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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 27 January, 2020
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From the Garden: Get over your squeamishness - manure is gold dust for your veg patch

In other news, here’s a recipe for some creamy Brussels sprouts to posh up your Christmas dinner.

Michael Kelly Grower

THIS YEAR, I’VE done a good job (if I say so myself) of getting the veg beds covered down to return the nutrition that I took from the soil with this year’s growing.

I’ve used a mix of green manures, seaweed, homemade compost and even some horse manure.

In the midst of shovelling manure this weekend, I was reminded of the wonderful book by Gene Logsdon (which would make a great Christmas present for the GIYer in your life) called Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

In times past, farm animals were prized just as much for the manure they produced as they were for their meat or milk.

These days manure is more likely to be looked on as a nuisance waste product. The book’s central argument is that animal manure should be looked on as a farmer’s greatest asset.

First of all, it’s a free source of fertiliser and secondly, according to Logsdon, it’s simply better than chemical fertilisers – the latter will fertilise but they don’t improve the soil like manure does.

The tipping point he believes will arrive as chemicals become more and more expensive.

The potential is staggering – a horse produces 20 tonnes of manure annually according to Logsdon which means in the US alone, horses are emitting 190 million tonnes of manure. 

He puts the value of that manure at a whopping $1.9 billion (€1.7 billion), if it was to replace chemical fertilisers. Most of it ends up rotting away in the corner of a field or worse going to landfill. 

The first step on the road to redemption is that we have to get over our squeamishness about poo – we should, according to Logsdon, be composting all manner of poo – from pigs, sheep, horses, hens, even (controversially) cats, dogs and humans.

In the revolution that Logsdon imagines, we will all need pitchforks again, but not to stick in the bums of bankers and politicians (tempting as that might be) – rather we will be using them to turn and haul manure.

GIYers, I think, are well ahead of the game on this one and with some I know, sourcing animal manure is somewhat of an obsession over the winter months.

When a pile of manure is discovered, it’s like the lost treasure of Machu Picchu has finally been found. 

I always think it’s amusing to see the interplay between a GIYer and a farmer when it comes to manure – both seem more than reasonably grateful to the other party.

The GIYer is thankful to get their hands on black gold that will make their soil friable and their veggies beautiful. The farmer is just delighted to get rid of it.

In Gene Logsdon’s world, farmers may not be so happy to get rid of the stuff in the future. Enjoy it while you can. 

The Basics – Hoe Hoe Hoe 

My Dutch hoe is one of the most useful tools I have in my shed and learning how to hoe properly is one of the most useful skills I’ve acquired.

Ideally you want to hoe to prevent weeds as opposed to having to get rid of them.

It’s preferable not to have to pull weeds, although you may have no choice if they get well established.

Pulling weeds upsets the soil structure and fertility.

Far better to hoe weeds, which basically dislodges the roots and forces them to die – they then rot down and add to soil fertility.

From personal experience, hoeing is eight times faster than pulling weeds.   

From April to September, run over the entire patch with a hoe each week – it’s enjoyable work if you do it right, standing upright with a long-handled hoe and moving it forward and back just beneath the soil surface.

Very important to redouble your hoeing efforts at two times of the year – first going into the winter with a clean patch and second in spring. Don’t let weeds get established.

Mulch and green manures will prevent weeds from becoming established, as will coverings of mypex and plastic. 

It’s also important to keep the grass around your patch short – otherwise it’s a great seeding environment for weeds. 

Recipe of the Week – Creamy Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Bacon 

Here’s a great recipe from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for poshing up your sprouts on Christmas Day. 

Ingredients

  • 25g unsalted butter, softened
  • 600g potatoes
  • 300ml double cream
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 250g fresh chestnuts (or use vacuum-packed chestnuts)
  • 500g Brussels sprouts
  • Knob of butter
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 4–6 thick streaky bacon rashers 

Directions 

Roast the chestnuts well ahead: make a little cut in each one and dry-fry them in a heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat for about 10–15 minutes.

Turn them frequently until they are cooked through and probably a little charred.

Let the chestnuts cool, then peel away both the shell and the thin brown inner skin.

Chop or crumble them up and they’re ready to go.

Just before serving, add the Brussels sprouts to a saucepan of well-salted water and simmer for around six to eight minutes, depending on their size, until just tender.

Drain well, then puree with the butter and double cream in a food processor, or using a hand-held stick blender.

Cut each bacon rasher into bite-sized pieces and fry them in a dry pan until crispy.

Add the chestnuts to the creamed sprouts and heat through gently but thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture into a warmed serving dish and sprinkle over the crispy bacon bits.

Serve immediately. 

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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