Sequestering has brought my focus back to life’s basics. Deprived of my usual distractions, suddenly I am keenly aware of and grateful for just the mere facts of comfortable shelter, enough food, and the good company of a compatible partner. At the same time, this self-imposed isolation has also returned my attention to the fundamentals of gardening. Shocked by vistas of empty grocery shelves, I, like so many other Americans, am concentrating on kitchen gardening this spring. My plan is to keep the garden producing a succession of crops from mid spring through mid-fall. To be so productive, the garden’s soil will require a lot of nutrition. I’m going to supply this in the most basic way. Today I drove to a nearby dairy farm and picked up a load of last year’s manure.
My wife and I actually own a share in that farm’s micro herd. The farmer, whose profession is journalism but whose passion is her five cows, wanted to sell their milk raw, but found that she couldn’t legally do so in Massachusetts. What she could do, though, was to take on partners in the ownership of her girls, and then, depending on how many shares you bought, you were entitled to a corresponding share of the milk they produced. Our share entitles us to a gallon a week, half of which my wife turns into yoghurt. She, my wife, has been eager for years to avail ourselves of another kind of the cows’ produce to which we are also entitled: their manure.
I have resisted. I spent much of my boyhood summers working at dairy farms, and I don’t have fond memories of mucking out. Horse manure actually smells good to me. Chicken manure is at least dry. Elephant manure isn’t bad, or at least it didn’t seem so when I was a student at the New York Botanical Garden and we used to take a truck and shovels across the street to the Bronx Zoo. But cow manure stinks, and when it is fresh it has the consistency of the world’s least appetizing pudding. It’s not as bad as pig manure, mind you, but nevertheless I had no desire to reacquaint myself.
What changed? Deprived of all other outlets, a trip to the manure pile started to seem like an outing. Besides, the garden center, my usual source of less odiferous, packaged organic fertilizers, is closed. Then my wife, last weekend, came home with not only milk but a sample of some granular black substance she insisted was our farmer friend’s well aged and composted manure.
What I got today is a good deal fresher, but at least it doesn’t stink. Anyway, I’ll manage to fill another day of my sequestration tomorrow with a shovel and a garden cart, moving my manure share from the back of my truck to top-dress the garden.