"The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men
/ Gang aft agley…” Robert Burns
For us to drive up from California to fertilize in the spring, all of the planets have to be aligned. Primarily, the weather has to be clear
for a long period of time because the ground has to dry out for approximately
four days so that the heavy machines can travel up the steep hill of the South
Field. Then, the weather has to stay clear for another six days so that the work can be done. Next, we need to locate organic fertilizer. Finally, the manure has to be available and delivered by the date that we
arrive. These things so rarely come in combination that we have not fertilized in the last two years, mainly because of the weather. However,
when the smell of finely composted organic chicken manure permeates the air, and I know, with my eyes closed, that I am once again on the farm.
It took two days for us to drive here, and it took two hours for the fertilizer truck to deliver its load once it had reached our driveway. Ted had ordered a load of gravel to be deposited on the road from the bottom of Powell Road to the place where we usually deposit the manure at the base of the South Field. All was in readiness.
However, the delivery truck was 70 feet long, including the cab, and making a right hand turn from Powell Road into our driveway was the first problem. Ted and Ken had to remove the front drive gate by lifting the support posts. That allowed the cab of the truck to pull forward a little more in order to make the 90 degree turn without wiping out our fence.
The load can’t be dropped at the base of the driveway because the land is too swampy there, and using it as a staging area makes it too far from the largest field, wasting valuable loading time. So, ideally, the truck should continue along the road to the bottom of the South Field and deposit everything there.
That just wasn’t going to happen. In addition to the weight of the truck and cab, it was carrying a load of 29 tons of fertilizer or 58,000 pounds, for those of you who remember second grade mathematics, and the route that we had directed the driver to take involved another right hand turn so that the rig could circle our U-shaped driveway to allow the cab to be pointed outward when it left. So, when I first saw the truck, it was jackknifed at the top of the horseshoe.
At that point it was
necessary to back up the cab and straighten out on the original road. That was no easy move, and it became necessary twice to hitch the big tractor to the cab and pull it out of the ruts in the mud that it had just made during this maneuver (which sounds a lot like manure).
Now, the driver was getting frustrated. Even if he made it out to the drop off spot, he’d have to back all the way down the driveway, around the initial sharp turn, and the length of Powell Road before backing into Territorial Highway, which is a busy thoroughfare. He had already made a two hour trip from Canby in the north, and he was dealing with people who are obviously farming stupid. He had done us a favor by coming out on a Saturday to make the delivery, and he’d spent more time than he’d planned
already and the load was still onboard. Also, he’d done so much braking that the air reserve in his hydraulic system had run out, and now he had to wait for it to be replenished before moving again.
In his frustration, he mentioned that it would be easier for him to manipulate his rig when the load was dumped, and he suggested that we should have called him out when it was dry. But, being Oregon, I said that that wouldn’t have been until July and by then the spring rain necessary to work the fertilizer into the soil would have been over. Somehow, he didn’t seem to care and suggested, “September.”
We debated the best place to put the load, and I thought of the bottom of the hill where the road makes a wide apron from the mailboxes to our driveway. It is paved, and we would use up all the fertilizer and leave it
clean. Ken was worried about the neighbors’ complaints, since he will be here when we are long gone back to California. My next idea was to deposit it in Ken’s double parking area, which is covered with gravel and, at that point in time, right next to where the truck was parked.
Instead, it was agreed that he should dump everything in the southeast corner of the North Field, basically across the top of the horseshoe where he’d attempted to make the second right hand turn and on the right side of where everything now rested. And so that is how three hills of the finest composted chicken manure that money can buy now rest across from Kenny and Renee’s house. Let’s just say that they won’t be opening any windows any time soon, and it will be quite a while before she considers hanging out washing to get that fresh air scent that can’t be achieved in the dryer.
Let the unloading begin. Mike, the driver, backed up farther than we’d planned, opened the back door, and started the conveyor belt of heavy rubber flags that run inside the truck bed and push the manure out. The flaps then come under the truck and return to the front of the load.
