After eating a nice side salad picked straight from my garden yesterday, I heard about another lettuce recall that I don't have to worry about because I grow my own food and I know how to properly use poo.
Strains of E. coli have caused the recall of leafy greens over the past few years, and a new recall just popped up. This time E. coli bacteria was found in Romaine lettuce grown in New York and Arizona and shipped to grocery stores, wholesalers, delis and salad bars around the country. (Grocery stores that may have been affected so far include Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets, Kroger and Marsh... never even heard of any of those so I think we're safe here in NYC!)
E-coli bacteria spreads to plants through manure, but this doesn't necessarily mean that these lettuce growers use unsafe agricultural practices. According to this NPR article, just one thimble full of manure can make 10,000 people sick with E. coli! That means that if even one chicken wanders into the lettuce patch and does a little poo on the greens, it can affect the entire 100 acres of lettuce harvested there.
You can return your recalled lettuce to the store for a refund, or you could just wash it really well before eating. Chances are that even if a batch of lettuce was recalled, not every single leaf in that batch was exposed to the bacteria.
So how can you and I, the small-time gardeners of the world, get the fertilizing benefits of manure while avoiding the risks?
Rule #1: Manure should never come in direct contact with the food you're growing.
If you're using manure as a fertilizer in your garden, spread it as a base below the topsoil months in advance of planting your veggies- like, as soon as you shut down your garden for winter the previous year. NEVER apply manure after the garden has been planted! And if you're growing root veggies that mature underground (such as carrots), be aware of how deep the safe soil is before the veggies start hitting manure.
The safest thing to do is use aged or composted manure, which has had time to lose the bad bacteria and the high nitrogen content that can burn plants. But even composting doesn't kill all the bad stuff in cat, dog or pig manure, so stay away from those. And of course, this probably goes without saying, but human waste is NOT safe manure for your garden. (Well, there is a way you can boil it, cook it down and then age it in the sun... but I don't think you really want me to get into that method.)
Anyway, manure is da bomb fertilizer that will help you grow big plump veggies in record time. Just be safe about it-- it would be very embarrassing to have to issue a FarmTina lettuce recall this summer.
Cool note about the image above from a 1918 issue of Country Gentleman Magazine: "In 1899, an Ohio schoolmaster named Joseph Oppenheim witnessed a unique problem. Farm boys were often missing class to clean barns and spread manure. In his quest for a solution, Oppenheim developed the first commercially successful mechanical manure spreader. It was affectionately called Oppenheim's New Idea"