Wednesday, June 29, 2005

timing & compost -- critical components of farming

The other day Dave (the farmer I apprentice for) told me these sage words: Farming is all about timing. Which is funny, because I had been thinking those very words for the past month. Timing on many different scales. Timing on a daily level is important for watering, for closing and opening greenhouses, for working in greenhouses. Timing on a weekly scale is important for harvesting, weeding, pruning and tying tomatoes, and for transplanting, but transplanting and harvesting are also dependent on timing on the seasonal level, as is planting cover crops and prepping fields.

And then there is the rain factor, the frost factor, the heat factor, the how many people do we have working to harvest all this stuff so we can determine how much we should plant factor and how much we'll have to sell factor. It all works out to a complex matrix that you would need a supercomputer to work out, but I noticed that these farmers use mostly pencil and paper, with the occasional pen or marker. So maybe in order to be a farmer, you need to have a computer for a brain. Or maybe the farmers I work for have computers for brains. Maybe they're robots. Maybe I'm the only human surrounded by robots. How deliciously ironic for that to happen on a farm of all places.

Of course, Dave was telling me this in reference to the 16 basil plants I hadn't gotten around to transplanting in my garden, some of which were starting to yellow and look sort of sad at the fact that they were still imprisoned in their little styrofoam cells. You see, I had been procrastinating, a trait that I have yet to discard despite my transition from NGO bean counter to digger of the earth.

So you see, folks, thus is the reason for my dearth of postings on this hear blog. I've been proocrastinating. But I'm instituting a new system. Here it is. If you want to be informed of my new postings to the blog, email and I will email you when I post. I can't promise the posts will be any more frequent, but at least you won't have to waste time checking this blog only to see the same tired old posts, day in and day out and hope against hope that the next time, the next time maybe Farmer Tracy will write something new.

Also, I need to give a shout out to my boy Simon, aka Farmer Simon, who has a most uniquely named blog at Let's give it up for Simon!!! Wooooo, yeahhhh!

So. back to timing. Timing is important. Reallllll important. Probably more important, but way less interesting than compost. Seemingly a non-sequetor. That's because it is. As far as I know, there's no real connection that I can make between timing and compost, except in that grand, everything is connected sort of way.

And I know some of the hordes and hords of fans out there may be thinking: What the f is she talking about? Compost is boring -- rotting food and grass clippings. Who gives a hooey. Well to you dissenters I boom: DO NOT QUESTION MY AUTHORITY!!! And to the rest of the masses that have been sitting patiently and obediently, I will explain the wonder that is compost. After those who have dissented are executed and then escorted to the compost heap where they will spend the rest of their days decomposing by means of heat, moisture and bacteria whereupon they will become glorious rich dark organic matter and will feed the soil microorganisms and plants that we will cultivate and grow and eat. And such is the cycle of life.

But really, if you're interested in that aspect of compost, like the microbiology of how orange rinds and cow shit turn into soil, get a book on soil chemistry, because you won't find that information here. No, what I want to talk to you about is the Making of Compost. A unique experience. More of a meta-experience. That doesn't mean anything, but I saw a bar in Vegas called the Meta-Bar, and so it seemed here an appropriate, or at least cool usage of the word Meta.

Here's where it started: Two of us were put in the cow barn to fork an awesome amount of cow shit mixed with hay into the bucket of a tractor. Let me preface this by saying it was about 89 degrees out and about 90% humidity. If you thought cow poopy smelled bad in normal conditions, I can assure you that it smells worse when it's hot and humid and you're in a small room with a whole lot of it. And when it's packed down and mixed with hay and you are supposed to fork it into the tractor bucket, you perspire a little.

So here I am, sweating my booty off, forking cowshit and hay into a tractor bucket (or attempting to -- it works the upper back a bit) and I have to say that the only person I was thinking of at the time was my mom. And how she probably didn't think when she had me that, at 29 years of age with the egg count in my ovaries diminishing by the month, I'd be standing in a barn filled with cow dung instead of making babies in a nice split level house on Long Island.

