compostMy husband's father couldn't wait for the circus to visit. It parked in the racecourse across the road from his New Plymouth home and it was just a matter of hours before Grandpa was over there with his shovel and wheelbarrow – some of those elephants were very large and very, err, 'productive'. I know just how he felt. The thought of a sack or, better still, a trailer load of animal manure sends my heart racing! On the few occasions when I've lived in the city, the first thing I've done is track down the nearest race course (and its inevitable manure dump). Some people don't like using racehorse manure because of the possible contamination from antibiotic medications. I can see their point but, before we get too precious, we should always remind ourselves that if we're not producing our own vegetables, using whatever manure we can source, we're dependent on the supermarket variety – and goodness knows what it has in its system!

Nowadays, I have two donkeys who produce exactly four buckets a day between them (and woe betide if it's any less!). Donkey, horse, and cattle pooh is great because it can all be used directly on the garden with no fear of a nitrogen content so high that it burns the delicate shoots and roots of our plants. It's also high in fibre so is a perfect soil conditioner. Chook manure, on the other hand, is a killer if applied fresh to the soil. Stick it in a pile or on the compost for a few months and, if you really can't wait that long, soak it in water and dilute the resulting liquid to the point where it looks like weak tea, before watering it on your seedlings. Fresh sheep manure is deemed by some to be suitable for digging directly into the garden but I suspect that "fresh" means freshly dug out of a shearing shed – the sort that is likely to be a year old before you actually use it on the garden. To be on the safe side, I've always matured mine for a year. Both chicken and shearing shed litter has the added benefit of having urine mixed in with it – and all that urea is great for our veges.

If you are using any fresh manure directly on the garden, be aware that weeds will grow from a lot of it. Of course, if you mulch, as I do, those weeds will come to nothing. Nettles (often found in sheep pooh) are the possible exception but I welcome them as an alternative to spinach or an addition to my tank of liquid fertilizer. Harvested before they go to seed, these annuals will cause no further trouble.

Of course, if we're well organised in the garden, the very best pooh-practise is to pile animal manure into our compost bins along with all the other bits and pieces we throw in there. That way, the compost will be richer and there will be no need to add the manure to the garden separately.

One aspect of "manure" none of us like to talk about is the human variety. Unless you really know what you're doing, don't risk adding even well composted human solids to your vegetable garden. On the other hand, there's no reason why you shouldn't experiment with urine. A lot of people (including myself) have conducted tests and, amusingly, I've yet to find conclusive evidence one way or the other regarding its effectiveness. For some late-night laughs, try Googling the subject!

But to get back to those elephants and their helpful piles of dung, if you're lucky enough to live in a city with a zoo, or don't mind your local courier turning up at your door with an ususual parcel, check out "ZooDooh" www.zoodoo.co.nz for a supply of animal manure that will put a roar into your vegetable gardening. It comes conveniently palletised and, believe me, there is no better way to encourage kids in the garden than by promising them a bag of this unusual product to add to their strawberry bed. Put it on your Christmas gift list today!

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