It’s interesting that people in the first world are so fussy about germs. They have antiseptic wipes for everything – from hands to kitchen surfaces to shopping cart handles. Surfaces must be disinfected before the salad can be chopped or the baby changed.
Baggies must attend every dog walk and tempers flare when the odd turd is discovered on the sidewalk (except in Paris where it’s almost obligatory to step between a multitude of them on your way to the Louvre). My husband, Lionel, was recently incensed the other day when, right next to a baggie dispenser, he found a neat offering on the park pathway. Half a mile later, there was another. He tut tutted and wondered aloud in vividly descriptive language about irresponsible dog owners – and then spotted a little silver tailed fox up ahead, gaily depositing another poop on the path, unfettered by park signs and plastic bags.
And yet, where would we be without good old poop? Many houses in the Africa are still built with a mixture of mud and cow dung. They have no smell, are cool in summer and warm in winter, last for years and cost a lot less to make than the humblest abode in the western world. Many villagers in India give their houses an annual paint job of liquid poop as it’s a natural disinfectant, believe it or not!
Poop in the fields
And, most important in our organic age, where would food production be without the annual spraying of thousands of gallons of liquid manure over the fields and pastures? A few miles away from us is one of the most productive, organized ranches I’ve ever come across and in late winter the pumps come out and slurp up an enormous slurry of poop, and spray it over the land. Within weeks, mustard flowers cover the hillsides in brilliant yellow, enriching the soil and preparing it for summer pasture. The smell can be quite ripe. Lionel takes a good sniff and says, “Aah California!” with great satisfaction as we drive by.
We live on the fringe of several cow pastures where the cows do a fine job of trammeling their own poop back into the rather barren soil as they graze. Back in Africa, elephants eat nuts from the Ilala palm, also known as the African Ivory Nut palm, which then pass through their digestive tracts to get pooped out somewhere else. Only then will these incredibly tough shelled seeds sprout.
The point is, despite an overabundance of manure being bad for the ozone layer, caused by an insatiable hunger for burgers and fried chicken, poop is vital to the world and to food production, not to mention my personal favorite, flower growing.
Poop in the garden
There’s nothing flowerbeds like better than a dressing of manure in the spring. You can choose manure from cattle, horses, sheep or chickens. (In South Korea farmers spray liquid human manure but I wouldn’t try this at home). You can buy most varieties from the nursery, ready to go and dry enough not to burn. Don’t drown your plants in it, just scatter it liberally around them on top of the bed or fork it in gently and let the hungry earthworms do the rest. You can plant seedlings, no problem, but some bulbs don’t like direct contact with manure so you have to put it on top of the soil and let it trickle down with the critters.
Last year I gathered up a couple of loads of sheep manure from a friend and dug it into my brand new beds. The plants shot up exuberantly, looking wonderfully healthy. Just remember, the manure must be dried out or rotted before you use it or it may burn your plants. If you have a fresh batch of manure, mix it into your compost heap and let it rot away with the rest of the pile and use that in your garden.
I recently watched a video that promotes using only manure for growth, to the exclusion of any other growing medium. Just pop dried, crushed manure into a pot and plant away! Well, if you see what grows out of old elephant dung, it’s not that surprising. Even if you can’t change the mix in your pots, a dressing of crushed cow, chicken or, yes, elephant poop will get those perennials sprouting and those annuals blooming.
Another easy way to use manure is to make a liquid out of it. I do this with chicken manure. Just suspend a porous bag of manure in a container of water. I use a 20lb bag of manure in a 50-gallon dustbin. I let it soak for a week or so and then dilute a couple of cupfuls of the liquid in a five gallon watering can and pour the mix over my plants as a mid season tonic. Keep adding water to the bin and you’ll have a few weeks’ worth of natural, wonderful plant food at your disposal. When the solution gets too weak, replace the bag of manure.
The latest rage, of course, is worm tea, which is liquid worm poop of course! You can make your own worm farm and extract your own worm tea and use it on your potted plants. It’s full of rich nutrients and healthy microbes that feed the soil and promote growth. Earthworms are a great way of recycling kitchen scraps and coffee grounds and even newspaper if you don’t have a compost heap. Make you own worm box or buy one at the hardware store. They come in all shapes and sizes. My friend has two that she stirs around each morning as part of her daily workout!
Vermiculture has really taken off in the last few years and farms vary from modest boxes to piles and piles of worm-riddled compost. I like the idea of worm heaps but you need lots of compost because those little creatures are constantly multiplying, eating and wanting more. You could end up scouring the entire neighborhood for leaf cuttings and spent flowers just to keep your worm population happy! A modest kitchen-scrap worm farm might be more manageable. Or, you can buy earthworm tea and worm castings from plant nurseries.
Along with worm tea, worm castings (solid poop) are also great for the soil. In fact, worm castings are like super food for plants because they’re rich in minerals and beneficial bacteria and plant roots easily absorb their nutritious offerings. They also remove toxins and harmful bacteria from the soil, thus helping to prevent root rot. You can mix them into your potting soil or sprinkle them around the base of your plants as nutritious mulch, the more the merrier!
Earthworms are wonderful in garden beds because they break down organic matter and transport it deep into the soil, aerating the soil as they go, and if you add worm castings to your soil you’ll definitely introduce some worm eggs as an added bonus. Last winter I used the fallen maple leaves in my garden as a mulch on all my flowerbeds. In the spring, I moved the mulch aside and discovered an army of earthworms beneath it, all chomping away at it and moving it down through the soil. At the same time, they fill the soil with nourishing, easily digestible castings. My soil condition was great as a result.
There are differing opinions about having earthworms in containers. Some reckon they’re good for plants, others that they have a negative effect. It’s inevitable that some worms will find their way into containers – they’re probably brought in as eggs in potting soil. Every time I lift a pot, there’re a few earthworms left scurrying for the closest patch of dirt. When I first started gardening I was told they were bad for potted plants because, ultimately, you’d end up with a pot of worm castings and not much else. I’ve seldom found that to be the case but it makes sense that worms constantly need new fodder. Old habits die hard and if I come across an earthworm in a pot I transfer it to a flowerbed where it can nibble away at large and provide my soil with the food it loves best – good old fashioned poop.
As usual, here is a link to a list of gopher resistant plants: http://www.groundcoversandgardening.com/gopher resistant plants.
If you want to buy plants that deer probably won’t eat, look here.
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