This week has been really busy with my other two jobs, but I today finally got to spend a full day on the crops. They’ve apparently hit their stride, maybe due to the weather finally cooperating: the last few days have been steady rain, followed by intense sun. Look at this! It’s starting to look like a garden. This is one of my favorite stages of the year, when everything is coming in so you can see what’s going to happen, and nothing has started to die back yet or get buried in weeds and debris.
But the dry season is almost upon us, so it’s time to start getting ready. Today’s job was to haul several hundred pounds of cured animal compost (read: POOP) and spread it all over the beds. This adds nutrients, but more importantly, it mulches them in to retain moisture.
The only thing better than poop is FREE POOP, and that’s what we’ve got. You see, we are leasing about two acres from Farmer Ned (more on him in a bit), but there’s another farmer leasing about a hundred acres on the same property. His name is Sturm, and he’s a fourth generation berry grower. Although most of Sturm’s crops are managed by his foreman José, he comes by every now and then to check on things. When he does, I usually end up leaning on my hoe and chatting with him.
A few weeks ago I was doing just that, and we got to talking about his mountain of poop. It had arrived a few days before, when a fellow drove down our road and got out of his truck. “Where do you want the shit?” he asked. I had no idea what he was talking about, and sent him to speak with José. The next day, Voilá! there was a mountain of poop fifty feet across and taller than me… right next to the orchard.
“There’s a dairyman down the road who has to get rid of some 30 yards of it a day,” Sturm explained, shrugging. “I told him I wanted it, and he was glad to haul it if I paid for fuel to get it here.” He went on to explain that he was going to spread it a foot or two deep over a few acres just downhill from mine, to bring up the fertility of the area. “Ya know, you can take as much as you want.”
YES! That’s awesome… and very neighborly of him. Really, the amount I could possibly use wouldn’t put a dent in his supply, but it builds good relationships to do those sort of things. Sturm is a smart guy, and has been farming a long time.
This afternoon I was thinking about all this and admiring the beds I’d just covered with poop, when Farmer Ned drove up in his huge diesel farm truck. He’s retired now, but after a lifetime of farming, he can’t really give it up. He keeps a big garden, works on the property, and comes by regularly to chat with me and see what I’m up to. In fact, he occasionally takes me for a ride in his truck to do some random errand, just like my dad used to. I think he’s generally baffled by our hippie farming endeavor, but at the same time, curious. That’s why he let us use his land in the first place: part curiosity, part friendliness. He’s a really nice guy.
We stood around for a while, talking about the weather, politics, and local gossip. “Your garden is looking pretty good,” he said, looking out over the hillside. “Those beets are really taking off. You know, everything you’ve got is growing better than mine. What are you doing to them?”
I mumbled something about soil testing and ag lime and compost, but the reality is that I was so excited about the offhanded complement, I wasn’t really paying attention. My plants are growing better than Farmer Ned’s, and he’s been doing this for about half a century! Of course, I realize that much if it is probably coincidental or situational, but in general, it’s very encouraging. As we parted, I agreed to sample his garden’s soil next year when I do mine… using a little bit of my hippie science is the least I can do after all the help he’s given us.