This summer I have been busy with my organic gardening projects. It is very exciting to see the harvest starting to come in. This is my third attempt at serious gardening over the years and the third time seems to be the charm.
First Chapter: Water Without Horse Poop
The first time I tried gardening was in Upstate New York in the late 1970s. I had moved from inner city Chicago to the outskirts of a small city. Starting a garden was part of my plan for making homemade baby food. We had plenty of water and a good space for gardening but I did not have horses. I wanted them but was working on kids first. So in this initial effort there was no horse poop to add to the mix. We planted such a big garden that the weeding was a huge job. I would sit in the sun for hours weeding. We decided to get a rototiller. It turned out to be a questionable decision. The new large format machines with the tiller in the back were new at that time. I was not tall enough to push down on it to till very deeply and I can still remember feeling the vibration from it. This approach was definitely hard work. The next year I was busy with a one year old so I let the garden go.
Second Chapter: Horse Poop Without Water
My next big gardening adventure was in New Mexico where I lived from 1998 to 2010. There I had my first horse barn and was excited about the prospect of gardening because I had stacks of horse poop. I piled the manure high and waited for the composting process to begin. To my dismay I discovered that horse poop does not naturally compost in the desert. No matter what I did, I could not keep it wet enough to get a reaction going. I addressed every factor from the height of the pile to the proportion of green and brown materials, the right mix of nitrogen and cellulose, etc. I watered daily, mixed in straw and hay, turned it often and let it sit. It would not heat up. I faced a huge irony; though the average temperature of the air in the summer was around 95 degrees, compost would not cook. Finally, I heard about the most powerful compost starter of all, chicken poop. I thought about it for several days and asked myself if I really wanted to contend with chickens. I did not so I rented a dumpster for the horse poop produced by my barn, scooped the manure pile into it as the first load to be picked up and decided to abandon gardening in the desert.
When I moved to Pennsylvania I had not considered having a garden. However, as the year progressed, the manure pile was growing. I was surprised to find that manure in Pennsylvania was much more cooperative than it had been in New Mexico. It naturally came in so much contact with moisture from frequent rains and high humidity that it composted readily. It composted in the pile, in the utility cart if it was left there over night, even in the muck tub after a few hours. It got so hot that there were actually ashes in the middle of the pile. I was amazed. I got an estimate for having it hauled off as I had in New Mexico and the price tag was high. It was then that I decided to use it for gardening. I began to lay beds of composted manure wherever I wanted to garden. I did not even dig up the grass. I have definitely found the right equation.
Hope this account of my gardening karma helps others who want to get started on organic gardening. For now I feel like both the gardening and horse gods are smiling on my enterprise.