Healthy soil is fundamental to successful organic farming and gardening. If the soil is healthy, microbes and other soil organisms will thrive, and in turn will naturally decompose organic matter and harness nitrogen from the atmosphere, converting it into organic form.
For the organic gardener there are a variety of ways to create and maintain a healthy soil. Many, like me, rely principally on compost generated from waste vegetable matter. Other options include things like seaweed, rock dust and “green manure” (crops grown over winter and then dug back into the soil). But one substance in particular stands out as playing a truly transformative role when added to the soil – composted manure.
Manure is so valuable because it is a rich source of three crucial components for plant health: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – nitrogen for healthy stems, phosphorus for root development and flowering, and potassium for regulating water uptake and processing sugars.
Manure also adds structure to the soil, enabling it retain moisture in dry weather whilst facilitating good drainage in the wet.
Contrast all of this with so-called “conventional” – that is, non-organic – farming. It does not rely on creating or maintaining a healthy soil but on pumping it full of chemicals. The economic advantage for a farmer using manufactured nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium based chemical fertilisers is that they produce higher yields than their organic counterparts, such as manure, at least in the short term. But over the longer term their use damages the health and structure of the soil, leading ultimately to erosion and desertification.
And whilst healthy, organic soils trap atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), a major greenhouse gas, and convert it to carbon, by contrast non-organic farming is a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock farming alone is estimated to contribute almost 20% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and a significant proportion of this greenhouse gas emission, identified in a recent series of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is the result of what the IPCC calls “manure management”.
What “manure management” refers to is the fact that thousands of tons of manure, which could be used to enrich the soil, is instead often stored in large holding “ponds” where, as it decomposes, it releases into the atmosphere not only carbon dioxide but also methane and nitrous oxide (both of which are many more times more damaging as greenhouse gases than CO2).
If we are to combat climate change successfully, a big part of the necessary transformation must involve wresting control of agriculture away from the big agribusinesses and the agricultural chemical producers whose single-minded pursuit of profit is blind to the damage and wastefulness their activities and products cause. The future must lie with organic agriculture, which actively reduces carbon and greenhouse gas emission, which creates and manages soil that is better able to adapt to adverse climate change related events such as drought and floods, and which – most importantly of all – works with, not against, nature.
On to the recipe.
Shortly after I came up with the idea of combining blood orange and thyme in a sorbet I discovered that someone else had not only come up with the idea before me but had also come up with a brilliantly simple method, much better than the process I’d had in mind.
So this is my revised version, heavily influenced by Caitlin Van Horn’s recipe from her lovely blog Roost, which sadly is no longer.
blood orange and thyme sorbet
750 ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice (this will require about 9 or 10 oranges)
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, very finely chopped
150 ml organic maple syrup
1. Place the orange juice, maple syrup and chopped thyme leaves in a large jug and stir or whisk to combine. Chill in the fridge for a hour.
2. Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and churn. Once it is starting to set, tip the sorbet into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours.
3. Remove the sorbet from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.