This goes on until the truck is empty.
I made Ted stand next to the largest pile, there were three, and, although it mounded over his head, it did not meet my expectation of 29 tons. That first row of trees in the North Field will undoubtedly grow to gigantic heights or get fertilizer burn and die from their proximity to the manure.
With his load gone, Mike proceeded to the second opening of the horseshoe in an attempt to go around our driveway and head down the hill, except that he ran into the same narrow turning radius. On the far side of
the driveway was a mound of the winter’s collection of branches from tree
trimming. This potential burn pile, that was as wide as our house, prevented him from taking a wider swipe at the turn. Just when we thought that he was stuck again and honking his horn for assistance, he quickly backed the trailer portion up the grassy knoll in front of the house in a maneuver that only a pro could have successfully completed and returned to the
horseshoe, where he’d entered, now making a left and heading down the straight part of the driveway to Powell Road. Apparently, it was easier to manipulate the rig when it was empty. He apologized for scraping the apple
tree on his way in to my driveway. In fact, he had missed it completely. I told him that in my humble estimation, “I can’t believe the turn I just saw.
You are the man!”
Kenny signed the paperwork, and, before he left, he asked Mike, “If we need more, "can we call you for another delivery."
I think Mike was snorting with laughter when he said, “Sure, just give us two days. Call the office.” which translates into“trucker talk” as “They couldn’t pay me enough to make this trip again.” I told Ted that this should teach us not to be so hard on our previous delivery man, Newman, who came in a dump truck, took out the bank of mailboxes at the
bottom of our driveway, and, repeatedly, got stuck in the mud at the bottom of the South Field. By comparison, his deliveries had been a piece of cake.
He was an old timer who loved his work, and I remember his assessment of the load of composted steer manure that he brought to the farm, “just like fine chocolate” when he described the smell. Apparently, he was not a great fan of chocolate, as I am, or he’d been consuming some with a higher cocoa content than I was accustomed to.
Newman is also remembered as the one who made the wooden wheelbarrow out of old barn siding that I annually fill with flowers, and every year that he delivered to us he’d eyeball the sinking barn at the corner of Powell Roadand Territorial when he made a stop.
However, dropping off manure is only a small part of the fertilizing process. If you have two workers, it speeds up the job. One person drives the small tractor which is hooked up to a spreader. This is essentially a
wagon about nine feet long and 5 feet wide attached to the PTO (Power Transfer Output – this isn’t correct, but it is what we agreed to call it.) of the
tractor. The back end is open and a horizontal bar with a spiral of three-pronged fans pushes the manure out after the chain drive with small rollers has moved the load forward from the bottom. It holds only one or two
scoops of manure placed there by the driver of the big tractor with the front
scoop or bucket.
So, one person goes through the orchard with the spreader, holding the gas pedal down to the floor, moving the small tractor slowly. In a ten foot swath next to each tree, he (Remember, it’s a boy job.) releases the handle that causes the manure to drop. It saves fertilizer not to spread it in a continuous line since the trees are 19 feet apart.
Meanwhile the other worker returns to the staging area to scoop up another bucketful and return to the place where the trailer will run out of manure. This process goes on and on up and down the rows for six days until all of the fields are done, as well as the vineyard and the fruit orchard in front of the house, and the jobs are rotated when the small tractor driver’s calf muscle has cramped from exertion.
We did have to order more fertilizer, but this time we requested half the load and a smaller truck for delivery, so another 15 tons were delivered in record time. In addition to putting manure in all of the beds around the house, there will be plenty left over for fertilizing next year, and it will be covered with a tarp above the road to the pond where we traditionally place it.
Over the years, on many occasions, I have been privileged to stand in a green field and feel the breeze while I worked, pausing to watch the clouds and marvel at the low growing daisies in the grass and the perfection of dandelions before they burst. Whenever I think of the farm, I smell that particular headiness of growing grass, and I think I’m home.
I do not remember ever smelling chocolate.