So we have at last seen some rain here in Southern California. Not nearly enough, still it has been so dry for so many years that I am simply welcoming every raindrop and have decided to ‘commit manure‘. I have an arrangement with the neighboring horse stables that I’ve just revived, where they kindly bring over wheelbarrows full of stable sweepings and I spread and turn them into the soil of my main beds.
Here I hope to grow string beans and snow peas, limas, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and all kinds of crucifers from broccoli to cabbage. These are vegetables we will eat, never requiring long-distance transport or refrigeration much less plastic wrappings. Ah, so you note I am missing some leafy greens from this list? Well, the escarole and arugula have naturalized in the orchard so I don’t need to plant them in rows. So too the leeks, garlic, and also my swiss chard, which raises great sheaves of leaves wherever it has decided to locate under the apples and orange trees.
Yes, I too have heard arguments about how one should not rototill, but I do. It keeps the soil from compacting, which given its clay rich nature is a decided benefit. It also helps bury the manure so it decays more rapidly and contributes its nitrogen to my harvest instead of becoming a greenhouse emission. Yes, I have heard arguments that chicken manure and horse are not beneficial. Tell that to my garden. Tell that to my freezer crammed with the wealth of past years, my bags of dried fruit, and my jars of jams and pickled peppers.
For my personal preference, I’d love some well-aged steer manure from a neighboring farm. I think of bovine as superior. Problem is, there isn’t such a farm nearby. So how about chicken manure? Very prone to burn plants, (the white part is concentrated uric acid) so you must be careful, but we grew our own vegetables in Nigeria on chicken manure a little aged in water, and grew splendid good vegetables with it. A tad smelly, perhaps. Pig is the most odoriferous, and I admit I don’t like to use it. But if you have concerns about odors, what could be more homey in its pong than horse? It isn’t as beneficial as some of these others, but it will do. Plus, I’m happy to give my neighbors a break on their manure disposal fees.
Well-mixed manure has three things going for it, one is that I’m not putting petrochemical products on my yard and supporting the use of a non-renewable resource by industry. Two, I’m using something that is otherwise a waste product. Three, by turning the manure into my garden I’m not only adding organics partially decomposed by digestion to my soil, but I am also decreasing the release of gases that will contribute to global warming. (We need to talk about the down side of composting one of these days.) Yes, I do have to use some supplements, and I occasionally test my soil chemistry, but that’s nothing compared to what I must do to keep my dratted swimming pool chemically balanced.*
The other word for manure? Fertilizer.
*we didn’t put the pool in, previous owners did. I dream on occasion of turning it into a fish pond.