Most of the time I’ve been spending at the farm lately has involved preparing my field for spring planting. There’s been hay growing there for many years, so the soil isn’t as fertile as it needs to be in order to grow good vegetables. So, with a lot of help from Bruce as well as his neighbors and family members, I’ve been doing some tractor work to get the ground ready. First we used a subsoil plow to make deep cuts in the ground, breaking up the compacted soil so that it can let more air and water in, and plant roots have an easier time making their way through it. Then we used a disk to break up the sod on the surface a little bit, and get rid of any big chunks left by the subsoiler.
The next step, which is still in progress, is to boost the soil’s fertility by spreading as much manure as we can get. Manure contains nitrogen and other nutrients that plants need, as well as organic matter that makes the soil fluffier and better at holding water. Luckily Bruce has connections with lots of nearby farmers/stable managers, so he has found several sources of good manure. Using manure to fertilize fields is an ancient and brilliant method. It’s a waste product for those who raise the animals—they need a way to get rid of all that poop from their horses or cows or whatever. But for farmers trying to grow plants, it’s gold! Especially when it has aged a little bit, and broken down into compost. It’s amazing how a pile of poop and straw can, with the help of some bacteria, turn into a pile of rich black dirt that smells like the forest floor. We’ve gotten two dumptruck loads so far of beautiful, black, composted manure, plus a few small loads of fresh horse manure from a nearby stable. The composted manure is awesome. As the bacteria break the manure down into compost, they convert the nutrients into a form that is usable by plants, and any unwanted organisms that might have been hanging out the manure die.
The fresh manure we’ve gotten is in the process of breaking down too, just by sitting in the field. The bacteria generate heat as they break down the manure—it’s pretty amazing how hot it can get! There was steam rising from the piles yesterday. I tried to take pictures; sorry they’re kind of blurry, I was on the tractor. (I’m very tiny compared to the size of person that most tractors were built for. So trying to press down on both the clutch and the breaks at the same time is really difficult.) Anyway. It’s great that the composting process heats the manure up so much, because that kills weed seeds and disease organisms. Just to be safe though, we never spread fresh manure on a field within 120 days of having a harvestable crop there—that’s why we’re doing this now instead of in the spring.