Vegan Green Manure
Last week, we focused on gardening’s “ripple effects” and how, in vegan gardener Will Bonsall’s words, every garden is “a unified living system whose parts function to the benefit of one another and the whole.”
This brings us to today’s topic: green manure.
For me, the word manure evokes a definite, and not very pleasant, mental image. So I was quite surprised to learn that, when it first entered the human vocabulary back in the 1400s, “manure” was a verb.
It meant “to cultivate land.” However, somewhere along the way, it came to mean something farmers used to fertilize their crops for a better yield.
Today, most manure (even organic) comes from factory-farmed cows and chickens. According to the Gardening Channel, in fact, cow manure is “probably the most common organic fertilizer in use in the Western world.”
Not only is this bad news for the animals involved; it’s a real danger for gardeners who use their manure.
Because, as this NBC News Report on veganic gardening explains:
“Salmonella and E-coli are bacteria that live in the intestines of livestock and are present in their waste. Livestock waste, or manure, can fertilize fields, potentially contaminating crops with the disease-causing bacteria.”
In the most recent U.S. E.coli outbreak:
- 20 of 40 victims (across 19 states) were hospitalized.
- four went into kidney failure
And – most alarmingly for plant-based consumers:
“Investigators were unable to identify a specific type or brand of leafy greens because people in this outbreak reported eating a variety of leafy greens and because different leafy greens are often grown, harvested, and processed together.”
I can’t think of a stronger argument for switching from organic animal-based manure to veganic green manure! And my personal recommendation, based on a host of reasons, is…
Amazing Fava Bean Green Manure
What animal-based manure ever:
- Had graceful stalks of sweetly scented flowers?
- Attracted bees and other garden pollinators?
- Yielded a crop of delicious, protein-and fiber-rich beans?
before it ever got to work feeding the soil?
But that’s exactly what fava (aka broad) beans do – and they might help fight cancer and encourage and weight loss too!
Here’s the before picture: cancer cells just growing in amorphous clumps. But then, here’s those same cancer cells after two weeks exposed to the fava bean lectins. The cells have started to go back to growing glandular structures, like normal colon tissue.
This article from The Guardian praises fava beans as a protein-fiber combination:
“This may be a winning combination for weight loss… [They] are also rich in both folate and B vitamins, which we need for nerve and blood cell development, cognitive function and energy.”
But as healthy as they are as human food, fava beans really come into their own as veganic green manure.
How Fava Bean Green Manure Feeds the Soil
As legumes, fava beans belong to the only group of plants that can add nitrogen to the soil. That’s important because plants need nitrogen to make chlorophyll. And without chlorophyll, they’ll starve.
When it comes to adding soil nitrogen, Fava beans outshine all other legumes with a 150-pounds-per-acre score. It might not mean much to a backyard gardener, but that’s a lot of nitrogen!
How they do it is a perfect example of give-and-take.
The soil is home to countless organisms called rhizobacteria. These microorganisms help the fava beans extract and store atmospheric nitrogen gas. In return, the beans donate carbohydrates to feed the rhizobacteria.
In other words, “… parts function to the benefit of one another and the whole.”
Lift any legume from the soil and notice the tiny nodules lining its root system. Each of them contains a reservoir of stored nitrogen.
How To Make Fava Bean Green Manure
Plant your fava beans in the fall. After harvesting the beans (and some stems and leaves if you like; they’re also edible), cut the remaining stalks back to 6 inches above the soil.
Make each cut just above a leaf node. If you’re lucky, this first haircut will encourage a second crop.
In spring, after the second harvest (if there is one), cut the plants all the way back to the soil and compost the leaves or dig them into the ground. The stems will be too woody for digging in, so compost or dispose of them.
Leave the roots in place. When they break down, their reservoirs of nitrogen will affix to the soil to feed whatever you plant next.
Whatever it is, you won’t have to worry about contracting animal-based E. coli when you eat it!