How hard could it be to get a little manure?
For the best manure for your garden, head to the source
BONDVILLE — If I am to have a garden, then it's a solemn family obligation to have horse manure in that garden, just as it is a 'til death do I part obligation to be a member of Red Sox Nation.
Boston baseball runs deeply, and is most welcomed in my blood. Horse manure? I live in Vermont, not Kentucky, but still, we have lots of horses here. How hard could it be to get a little manure? The story of how I acquired my recent batch twists and turns before reaching the soil-rich ending; pull your muck boots on tight and settle in for the tale.
My childhood home was on a suburban plot, with an empty lot off to the left which, because of the large mound of dirt and boulders on it, my brother and I called "Big Hill." The groundhog gang hung out there, launching plans of attack on the impressive garden my Dad grew in our backyard. And even if the groundhogs couldn't see the beans or radishes from their perch, you can bet they saw the massive pumpkins and tomatoes. The fruits were large enough that neighbors could see them driving by.
My dad's secret growth hormone? Horse manure.
My grandfather on my mom's side, Dario, taught my dad much of what he has passed on to me. When living in Queens, my grandfather would source manure from farther down Long Island, and somehow the ordeal of hauling it home was always eclipsed by the resulting addition of nutrients to his garden soil.
My dad's method kept it closer to home. We would drive down the road to the corner of Black River and Church. There, he could take as much manure as he wanted from the three horses residing on our neighbor's property. My dad's job was to load the manure, my job was to avoid the electric fence and the grumpy mare who would bite me if given a chance.
On these forays, I learned that horse manure is not considered the best fertilizer from the barnyard. When fresh, it can burn plants with its high nitrogen content, and it's known to contain weed seeds. Even so, it was free, it worked, and well-seasoned manure is a dream.
That's the takeaway here: if you are going to use horse manure, make sure it has been composted for at least six months, and the longer, the better. If there are worms in it, then you know you got the good stuff.
With that information in my head, I was ready to get horse manure for my own garden. Problem was, the manure was not ready for me.
First, I reached out to the horse farm close to my house. It had just been sold, but the person who sold it suggested I swing by. When I got there, I didn't see any horses. Bad omen. I didn't see the owner either, but I found someone who was working on the property. He told me that there wouldn't be horses there for a while due to renovations.
I called my friend in Dorset. She had a manure connection, so we made a tentative plan for the following day. In the meantime, this column deadline was looming, as were the skies. Sure enough, my friend called back to say that I was welcome to get manure, but that her connection was not available until the predicted rain-free weekend.
That's when my husband texted me, "Did you try Horses for Hire yet?"
I called and left a message. Within two hours, Debra Hodis, the owner, called back to say, "We most certainly have manure! It's free, come get some! Tell your friends."
That's how I found myself in a horse pasture early on a Thursday night. Debra introduced me to the equine producers: Samantha, Ernie, George and Scout. A good omen as I once had an infamous dog named George, and Scout very nicely compliments my youngest son's name, Atticus.
Horses for Hire, in Peru, Vt., offers pony and trail rides, honey and eggs. The stable hosts birthdays parties, and musicians gather at the hitching rail on most Thursday nights.
Debra and I chatted as I unloaded the buckets, then I walked with her and my husband toward the ideally composted manure. I could have talked to Debra all night, for her compassion and love for horses is as infectious as is her outgoing personality. But there was manure to be shoveled. The work went quickly, buckets were soon loaded into the car, and after the horse selfies and ear scratches, goodbyes and thank-yous, we headed home.
I top dressed my garden with the manure, later tucking my starts into that black gold dirt. The sun was shining, with the ground still damp from rain.
It doesn't get much better than that. I don't need immense pumpkins or award-winning tomatoes, just so long as my family's well-established tradition of having a productive garden, garnished with horse manure, comes to pass for me, too.
Tina Weikert lives in Bondville and is a frequent contributor to The Manchester Journal.
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