Saturday, 4 September 2010

Manure Allure

WARNING: If you are of a fastidious turn of mind, you might want to skip this one. It´s kind of icky. (And you might want to ask yourself what you´re doing here in the first place.)

This one´s about poo, doo-doo, manure -- an essential part of life out here on the plains.

The air of Moratinos today is heavy with the aroma of well-seasoned manure, the rich, black layered remains of months of cow, sheep, and pig living. Farmers let the stuff accumulate on the floors of their folds and barns and yards for a while, then they scrape it up and heap it into mounds. It sits there and moulders until early September. That is a good thing. Fresh patties are too strong for most plants to withstand, but manure, the long-term vintage kind, mellows into a moveable, malleable substance that is very very good for gardens, plants, and fields.

In a perfect world, farmers have too much manure on their hands. They´re happy to have small-time gardeners like me come and haul away however much doo we can move. And back in the day, when Julia and Paquito and Milagros kept dairy cows, and Justi and Oliva kept a big herd of sheep, the manure wealth was a community treasure. Cattle and mules grazed among the trees of what is now the plaza mayor. Their leavings lay where they landed, free pickings for anyone whose roses were fading. Gardens in Moratinos grew lush and green.

Those days are gone, along with those magnificent manure-producing beasts. The plaza is paved-over, and the only critters leaving messes there now are the dog and pilgrim kind. Only the Segundino family keeps pigs these days, and all their stable-gleanings go straight onto their large and lovely garden. The rest of us keep chickens, but their litter only goes so far. (Dog and cat crap are useless for growing things in.) 

So in September, when it´s time to spread manure, what does one do for poo?

Three kilometers up the road in Terradillos is a full-size animal farm, with a focus on dairy cows. The place maintains magnificent mountains of manure out back, and this time of year the dairyman makes manure-runs up and down the N120, delivering richness to the fields of all his friends and relations. When he´s done, he mixes up what is left with water, and sprays it onto his feed-crop fields using a huge tanker truck. It makes for a fragrant few days, especially when he´s using pig shit. When the wind shifts from the east it makes your eyes water.

Two years ago I established a vegetable garden in the blasted adobe-clay oven that is our back yard. That kind of enterprise requires generous helpings of manure. The dairy man was the first person Patrick spoke to (such negotiations are the exclusive province of men). He didn´t know us. He said no, he needed all his poop for his own fields. We then tracked down all four of the shepherds between here and Terradillos, and all four said their sheep-droppings go only to family. There aren´t any big pig sheds around here. So we newcomers were, as they say, shit outta luck.

But next door, Justi´s barn was newly empty of sheep. He´d sold off the last of his herd, and wanted to use their barn to store his tractors. He was pouring a new concrete floor. Which meant scraping level many years of sheep leavings. It wasn´t high quality, he told me, but he kindly carried over two tractor-bucketloads and dumped them outside our back gate. We kept a donkey for a three-week period about then, too, and with her generous contributions our little garden was golden.

For a while. Now, alas, the shit´s running short.

I see the tractor-loads of dairy dung rolling past, I see the hillocks of black earth standing in the farmers´ fields, and I am seized with envy. When we take the dogs out on the back roads for their evening rambles, I notice where the farmers have dumped years´ worth of waste straw and lesser-quality stable litter. I am not picky. I don´t need the pure stuff. Any doo will do.

I am not ready, not yet, to sneak out and rob the poop-piles of strangers. I shiver to think what the neighbors would say if I was spotted on a midnight manure maneuver. What would I say if the rightful owner roared up, tractor headlights ablaze, and caught me black-handed? What charge would a doo-rustler face in a Court of Law?

There is an element of justice at play here. All those times I told people "don´t give me your shit." "Get this crap outta here..." They haunt me. Now that I need some, I can´t get crap for ready money. 

Before I blacken my good name I must exhaust all other options. Last night, with young Juli at my side, I spoke to our neighbor Eduardo. I am told the dairyman in Terradillos is Edu´s cousin. Maybe he can fix up something. Maybe not. It´s kind-of late now, he told me -- that stage of the manure handling is just about done. I may have missed my chance.

I haven´t heard anything today. No truckload of dung has magically appeared at the back gate.

Over in the Promised Land great mounds of fragrant black manure stand waiting to be plowed into the earth. I walked past them this morning with the dogs, who marveled in the wondrous, complex perfume.

If I must, I will drive 50 kilometers to the garden center and buy a carload of pre-composted manure. It will be neatly bagged, I can move it easily and put it exactly where I want it, when I want to. That would be the obvious solution, certainly the easiest if not the cheapest.

But something in me knows the local stuff is best. I want to be able to look those Jersey girls in their liquid black eyes and say "thank you."

Thank you, cowgirls, for giving me your crap.


claire said...

When you mentioned Terradillos, suddenly I was on the Camino again.

Sorry about your shortage of manure. I understand your feeling irresistibly drawn to the piles of dung in the fields around you.

Agh... I hope some fairy godmother brings soon you all the manure you need!

ksam said...

Well this Jersey Girl has laughed her self silly! Being married to someone in Ag. for 32 years...yeah I know shit! So from the Garden's wishing you a whole load of manure!

Pilgrim Nell said...

If you do resort to a midnight sortie (or six!) well you could salve your moral scruples with an anonymous gift of delicious vegetables to the farmer.
Alternatively is the kingdom ready for a pig or two? Though a bit slow they are the worlds best rotovators of hard ground fertilising it as they turn it over with their trotters and snouts (not to mention the porcine metamorphosis into delicious pork products downline).

The Solitary Walker said...

Rebekah - great post! It had to be said! I feel purged, somehow, reading it. Wonderful, earthy stuff.

All the very best from The Solitary Walker