Friday, January 16, 2009

the lazy gardener lets a good manure pile do most of the work

I admire raised-bed gardens, and square-foot gardens, and even traditional gardens with their long, straight rows. My grandfather had a gigantic garden, and when I'd visit in the summer we would go out to the garden and snack ourselves silly right there in the dirt.

My first garden was intended to be a raised bed garden in the "Victory Garden" style, raising food to supplement a meager income. I pretended that the fellow to whom I was married at the time would fall in love with the fresh vegetables and volunteer to help weed, water, and cultivate our beautiful little plot of plants. Well, I was young, and that's my excuse.

In years following my divorce, I planted some kind of vegetables whenever and wherever I could...but I could never muster up the energy or cash to actually build raised beds, or install a trickle-fed watering system. Instead, I stashed carrots beside the front walkways, and tomato plants out near the garage. (More about my adventures with tomatoes in another post)

Then I met Trish, who changed my life in a lot of really remarkable ways. Her spouse, Robert, is an AMAZING gardener. He actually spends time and money and energy on his garden and it really, really shows. His vegetable garden is so prolific that they feed not only themselves and some lucky friends, but they also made regular runs to bring fresh vegetables to the local food bank....and not just zucchini, either. I will always be in awe of Robert's gardens. And it's from his garden that I learned my most amazing lazy gardener surprise:

One hot summer afternoon, Trish and I were feeling kind of silly and we were SUPPOSED to be culling out the "too ripe for eating" vegetables from the garden. Yes, the garden actually supplied too much of some things, including zucchini and potatoes, and also a particular variety of tomato that seemed to go from beautiful to overripe in about 15 minutes. We had a whole wheelbarrow of past-prime veggies and were carting it out to the manure pile/compost heap when one of us (I'm not telling who) started up an impromptu baseball game using vegetables as bats and balls. This game is especially delightful with overripe tomatoes, and soon we were covered in tomato slime and squash guts.

The surprise came in the spring of the following year.

The manure pile sprouted fast-growing, stand-back-cuz-I'm-coming-through tomato, potato and zucchini vines.

Robert had his garden beds already established and spent no time to cultivate these unruly volunteer plants...but they kept growing anyhow. And they produced some fabulous vegetables WITH NO ENCOURAGEMENT AT ALL.


I was sold on the technique.


For years now I've staked a section of the manure pile at the barn where my horses live, and planted some potatoes, peas, beans, and pumpkins. I put a little fence around the spot, so people will know that it's a garden. And then I walk away--no weeding, no watering, and certainly no fertilizing. Some years the slugs get the peas or the bugs will get the beans. But the potatoes and pumpkins are usually unrivaled. All it cost me in time and money is a dollar for a pack of seeds, and 10 minutes to set up the little fence.

So, while I drool over the seed catalogs this winter, I dream of building a proper garden, with properly balanced compost and raised beds and a trickle-drip watering system.

However, I know darn well that the pumpkins and potatoes are gonna get planted in the manure pile, because I never work hard if I don't have to do it.

10 comments:

  1. It is true about the manure pile. It is also true that, some years, the slower moving mares have been in danger of being overcome by fast-moving squash vines. Pod ponies, if they don't move quickly enough.

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  2. ...and some of the greedier mares have been known to call coaxingly to the FOOD growing on the other side of the fence.

    Not mentioning any names, but one of those mares belongs to Asparagus Stalker.

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  3. btw, i finally read the entire site you posted recently - that model farm that has implemented land stewardship practices. did you see their manure pile? that's what i'm gonna have, but for only one or two horses, it won't be so gigantic.

    i love that it worked for them, - the stuff really composts with just a wall and a tarp. woo!

    as i enjoyed a little ride tonight, i noticed fresh manure that had been spread on a field. i've been seeing lots of tractors spreading manure this month. odd, i didn't know now was the time to do that! (the model farm you pointed me to said they do spring and fall spreading.)

    ~lytha

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  4. Having lived in farming communities and survived the Manuring Seasons, I have not found a pattern to it, except possibly Whenever The Wind is Blowing Towards My House.

    Spring, winter, whatever, they always choose a day when it will be ultra-stinky!???

    The material I've read doesn't advocate "spreading manure" the way farmers do here...i.e. running watery cow poop through the irrigating sprinklers and shooting it onto empty fields, where the rain immediately moves that manure into the rivers and water table. It's hard to count all the ways THAT practice isn't very smart.

    Instead, I'm an advocate of harrowing a field once or twice a year so that piles of manure in the pastures are broken up into the grass AS LONG AS there won't be livestock on that field for a while. Some books say two years (yeah, right), others say a year, others say a few months.

    Given that the rain around here disperses anything and everything, I'm inclined to follow the "harrow before the rain, then re-seed the bare patches, then leave the field alone for a while" school.

    Since I'll need to keep the mares off the pastures during the winter unless it stays dry (unusual), I should be able to harrow the lower, wetter pasture in spring and keep them off until late summer, and harrow the upper drier pasture in late fall and keep them off until spring.

    I love the Horses for Clean Water design for a harrow: a length of chain-link fence weighed down by some old tires. Why spend money on farming equipment when there's junk sitting around to use instead. -G-

    Also, I dump aged manure on the vegetable garden as soon as the vegetables are done, turn chickens on it for a week or two (they eat all the weeds and bugs, and tear the lumps apart), and then cover the entire thing with a tarp. Over the winter, the stuff cooks and settles, and by spring it has turned into dirt.

    Like magic, only easier.

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  5. oh, just re-read my last paragraph...it's important to remove the chickens before covering the garden with a tarp. Otherwise...ick.

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  6. Well, tarping the chickens would make it more difficult to get fresh eggs, wouldn't it.

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  7. Asparagus Stalker is JIM! I was wondering. Isn't it great, Jim, that Aarene has a cool horse blog now?

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  8. I'm thinking that he'll probably start a tractor blog someday....

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  9. Girl I love your humor! Thanks for putting a smile on my day.

    Hope your financing is going thru'. We're working on a refi right now so have been tossing in prosperity juju for Haiku along with our finance dance.

    btw - very jealous..we have no poo pile and nothing edible grows here w/o supplemental H20.

    robin

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  10. Hey Robin, Thanks--sometimes I think I'm only hilarious in my own mind. Oh, wait, sometimes I am only hilarious in my own mind. Ah, well. At least I enjoy myself.

    My fingers are extra-crossed for you and me today: GO prosperity juju!

    BTW, have you considered keeping a rabbit or two? Build 'em a giant cage on legs so the droppings, uh, drop out (no cage cleaning!!!) and then collect the fertilizer for your garden.

    Rabbits are cheaper to keep and much quieter than chickens or horses...but you MUST convince certain Herding Members of the Family to LEAVE THE BUNNIES ALONE!!!!

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