Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Enriching gardens and sharing bounty

I grew up in a family that had a natural tendency to save, reuse, and recycle resources. It was against our religion to throw away anything that might be useful in the future. Some might call us "Scotch" or penny-pinchers. We were reluctant to buy new items, especially if something on hand would do. "Making do" was a habit. If we did need to acquire something, heading for a thrift store or an antique store was much more likely than visiting a store or shopping mall.

My mother, especially, disliked shopping in big stores. She was much more comfortable at home in old "dungarees" working in her garden or riding her horse.

This month's column is about the recycling of resources from horse (or cows) to gardens. Horse manure was consider a great resource, not a waste product. My mother happily shared the manure with others. She also trained us as kids to "harvest" cow manure from nearby pastures using a pitch fork and wheelbarrow.   Her garden and the gardens of neighbors benefitted.

See  Cleaning up paddocks, pastures, and gardens.    (Or read the same text below)

Cleaning up paddocks, pastures and gardens
By Sandy Nichols Ward

A reader wrote in response to my last column, "Your mention of your mother riding the letter to the corner store on horseback triggered a memory of her stopping in my parents' driveway to chat as she rode around. … My Dad's garden was a beneficiary of your mother's horse, as she would let my Dad 'muck out' the paddock. We would back our old GMC pickup to the gate, clean up the paddock area, and spread it on the garden--we had prolific green beans!"

My mother, too, had a garden that was well fertilized with animal manure. Before she had a horse, we collected "cow patties" in the pasture land across the street, piling the dried manure onto the old wooden wheelbarrow and wheeling it home to spread on the garden. This was part of the natural cycle of things. Our garden benefited from the cows' waste, and the cows, in turn, enjoyed the byproducts of our garden. After we finished harvesting our sweet corn, we would pull up the corn stalks, shake the dirt clods from the roots, and load the green stalks crosswise on the wheelbarrow. We would then push the overloaded barrow towards the pasture. "Ca Boss! Ca Boss!" my mother would sing out loudly, calling the cows.   My sister and I would try to imitate her, "Ka Boss! Ka Boss!" I wasn't sure what those words meant -- perhaps a variation of Come, boss! or Heeeere, Bossie? -- but the cows certainly understood the signal. They'd hurry to the fence and stretch their necks and then their long rough tongues out to grasp the corn stalks even before we could throw the pile over the fence. Such a feeding frenzy! It was fun watching the cows enjoy our cornstalks. They'd shake their heads, flopping the ends of the long stalks around in the air as they chomped eagerly on the middle portion. One day I decided to do the same, sinking my teeth into the middle of a cornstalk and shaking it. The sweetness of the juice in the stalk surprised me. Wow! No wonder the cows liked cornstalks!  

After the cows left the pasture in the fall (returning to Mr. Prentiss's barn elsewhere in Danvers), we had another reason to pick up the dried cow patties they had left behind. My father and his friends were eager to prepare the ski trails for winter. Removing cow patties from the slopes was one of the necessary tasks. Sometimes my father used a small tractor to pull a wooden trailer on which we piled the dung. Of course this "harvest" was brought to the garden or shared with gardening friends.    

"Waste not, want not" was a theme by which we lived in those days. Kitchen scraps were saved for the compost pile, bacon fat was poured into a can on the stovetop for re-use in baking or frying, worn clothes went into a ragbag and were useful when we washed the storm windows. Even an old ski-tow rope, too worn to pull us safely up the hill, was saved for new uses. For Halloween my father created a scary Haunted House within the old barn, using that old rope as a hand-rail to guide us through the darkness from one horror to the next, while a scratchy old 78-rpm record, played slowly at 33 rpm, growled and groaned in the background. Anything, it seemed, could be re-used. My thrifty family rarely purchased new items, rarely needed to. We certainly had no need for commercial garden fertilizers, thanks to the cows and horses nearby.