It’s well into February, and like every good Heirloom Orchardist, I’m thinking about the most important stuff on this wonderful earth: Manure.
Not too long ago, manure was the lifeblood of the farm. It still is on many farms (thankfully). But due to synthetic fertilizers, it isn’t the absolutely necessary material that it used to be. Furthermore, thanks to Mr. Ford (and the ubiquitous internal combustion machine), there just isn’t as much of the stuff being produced.
Think about this for a moment: to the Heirloom Orchardist, manure wasn’t just some wonderful material that was spread on the field whenever it was convenient to spread. No, this stuff had to be managed. Try putting that on your “to do” list for the month.
And the cold, slow winter month of February was a month during which manure management was pretty important, because by now the crap was really starting to pile up. It’s no wonder that when we look through the old farming papers, there’s all sorts of discussions about manure…ways of covering it...how to best use it…whether it’s better aged, or fresh…when to apply it...
“Often in February there are many days when there is little or no snow on the frozen ground. This is a good time, then, for spreading manure which will be soaked in by later snows.”
I came upon the above statement in a February 1917 issue of The Countryside, and it got me thinking about a comment made by one of my college professors (many years ago). He said that it was not uncommon for old-time farmers to spread manure during the winter months. This was a seemingly productive way to get it out of the barnyard, and on the fields. By February, it was accumulating in the yard. Since the fields were frozen, it was easy to run the manure spreader over the ground. Then, the melting snow would leach the nutrients into the soil.
But in many areas, this is flat-out wrong. The problem is that in cold climates, February is probably one of the worst times to spread manure, because the nutrients don’t efficiently leach into the soil. The soil’s frozen! The snow melt, or late winter rains aren’t very affective in drawing the nutrients (or “life giving properties” as the Heirloom Orchardist would say) into the soil. The nutrients just wash downslope…off into the brooks and streams.
So, we should continue to respect the old farming methods, and the greater use of organic fertilizers over synthetic ones. But apply some modern sensibilities too.