Flopping Around at The Open Gate Farm
Dear Friends of the Farm:
Response to the web site www.theopengatefarm.com has been wonderful! Thank you all for observations and encouragement. Did you notice the Photo Album page? At last you can see these characters who live on this piece of paradise tucked along the shore of the Salish Sea. And pretty soon you will be able to order cinnamon rolls and beets and seeds and such too! And soon, these newsletters will be coming from our new email… email@example.com.
It was a quiet week at the farm. We ran away for 6 days to our old stomping grounds, Sacramento, California. Drove down in one day and had so much fun it took two days to get home with a trunk full of oranges and tangerines and pistachios and almonds and cuttings and seeds. But getting ready to go was a real rush.
Packing is not hard. Toss a couple changes of socks and fresh shirts in along with a tie for church on Sunday, remember your toothbrush and boom! You’re ready for the road.
But getting the farm ready for a week without attention is something else. Fortunately our neighbors like eggs so one set cared for the poultry and another sweet one fed the cat and a third kept an eye on the place to make sure most of it was here when we returned. It was. But we took the dog with us.
Snickers once again proved his ability to travel. He rides on the glove box between the front seats and comments on what he sees out the windows. “Nice tree.” “Beautiful mailbox post.” “Wow, what tall telephone poles.” “Awesome hubcaps.” And so forth.
But it’s when he sees the cows he really gets excited. “Dad, stop! Dairy flop!” And we almost do. Only reluctantly do we press on, gazing at the possibilities we are passing.
There may be a few details about manure you might like to take to the water cooler at work next week. For example, it took 72 pitchfork fulls to load our trailer. Keep in mind these are the 10 tine barn cleaning manure forks, not those little 4 or 5 tine jobs. Tests with our bathroom scales show a light fork full weighs 30 pounds, a heavy one 70. So figuring we’re getting older and they all are light ones, this makes 2,160 pounds in the trailer every trip. And the pickup holds a bit more than that. Together, at least 4,000 pounds.
Each trip gets 2 tons of manure. Of course that is 2 tons going into the rig and 2 coming out, so 4 tons get forked. Our record day was 3 trips, though nowadays out of respect for our bodies we hold that down to 2 trips. This means on an average day of manure hauling, we will shovel 8 tons of cow manure.
How far does it go? Well, the flower garden is 40’ x 60’ and got 4 trips or 8 tons, aka 16 tons of shoveling. The south field along Russell Road has taken 5 trips to cover about 1/5th of it. So if we could do it all, that would be 50 more tons of product. Then there remains the back field which needs about as much and of course we can’t forget the rhubarb and its expansion plans so we’ll throw in another 10 trips or 20 tons for them.
Who needs a health club membership when they get to toss 125 tons of manure or more by hand over a two month period!
“But why?” you ask. So did we. And we quickly got tangled up in some intriguing high school chemistry. In a nutshell, we’re doing it for the nitrogen.
Yes, we could go buy some at the farm store and spread it around, but that is a one shot deal. The manure releases its nitrogen slowly, all summer long. The commercial nitrogen, in addition to taking energy to manufacture and distribute, is like a shot of sugar to the soil. Feels good, gets lots of quick action, stuff turns green fast and then is gone.
Manure, on the other hand, is like a solid breakfast that feeds a fellow all day. About 20% of the nitrogen in the manure is available to the plants right away. That’s plenty. More than that can be rinsed out of the soil and go into the streams and rivers and oceans and pollute them.
Then as the microbes and bugs eat their way through the flop, they release more nitrogen all summer long. Slowly, steadily, just like you want your blood sugar to behave. No peaks, no valleys, just a nice steady flow of nutrition. This is why we can get 3 to 4 crops of lettuce from our garden each year without adding anything more. We let the natural degradation of the manure produce what the plants need.
Next time you drive past a forest, notice that there is no one out there spreading nitrogen on it. The fallen leaves, the droppings of birds and animals passing through, the fungi, the worms…all are putting together the matrix which feeds a tree that grows 100’ tall. The natural way does work. Has for years.
One other thing. The manure also holds and releases in a timely manner a host of the micro-nutrients necessary for life. You don’t need a lot of magnesium for healthy plants. But they do need some (as do you and I) and it’s in the manure and not in the manufactured nitrogen or traditional NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) blend of commercial fertilizers. With manure, our plants get it all. And you get the best tasting, healthy eating you can imagine!
But remember, we don’t do it alone! Once we unload the truck and trailer into large piles, the chickens and ducks come in and level it for us. They go for the corn bits the cows passed up and with their scratching and pecking manage to bring the mountains of flop down to flat planes of seedbeds.
And we get in shape. And yes. We do have large jars of Ibuprofen, aspirin, and Epsom salts on hand.
So if you want to walk up to the water cooler looking buff and trim and ready to chat about throwing around a couple tons of manure over the weekend, it’s actually not that hard. And it happens one fork full at a time!
Jon and Elaine, your pitchfork pals, Snickers the sniffing dog, Mystery the observing cat, Harley and Jerry, with their flock of flop flipping hens, and Pastor Dudley Brown with his group of flop grading lady ducks, all of whom live at
The Open Gate Farm