Posted by: A Part of the Solution | May 22, 2010

Geeked on Dirt

OMG! OMG with ponies! It started last weekend, though I didn’t know it at the time. Our neighbor brought a load of fresh manure, intercut with a lot of straw from the barn in question. We added more from our chicken pen to keep the flies down–since the load was very, very fresh.

The farm manager began to fork this sticky stuff onto a tractor-bedded ridge where he was thinking of working it in and then planting it up. But the manure gave off that odor which states, “I’m still hot and likely to bother anything coming into contact with my still-converting mass.” So our farm manager walked away and worked another row somewhere else in our garden field.

Yesterday I was prepping to get the broccoli in the ground. We had half a flat of seed starts, and they’d been in their little peat cells for as long as was seemly (and potentially beyond that point). I knew broccoli has a tendency to be fussy in our part of the region. I decided it wanted more fixin’s than most brassica family members do–and I didn’t know how I would make that good for them.

The hot manure row laid down last week was in the brassica quadrant of our garden. I thought I’d just take the claw to the bed and see what the dressing and the dirt would do if well worked in. And then I hit the revelatory wall. OMG!

The hot compost had cooked off every weed in the bed. Beds to either side of where I was working, not dressed with the good stuff, were (and are) sprouting up every field weed indigenous to the area. And that’s not all the manure had done.

There were earthworms surfing the underside the manure layer. There were so many earthworms. There were more earthworms in that twenty foot bed than I’d seen in beds of one hundred feet. The soil already had that loamy, earthworm-worked texture. It was lighter. The clay lumps were few and far between. And the earthworms were multitudinous.

Whoa! Who knew how tasty the hot-fresh would be to an earthworm? Obviously lots of organic gardening specialists know this, but it was totally new to me. I couldn’t get enough of that bed. And I just bet the broccoli are going to dig it like I did, only without any tools but their tiny, hairlike roots.

So I laid out another twenty-five feet of the hot stuff this morning before getting into yet another bed full of mixed brassicas: cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, mizuna and even some fennel–just ’cause it needed to get out of the seed start trays and into the ground. But I’ve got my heart set on making the most of that bed next week.

And next year, we’ll drop a hot manure layer over the part of the field we want to start earliest. It drives the soil temperature up and kills the first round of weeds super-effectively. We might even be able to engineer special beds to give the tomatoes and other sensitive plants a safe, early start. I can hardly wait.



  1. Gotcha. That’s why I let it rot in for another week or so in a thin layer. By the time I’m working it in, it’s past hot and on to a different form of useful (it turns bright green–that’s how you can tell it’s ready). But thank your mom for the reminder.

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