That Man Smells Like Manure!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Does Someone Smell Cow?
Step back ladies -- and please try to control yourselves. The Don Juan of bovine meadow muffins is in the house -- and as the photo to the right will clearly attest -- the "defcon of reekness" level stands at four.

Thanks to a weekend of warm weather and bright sunshine in North Natomas -- I'm pleased to announce that the 2011 summer garden season is now "on." Oh sure -- it's mid April. I'm not forgetting the calendar. But when two straight wam weekend days fall into your lap - a gentleman "takes advantage."

Think about it for a minute. In a lot of ways? Gardening is like sex. "How so Bill Bird," you inquire? Let's look at the facts, shall we? A day of gardening leaves you hot -- sweaty -- dirty -- tired -- spent and in desperate need of an ice-cold beer.

What other activity leaves you feeling in such the same manner?

I rest my case.

"Work It" With a Wheelbarrow!
If you're seriously insane -- I mean -- serious about gardening -- you just can't "plant seed" and forget about it. Oh no -- there's a lot that comes before that magic moment. First and foremost? You need to prepare for it. You need to "work it" so to speak -- as in work the garden beds before planting.

There are six main 4X8 gardening beds in the main part of the Backyard of Bird. There -- you will find the now infamous "V for Venus" beds. I'll be honest. After a long and frustrating winter -- a lot of the beds were covered in weeds. Call it our winter of neglect.

Fortunately? These are raised beds filled with loose soil planter mix. No matter how big the weeds get? They're fairly easy to pull out -- roots and all. And if you don't get it every last part of each root? The Mantis Rototiller will take care of the rest.

The Mantis needed yet another tune-up before I got started this weekend. Despite my efforts to drain out the old gasoline from last season and replace it with something new -- it wouldn't fire up the way I wanted it. It would run for a minute or two and then die when I gave it the gas. Know what that means? It means another trip to Bill Knight and the Lawn and Mower Repair shop in Elverta.

Bill knows his two-cycle engines.

Mantis Rototiller in Action!
After a standard $25 tuneup? Ye olde Mantis was running like a top again -- ready to tear into those beds with abandon. Each bed received three bags of top quality manure -- and I say that in jest -- because when is the last time you ever heard anyone use the line "top quality manure?"

It's cow-poop folks. Plain and simple. It comes from the back end of -- well -- you know.

After a less than satisfactory experiment with other forms of compost last year -- I switched back to the simple one-buck-a-bag variety found at your local Home Depot. Why fiddle with something that works wonders? Some of my best summer vegetable gardens have resulted from the use of the cheapest form of steer manure compost -- so why fiddle with something that works?

Sure -- I've tried better forms of compost. I've tried the organic variety. I've shelled out $20 for a bag of the Fox Farm product. Guess what? In my short experience? The buck-a-bag Home Depot stuff just works better. And there's nothing like the feeling of ripping into a bag of smelly steer manure compost -- only to find that it's rich with earthworms. That's like hitting the garden jackpot.

Amended bed before rototilling
I managed to till up four different beds this weekend -- which is a record for productive output. The main 4X8 beds each received three bags of steer manure compost -- which also comes with an ample supply of potash (potassium). I also experimented some additional nutrients for the beds in the form of organic bone meal -- which is high in phosphorus. If you're as insane as I am about heirloom tomatoes -- you'll find that they need equal amounts of three nutrients to do well: Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.

If your garden is lacking in any one of the three? It can affect production. You can also work in far too much of a good thing -- which I discovered last year when I experimented with chicken manure compost. However -- I am returning to a nutrient recipe that has served me well in the past. My "method of gardening madness" is to till up each bed with the Mantis -- add manure, bone meal and other pelleted nutrients -- and use the Mantis a second time to mix it in with the existing soil.

After splashing each bed with a fine spray of water (this keeps the wind from blowing half the soil away -- which is a real problem in the windy riverbottom) -- the end result is a dark -- rich soil that is ready for planting. And so -- this is when the magic moment comes. It's time to plant.

Amended "V for Venus" planter bed
I'll be honest with you -- I jumped the gun a tad. The heirloom tomato starters that I have been babying in a back room through most of the winter months are now in their permanent location. Yes -- I'm taking a gamble here. Yes -- there's still the chance for another cold storm or two. Yes -- most serious growers wait until the END of April before they dare plant anything.

In my case -- however -- it was time. The long and lanky heirloom starters were seriously rootbound. Worse yet? A normal spring day of warm weather was enough to dry them out completely. My only options were to transplant the starters into larger containers -- or plant out now. I chose the latter. It's a gamble -- yes it is. But the long range forecasts look promising.

Tomato plants can withstand a warm spring deluge. In fact -- I've found that they tend to enjoy it. I've seen plants knocked flat by warm spring downpours -- only to watch them spring back stronger than ever a few days later with nary a trace of disease. Warm spring rain doesn't bother me. A cold snap followed by cold rain and more cold weather? That's different. It should cause concern.

Raggedy heirloom tomato plant starters

If we're lucky? The wife that is Venus and I will be enjoying vine ripened tomatoes by the end of May or in early June. This is providing the weather cooperates. After experiencing a colder-than-normal summer last season -- I know that the weather rarely cooperates in these cases.

But -- every once in a great while -- a squirrel finds a nut. The heriloom tomatoes are in. The wife and I smell like we've been rolling around in meadow muffins all weekend long. There is no turning back now.

As for me? I need a beer -- and a shower.


Greg Damitz said...

Looks like my Easter plans. I held off today planting anything except a few herbs, a few flowers and a horseradish root.

JM said...

Thanks for posting your planting! I've never seen the dollar dung, as I shall call it, but it definitely helps make my garden planning more affordable! I swung by HD this afternoon to check it all out and MAN does that stuff smell like $h!t! I mean, duh, but SERIOUSLY ugh. What other additives do you toss in to balance it out?

Bill Bird said...

That's the smell of gardening sweetness my dear JM. You've just got to get used to it I suppose. Living in a house with five cats, three litterboxes and one dog -- you sort of get used to the place smelling like a barn. As for other nutrients - I mix in a cup or two of pelleted vegetable fertilizer and a half cup of lime to hopefully control Blossom End Rot.

SouthCoast Guy said...

Great post, funny & educational!

JM said...

Thanks for the planting tips... I ended up with the poo mixed in with the soil, then about a tbsp of egg shell in each tomato hole as I was planting as a blossom end rot trick another friend suggested. I may throw some fertilizer in later, haven't quite decided yet. I do need to return about 20 c.f. of soil I was convinced I needed but totally didn't. Ahhhh, the learning curve.

Laura Bell said...

But Bill ... gardening is all about sex ! For the plants, anyway, it's all about lures & attraction, fertility & mating. However, those of us tending the plants often earn a crinkled nose - at best - from the objects of our affection. At least until we make use of the shower.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you use the Mantis...I'm fairly 'hands off' on my raised beds, and the soil is very loose!

But I do use the same buck a bag of crap, really can't beat that stuff. If I had a truck, I'd be bringing in yards of horse manure, but my wife isn't too keen on me putting that in the minivan.