But I digress. So we were forking cow shit. But I never got the opportunity to get really into it because I was quickly moved over to the rotting food part. You see, when you make compost, what you are actually doing is creating a lovely parfait of rotting food matter and cow shit, with surprise layers of hay, dead leaves, sticks, comfrey, and water. Then it gets wrapped up like a wonton in plastic and cooks (with a thermometer and everything) until it decomposes into that concoction I described above, which you wouldn't have to scroll back to read if you had been Paying Attention.

So, we took the charming rotting food, which smelled like death (which I guess is what it was) and equally as bad as the cow shit, and layered it on the ever growing parfait. That was the drill for a while, until we got down to the very bottom of the compost pits. Which was unfortunate for the colony of rats who had made the compost pits their home and had built a very nice condiminium complex with an indoor pool and hot tub which we visciously destroyed. Truthfully, I had no part in that. In fact, I was thoroughly grossed out when the rats tried to run for it, because these were some BFRs (big fucking rats - the size of small cats) and they were making that gross rat squeaky noise. My co-worker had the pleasure of spearing one with his fork (accidentally) which Suka, the dog, saw as a skewered rat treat and promptly bit his head off. The rat's head, not my co-worker's. I saw another one dash for the tall grass (I shrieked) and Suka made quick end to his life too. And when the rat genocide ended (I think we only got a few - small potatoes to the year when apparently 24 of them ran from the compost to certain death at the end of a scoop shovel) we added their little bodies to the growing mass of compost we were making.

The Rat Incident was probably the highlight of the whole experience. I don't know if it's because I'm the only woman on crew (not to enforce gender roles or anything) but I think I was the only one who was appalled by the rats. Everyone else kinda got into it, and cheered Suka on when she caught one of 'em, but I really had to hold my yarf back. Although vomit might have been a good addition to the compost.

Anyhoo, it is with pleasant visions of vomit covered dead rats on a 7 foot pile of rotting food and cow shit that I must bid you adieu. But I will make empty promises to post again soon. In the meantime, keep those comments coming!

Farmer T-Bone

PS There has been a slight SNAFU with the pictures, but I will try and get ahold of some.


wendy said...


wendy said...

you never told me you had a blog! I love it. I wish i were there. Now i can read stories of fresh air and cow shit while i wallow away at my tiny desk in my windowless little room-after, or course, an "office-space" commute with a thousand other zombies.....
well trace, if the poo ever hits the fan, i'm going to head over to your house for some good eatin.

Anonymous said...


We're so proud (sniff).

Mom & Dad

Shannon said...

Wow-- what an experience! I can totally picture you there based on your descriptions. Your farmer outfit sounds a lot like what I had to wear at the winery this spring-- rubber boots (or gum boots, as they call them in New Zealand) and plastic pants. Wine smells a lot nicer than compost, though! Your blog is very entertaining. Keep it up!--Shannon

michmel said...

i'm a huge fan of compost, myself.

i informed bart a while back that not only are we going the organic cotton route with the baby diapers when that day comes, we're going to compost all those precious little poops!

luckily, we haven't had to leap that hurdle yet. but i have to say that probably the grossest, squirmiest part of your tale is the way you added the dead, headless rat and his friends to your compost pile.

so the new rats that come to live at the bottom of the pile are going to be living off scraps enriched by the rotting flesh of other rats! that sounds like three shades of awesome to me! and it reminds me of another blog i read where a dog ate a poop exiting the ass of one writer who had just eaten and digested some yummy dog..

*sigh* some people were just meant to be together, i guess..

michmel said...
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michmel said...

by the way, you can read all about *my* gross exploits here (i update more often than most farmers):

yes, doodythunder. that's right.

Anonymous said...

hey trace,

Just so you know, procrastination is a family trait. I have put off looking at your blog until today. I think it's funny that you thought of Mom while making a compost heap


Katy said...

i miss tracer! but i must say, losing tracy to the farm for 6 months might be worth it if only to be able to read her accounts of speared rats, hay bales, muddy yurts and Evil Corporations and Government. while i remain mired in political mumbo-jumbo, i long for the days of manual labor sans back pain. say trace, how's the back holding up? i'll do a couple stairmasters for you with the rest of the drones. come back soon!xoxoxo, katy

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