By Leo Strowbridge, Conception Bay South, Newfoundland
My wife Trudy and I have lived in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland, for the past six years in a rural setting that allows us to have a vegetable garden, greenhouse, chicken coop and the like. We love working outdoors.
Often we get advice from family, co-workers, neighbours, roadside gardeners and friends about what to grow when, and how to improve our soil. The thing most everyone agrees on is that mixing manure in your garden will result in a good crop. This is because the soil in our area needs more nitrogen, which the manure provides in spades.
One of our friends - to save him any embarrassment we'll call him Tom - said to us one day, "Leo and Trud, I can get you the very best chicken manure - not the old stuff (older than 39 days, he stated with the precision of a jeweller) but the manure from young chickens, the manure less than 39 days old, the manure without any ammonia, the manure to beat all manure."
That sounded good to us. He asked how much we'd need and we told him we only have a small garden, about 100 feet by 50 feet. "Leave it with me," he said.
Before the manure arrived, we had to get more topsoil delivered to expand the garden. So on a Friday evening in June, a blue tandem truck pulled up to our house with the topsoil. Our neighbour Johnnie came over and took the opportunity to order a load of topsoil for his lawn, which the driver said he would deliver either the next evening or Sunday morning.
We spent most of that Friday evening and the next day spreading and tilling our new topsoil, while anticipating the arrival of another tandem truck - this time with our "very best" quality chicken manure compliments of Tom. Meanwhile, Johnnie was pacing back and forth next door awaiting his own topsoil order.
On Sunday morning, a blue truck almost (but not quite) like the one from Friday evening, pulled onto our street. Johnnie, who had a big blue tarp spread out ever so nicely in his driveway, ran out to direct the truck as soon as he heard its approach.
Through our front window we could see Johnnie, with a big smile on his face, marshalling the truck into his driveway. The box of the truck was slowly rising, getting ready to deposit the load on Johnnie's nice new tarp. From a distance, you can't really tell the difference between topsoil and manure other than the volume - you can put a helluva lot more manure than topsoil in a tandem truck. Up close, of course, most people can distinguish between the two.
We realized pretty quickly that it was not the same truck that had visited us on Friday, and we raced out of the house to warn our neighbour. But by then over half the load was dumped in his driveway and Johnnie was exclaiming, "That's not topsoil!" His wife Karen added, "It sure doesn't smell like topsoil."
The trucker driver, a humble man, finally realized what had happened and said, "In my 25 years of delivering this stuff, I've never dumped it at the wrong address."
Then he told us the bad news. "Guys, I don't have any way of putting this stuff back in the truck."
He dumped the second half of the manure on our garden and left us to solve the problem of moving the rest of the stuff (about eight tons) ourselves. Naturally, we did what all New-foundlanders do - we improvised. We got to work with pick-up trucks and snow shovels.
It was messy, really messy. The pile was steaming from the heat and every blue-arse fly in CBS came to our street that sticky June day. It took seven pick-up loads (shovelled over the gunnels) to get all the top-quality manure from our neighbour's driveway to our vegetable garden. But we got it all moved before Johnnie's load of topsoil showed up. Well, most of it…it's hard to get every last bit.
The tandem load of manure was a real job to spread on our garden, too. It worked out to about 70 lbs per square foot. Later that evening, our friend Tom showed up busting a gut laughing at the story. The truck driver was a friend and had filled him in on the morning's events. Eventually we all had a good laugh about it...even if the smell didn't leave the pick-up truck for a couple of summers.
As for the richly fertilized garden - zilch, nada, nothing. It was like nuclear winter. Not even a weed grew that summer. On the bright side, when the wind blew the right way it didn't smell that badly. The following summer, however, the garden flourished.
The moral of the story? Beware of friends pushing manure.