It’s funny what you start to covet when you become a gardener. Rather like when you move into your first home and you get excited about the arrival of the shiny new washing machine. No? Come on . . . . oh OK, that was just me then. But I bet there aren’t many gardeners out there that haven’t got excited at the sight of their own home made compost.
It wasn’t until I got my allotment 2 years ago that the quest for organic matter, and lots of it, really started. The problem I’ve found is there is never enough of the stuff. I have 2 compost heaps which take waste from the garden, the plot and any kitchen waste but it’s not enough by any stretch.
On allotments, manure has always been the organic matter of choice. My allotment site has an area of hard-standing where a local stable owner drops off bags of horse manure. It’s tends to be pretty fresh stuff and deliveries are quickly snapped up, barrowed off to plots where they await a degree of rotting before application. The amount of time allowed for rotting depends on the plot holder, with some of them pretty much putting it on in its raw, and very smelly, state. The whiff sometimes can be pretty overwhelming.
This summer’s awful weather though has meant fewer site visits and manure acquisitions and the spring and summer deliveries had built up so much that manure lady has stopped coming. Some of the pile that had built up had been there for a while and was really good stuff, well-rotted and with no hint, or whiff, of its origin. I spent some time back in September making inroads into the untouched manure. Occasionally I would get deep enough down to discover a seam of rich black matter which was quickly exploited. It was surprising how little of my plot I had managed to mulch, though. So last week, after clearing some more beds of spent crops I headed over to the pile, only to discover it had been raided. There was now only enough left for a few barrow-loads.
Persistent rain has turned quite a bit of the plot into a muddy mess and it was a slippery business transporting the manure from the pile to my plot. The grip on my wellies is so worn I was sliding all over the place. It’s also not wise to fill a wheelbarrow too full, especially when your centre of gravity is lower than most. A nifty little turning manoeuvre and the weight of the barrow nearly pulled me over into what was left of the manure pile.
Each trip took me past a fellow plotholder’s personal pile of manure. Hidden under a blue tarpaulin is a heap of truly wondrous stuff. Black, crumbly organic matter. Where he got it from initially and how long it has been there I don’t know, but when I first took on my plot, and was told about the communal manure pile, I was warned under no circumstances should I mistake the manure under the blue sheet for the communal pile. The ‘black gold’ was precious stuff and he would not be happy if anyone else helped themselves to it. And so the coveting began. I’ve got manure envy. The only time I’ve seen stuff look this good was at Charles Dowding’s farm.
Now the communal pile is bare I’ll have to look elsewhere for mulching material. I’m sure deliveries will start again at some point but this will be raw and not well-rotted. There is an alpaca farm about a 15 minute drive away and I have heard that it makes particularly good manure which doesn’t need a long time to rot down before it can be used on the ground, some even say it can be used fairly fresh without damaging plants. The problem is we don’t have a trailer and I don’t want the car to stink of alpaca poo; I fear it is a smell that would be hard to shift.
It’s not just a new source of organic matter that I’m now looking out for. Friday was a sad day as I discovered my wellies of seven years have sprung a leak. Hosing them down after a squelchy visit to the plot, the tell-tale sign of the wet sock inside told me it was time for a new pair. They’ve served me well and will remain in the shed for outdoor paint jobs but their days on the plot are numbered as I search for their replacement.