The miracle of composting is that it turns garbage and poop into fertilizer, but there’s just no getting around the fact that, before it’s fertilizer, it’s garbage and poop. Forget that at your peril.
Yesterday, Kevin and I forgot it.
Because we’re thisclose to getting pigs this spring, we went to visit a local pig farmer, Bob from Ten of Us Farm. Bob has piglets that are very small, piglets that are medium-size, just-weaned piglets, and piglets due this week. He’s been breeding pigs for some thirty-five years on his small farm, and he gave us a tour of his place.
I was doing my best farmwife imitation, with my overalls and my muck boots, but when we went in the barn to see the sows with their litters, I gave myself away as a pathetic city slicker.
“Piggies! They’re so cute!”
Oops. I tried to recover by turning to Bob and saying, “I guess you get over the cuteness factor, eh?”
He paused for a second. “Nope.”
What we noticed most about Bob’s pigs is that they’re very, very clean. It’s weird how clean they are, since a big part of the outdoor enclosure they were walking around in was very mucky, and I’ve been given to understand that pigs love muck. But upland from the muck was sawdust, and next to the sawdust was a big field of grass dotted with pig shelters. And all the pigs were clean. It’s as though Bob had just gotten them, fresh from central casting.
Pigs weren’t the only animals in evidence. There were also sheep, goats, guinea hens, and one lone peacock, who did us the honor of opening his tail for us. Wandering around the yard was a flock of chickens that seemed to consist mostly of roosters. (“People bring ‘em here, and I take ‘em in,” Bob said.) Several of the roosters approached us with menace in their eyes, crowing like they owned the place. Among them was one tiny bantam with a comically high voice and a villainous swagger who puffed his wings out like a comic-book tough guy. Although I was warned not to turn my back on him, I couldn’t take a two-pound bird seriously and I walked away to go visit the sheep. The bantam flew at my shins, kung-fu style, spurs out, with a viciousness that surprised me. He was way too small to do any damage, but I will be more careful around roosters from now on.
Although the piglets were pretty irresistible, we weren’t ready to go home with them yet. Since we want to slaughter in the fall, we need to wait until at least next month to bring them home – they’ll probably take five or six months to reach market weight. But farmers who sell pigs also sell pig manure, and since we’re expanding our garden, we thought we’d bring home a trailer load.
Bob had a huge pile of manure down behind the barn. By “huge” I mean a hundred feet long and fifteen feet high. Mount Pig Poop.
It had been sitting there for quite some time, and looked to be well on its way to being fertilizer. We lined the landscape trailer with a tarp, and Bob pulled up in his Bobcat with its bucket attached. Five or six scoops later, we had almost two yards of it. As he loaded it, we could certainly smell it, but it wasn’t overwhelming.
The overwhelming part didn’t happen until we got it home, and started shoveling it off the trailer on to the top tier of our garden, where we figured we’d keep it until we were ready to put a layer in the bottom of our raised beds and the rest out back somewhere to continue to break down.
The more we shoveled, the more obvious it became that it still had a lot of breaking down to do. By the time we got half of it off, we should have realized it, changed the plan, and dumped it as far away from the house as possible – somewhere it could sit for a good year. But we weren’t thinking very clearly. Maybe the fumes got to us. And we now have two yards of hog manure decomposing about fifty feet from our front door.
There goes the neighborhood.
“This was a big mistake,” I said to Kevin as I shoved all our clothes into the washer and set the dial to “Manure Cycle.”
“Nah,” he said. “It was only a small miscalculation.”
Hah! Small miscalculations don’t affect your property value. I can only hope we can move the pile far enough away from our house that we don’t have to live with the smell morning, noon, and night until the composting process can work its magic.
And it will. The giant, smelly heap will at some point be crumbly, nutrition-rich fertilizer. Right now, though, it is pig shit.