Hampshire: Needless to say, no one on the site placed any orders for farmyard manure at the end of last year! Everyone has been using either green manures (mustard, rye grass, field beans etc.), pelleted chicken manure, blood fish and bone or commercially bagged manure (with no reported incidents so far). Volunteer potato tubers that were missed from the previous year sprouted with severely distorted foliage and I did fear the worst that the soil was still contaminated. I dug these out as much as I could and they ended up in the "green waste" going to the tip. A line of climbing french beans that were planted this year in the same spot as last years potatoes did show the same leaf distortion early on, but have now recovered and are speeding up the poles. I think that some of the herbicide taken up into the volunteer tubers was being re-released as they rotted down. I deep trenched what contaminated manure that I had left from last year and most has rotted down well. Early potatoes planted there later showed some distorted foliage at the start, but improved over the next month or so. They have now cropped well. I will have to replant both the strawberry and raspberry beds. The raspberry bed was heavily mulched with manure last year and although I tried to rake off most of it later on, the plants did not recover. I similarly lost half of my strawberry plants this year. These were planted early last year through woven weed suppressing fabric into a raised bed containing the manure. I will have to completely empty the raised bed and relocate the remaining strawberry plants. Strawberries that I did pick tasted horrible - I might start from scratch with new plants? So on the whole, things are much improved. Now if only we could have some decent rain to bring things on!
We had the same problem with our volunteer potatoes. I think that covering up the manure area with the weed suppressant may slow down the decomposition as it could cut down the exposure to air.
- Suzette in Church Crookham, Hampshire: By the end of the season last year everything was in fact growing well, my tomatoes in the greenhouse recovered and new shoots were healthy, presumably as the chemicals broke down. Outside things were very slow to take off but once they did we had good yields of produce. I could not bear to throw stuff away so in fact we ate everything – I just hope we don’t find out some dire news in 20 years time…… it was a hard call, but all that work, and the cost to then buy all the replacement fresh goods….. basically I felt I couldn’t afford it. And although the produce could no longer be considered ‘organic’ ie chemical free, was this very different from the produce in the shops? This year I used pro-gro where I did not have enough home compost. Pro-gro is not nearly so good for my gardens needs (very sandy soil) as the organic compost previously used. The problem is that some beds I feel are still slightly affected from last year’s compost as is the greenhouse although I don’t truly know if it is residues from my own compost or the pro-gro or both…….. certainly the plants in tubs in my own compost are doing astoundingly well as they did last year, squashes, marrows etc not in tubs are very very slow to take off as last year. The greenhouse tomatoes are just beginning to get the curling up effect that makes you think they are suffering from drought – but they are not deprived of water. So I think in the contained area of a covered glass house, plus the beds where last year’s compost was the thickest, still have residual effect. But who can say for sure? What I would say to gardeners affected this year is endeavour to not use the same thing next year, rest assured the garden does seem to recover even if not 100% and we are still here and well even though we consumed our produce.
I think the squashes and marrows etc are just slow to take off once planted. Courgettes too all seem to suffer a set back when moved outside and then as they acclimatise seem to romp away. There has been a lot of talk about this in gardening forums this year. They are one group of plants that seem unaffected by the aminopyralid - ours grew happily in affected beds last year. The greenhouse is another issue. In a greenhouse the soil tends not to be dug over as often if at all and also once plants are no longer growing it tends to be left on the dry side. To decompose the manure needs the moisture and also air incorporated by digging so in a greenhouse decomposition is much slower.
- Rose in Stockton on Tees: Last year several of our tomato plants were affected by the problem relating to manure. However, this year up until now everything seems to be fine except just one of the plants seems to be suffering. Why just one we do not know as they are all in the same greenhouse and have received the same feeding and watering regime. The tomato plant (only 1 of 15) is planted in a bottomless tub on a gravel bed in a greenhouse. We used new organic gro-bag as for the rest of the tomatoes.
The only reason that I can think of for one of your tomatoes only to be suffering this year is that there may have been some remnants of manure under the gravel in the vicinity of the affected tomato which hadn't decomposed. That this now has releasing residue which has been absorbed with water drawn up by the tomato showing symptoms or the roots of the tomato have penetrated the area where the residue had been released.
- Jon from Brighton used contaminated manure in February 2009, in June 2010 he emailed to say: "A year on - after contaminated manure - and much digging and trying to get as much manure as possible out of the soil etc etc, and after the rains last autumn that should have washed the soil well - we planted test spuds and/or beans in ALL our beds on the allotment. The only contamination so far that we can see is one single volunteer potato plant (that escaped us last year when digging everything up) has the characteristic leaf curling and stunted growth. All else seems to be fine. A few of the beans didn't germinate, but the ones that did seem healthy (after 2 months) and all the spuds have come up with no sign of Aminopyralid. This includes beds that were completely covered with spuds and beans last year that were completely affected by the Aminopyralid. Also, a couple of beds which were moderately contaminated but not dug over that well last year as an experiment seem to have ok, (but slightly smaller) potato plants. Will see when it comes to harvest them what the result is. Phew! Hope that everyone else has been as 'lucky' as us".