Friday, June 19, 2009

The Real Dirt on Farming

Well, today is the day.

A friend told me to get off the stick (in so many words) and start a farm blog. She encouragingly suggested that it might be of interest to other people who share my passion for fiber arts, hand spinning, angora goats, critters in general, art, food that tastes like real food and is actually good for you and lots of other "stuff". If you look up stuff in the Farmer's Dictionary you will find it has a lot of meanings some of which are not considered to be polite to discuss at the dinner table.

So, this "stuff" in general may be of interest to others - and then again it may not - but I figure what the heck. It will just be another "first" for me in a long line of first-time experiences these past few years. I have discovered that life is mostly about learning as you go. Just as soon as you think you have it all mapped out the road changes and none of the maps you have get you where you thought you wanted to go.

You don't get much more basic than today's topic. It's one which farm life seems to center around and for that matter it probably applies if you raise small children, have pets or work in an office. That topic is manure though that is not what I tend to call it. You shovel it, sling it, clean it up, hope nobody gives you any, hire someone else to take care of it or else you just figure out how to manage it day in and day out whether it is the literal or the metaphorical kind. What ever works for you. But, make no mistake, call it what you will, on a farm manure rules.

I like my stalls cleaned out every day. At this time of year, when the weather is warm and the sun is out, the farm animals live outdoors with shelter under open air shed row stalls. Did I mention that angora goats and donkeys don't like rain? Well, trust me, they don't and an angora goat or donkey's natural aversion to rain can make for some mighty challenging days when it seems as though it has rained for forty days and forty nights and the critters have spent every one of those nights snoring in their stalls. And, trust me on this one too, they do more than snore at night.

You begin to feel like maybe you really do have two of EVERY kind of critter given the amount of organic material you have to dispose of properly. Every day. I know. I could clean the stalls less often but did I mention I like my stalls clean whether they are inside the barn or out? So, do I kick the animals out when it rains? No, I don't. But that doesn't mean I don't grumble about the after effects.

Not that I blame the animals. The goats' jobs are to produce beautiful mohair fleeces and that is hard to do if you are soaking wet and your fleece is matting up because it is wet all the time not to mention the likelihood of getting pneumonia. And, the poor old donkeys immigrated from a desert some time in their ancestral past so their hair has not evolved to shed rain as well as that of a horse and wet fields and pastures are hard on their hooves. So, both species do what any sensible animal with a lick of sense does that is designed to live in a dry climate but happens to live in this rain forest we call KY - they hang out in their stalls (for you city slickers, that would be the farm equivalent of an office cubicle). Which brings me back to manure.

As is the case in most situations, there is a bright side to manure. I have discovered that shoveling out stalls builds biceps, eats calories by the pound and, best of all, is the start of a great garden. On days like today when shoveling is hot, hard work, I remind myself I am making dirt. Good, organically fertilized, dirt.

And my "good dirt" is the basis for what are so far turning out to be great gardens. I am experimenting with a variety of raised beds, small plots and veggie-pot gardens this year, and, you guessed it, they are all firmly rooted in our very own Hell Cat Farm compost whose main ingredient is - surprise - manure! As you can tell from the photos, and by all appearances, it looks like the plants have taken to their new dirt. We've got blackberries growing a mile a minute, grape vines racing their way up the new arbor, fruit trees budding out and tomato plants that are growing so fast I carry a stick when I weed the garden just in case they get any ideas of their own - though I think they already did a Broadway musical about that.

So, rain or shine, while the animals are making other "stuff", we're making dirt here on the farm.

Want to learn more about composting? See:


  1. Yay! You did it! Congratulations on your maiden voyage into blogland. Those of us who live on farms know that manure is what it's all about. Great post.

  2. Awesome job, Mary Beth!!!! You are a natural writer AND farm girl. I'll look forward to your next post.

  3. I was just kind of passing through when I found this blog. To me, the country life is so interesting. hey if ya wanted a reader, you got it.