Back to Back Issues Page
Under the Arbor Issue 32
October 21, 2022

In This Issue:

~ The World's Best Manure ~

~ On Patience ~

The World's Best Manure

Many gardeners these days live in urban areas, where manure probably isn't available free from the farm up the road. Many people buy it in giant plastic bags from a Big Box Store, most of which comes from feedlot cows that have been fed GMO grains, steroids and antibiotics. But with modern, odorless fertilizers and compost (both also usually bagged and bought) readily available, why bother with manure at all? Does manure have any special qualities?

Vibrant Kale, Chard and Cosmos Getting All Their Micronutrients

It may have some very special qualities, if it is the right manure and has been properly handled. Manures generally have only low levels of nutrients which may offer a little nutritional benefit to soil and plants - but don't confuse manure (or compost for that matter) with fertilizer. (Exception: fresh chicken manure is high in nitrogen, so much so that it can "burn" plants).

The two most beneficial aspects of good manure are 1) it contains an excellent profile of beneficial bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes 2) it is high in carbon, which is excellent food for those same microbes

As I tend to harp about a lot, healthy soil microbes (and macro-organisms) are critical to soil structure, optimal water retention and drainage, carbon and nitrogen cycling, nutrient uptake by plants, messaging between plants, disease and pest resistance, and (along with optimal mineral balance) overall plant health and therefore, ultimately, human nutrition and health.

So what is the best manure?

The best manure in the entire world is free and home-growable. It does not stink, does contain nutrients, is teeming with good, live microbes and (if fed cleanly), is free of toxins of all kinds.

But for some reason, we never think of earthworm manure as, well, manure.

Compared to cows, horses, or poultry, which are big critters that poop a lot, earthworms are tiny. How much manure could they possibly produce? A LOT! You have to feed them and provide the conditions necessary for them to thrive, but if you build it, they will come, and you will have your very own field of dreams.

When you provide what they need, earthworms will multiply to inhabit every handful of soil in your garden, offering an ongoing supply of manure that is immediately available to microbes and plants. I can attest to this from experience.

I'm not talking about worm bins - though they are great fun and I do have a ginormous "Hungry Bin" in the basement. I'm talking about making your whole garden into a worm paradise. You just have to provide food and water, and most importantly, refrain from grinding them or their habitat to shreds. Here are the rules:

1) Never till. 2) Keep the soil covered at all times with living or dead organic matter. (low-growing cover crops, leaves, compost, shredded crop waste.) 3) Never walk on growing beds. 4) Leave plant roots intact when you chop down above-ground crop residue or annual weeds. 5) Never use pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers.

On Patience

Impatience reflects a wish to be in a different moment than the one we are in, which if you actually think about it is absurd. I seem to have endless patience in the garden, but a short fuse in traffic, even though I rarely have a deadline to meet anymore. This got me to thinking more deeply about what patience and impatience really are, and how they affect us and those around us.

Yesterday in traffic, the left-turn arrow turned green and the guy in front of me was so involved with his phone that by the time he looked up, he was the only one who made it through the light. Up came a sense of urgency, anger, self-righteousness, and a big dose of condemnation. All this took energy, caused a surge of stress hormones, and did nothing to "speed up" my day.

Why did I need to "speed up" my day anyway? I had no deadlines, but even if I'd had, the only thing those stress hormones would have speeded up was my heart rate.

We are only actually alive in the moment we are in, and everything else - memories from some glorious/regrettable past, or fantasy projections of some good or bad future - "exists" only in our minds. Now as obvious as that may seem, it's taken me a lifetime to realize how much life energy it has actually used up to react negatively to a real present moment that doesn't conform to my fantasy present moment - like getting through on this green arrow.

But why the difference in attitude between the garden and traffic, and what can we learn from that?

Obviously the garden is more enjoyable than traffic, but I don't think that's the real reason. With the exception of the indigenous people I've known, US culture is extremely time-obsessed! A motto that seems to have lodged itself deep into our national psyche is: "Time is money, and money is the key to happiness!". Sigh.

Gardening is supposed to teach us patience, possibly because the delay between effort (planting) and reward (harvesting) may often seem long. (Plus I've never known a gardener who was in it for the money.)

But when we are fully present to the moment, we realize that the reward is actually also in the present moment itself, no matter the task we're doing: turning the compost, pulling weeds, and yes, even waiting behind the sleeping "bonehead" in front of us (of course I've never pulled a bonehead move myself… haha).

So patience is the ability to fully and absolutely inhabit the immediate present moment. What other moment can we actually experience? When we're patient we fully engage what we're doing right now.

I'm slowly nurturing that quality in myself - and find I'm sleeping better with less cortisol on board.


Vegetable Garden Guru is dedicated to the renewal of regenerative, sustainable, organic vegetable gardening around the world. May we become gardeners of healthful, nutrient-dense food, careful stewards of soil, and may the plants we tend remind us to always keep growing toward the Light.

Back to Back Issues Page