Llamas are known for spitting when they're angry and for producing superb, soft wool, but few backyard gardeners know about the benefits of llama manure, dubbed "black gold."
Known as “llama beans,” the droppings resemble coffee beans and break down into some of the best fertilizer Mother Nature ever invented, according to those who know fertilizer and at least one llama aficionado.
A library in Washington County hopes it, too, can benefit from the llama-produced fertilizer. The proceeds from the sale of llama manure at a Washington County farm are being used to aid Citizens Library in Washington, Pa.
“It is like black gold,” South Strabane llama farmer Cynthia Rossi said of the manure she has been collecting and selling on behalf of the library. “This year I had it composted and it’s gorgeous. I have it out in a pasture with a little hay and I let nature do its thing; nature breaks it down.”
The unusual fundraiser so far has netted the Friends of Citizens Library fundraising group more than $500, which will go toward extra items for the library, according to Dianne Rigby, the group's outgoing president, who finished her term last week.
“It has been profitable,” Ms. Rigby said. “We’re excited about it.”
In previous years, Ms. Rossi gave away manure generated from her 34 rescue llamas on her 30-acre Tara Hill Farm, but this year she began composting the material and making it into a liquid fertilizer for houseplants and other greens.
“This is one of the most balanced, best manures in the world,” she said. “You can use it right from the critters on plants — it won’t burn the plants. And there’s little odor.”
The manure is a favorite among organic gardeners because it’s high in nitrogen and potassium — nutrients often found in commercial fertilizers.
The benefits of manure are well-known among llama farmers, including a pair who tried in 2010 to sell a llama manure liquid fertilizer, or "tea," to entrepreneurs on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Those investors didn’t bite, but the “Llama Brew” is still featured on a website by the same name.
“Whenever this opportunity came up, we giggled about it, but we thought why not?” Ms. Rigby said. “It’s available.”
Ms. Rossi sells the composted manure in pails of 3½ gallons for $12 and 5 gallons for $20, or by the truckload. She sells the tea in a kit with 10 pounds of raw pellets for $10.
Raw manure is not recommended for use with food plants, such as fruits and vegetables, Ms. Rossi said. Composted manure is safer for food plants.
To make the compost, she mixes the raw manure with hay and other natural materials in a field, then lets nature take its course over the next 14 to 18 months, as the mixture decays and breaks down.
“It looks like the highest grade of topsoil” at the end of the maturing cycle, she said.
Ms. Rossi is a lifelong member of the Friends of Citizens Library and a board member of the library. She is overwhelmed by the fundraiser’s success.
“I am so thrilled that I can give these llamas a project that’s constructive,” she said.
Ms. Rossi said that while many gardeners like to mix fertilizer into their soil treatments in the spring, it can also be used in the fall to prepare the soil for the next growing season.
“You put this on the top and you just walk away, and the winter does its thing,” she said. “Come April, you’re tilling it in and you’re really enriching the soil.”
Ms. Rigby said the Friends of Citizens Library has raised almost $100,000 in the past three years for various items, such as furniture, carpeting, a digital projector and programming aimed at children, teens and adults.
The group operates CitiBooks, a used bookstore in the lower level of Citizens Library that has raised $47,000, Ms. Rigby said.
“We’re very busy. We have a very dedicated board of 14,” she said. “We work very hard to come up with the funds that are needed to provide extra things for the library.”
On May 29, pails of the composted llama manure will be available for sale at the Washington Farmer’s Market.
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Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.