dsc04120On Saturday, I drove up to my friends’ ranch in Fiddletown, CA, to shovel shit. Polly and James, the organic farmers from Portland, urged me to add lots of nitrogen to my lasagna beds to initiate in a dramatic way the decomposition that will, with any luck and a bit of sun, make planting possible in a month’s time. Shoveling shit is hard work. Fortunately, I proved so feeble at it that Dan stepped in to help. We half-filled six industrial strength plastics bags with chicken and sheep manure and quite a bit of already prepared soil. Even only half-filled, the bags required the two of us to hoist them into my trunk and on to the back seat of my Honda Civic. I got a headache from the amonia in the manure as I drove back — windows open a good crack in spite of the cold — into town.

Along the way, I stopped at the T’s ranch — where I’ve been harvesting summer vegetables for the past two years but no more! — for a dinner party. I was not properly dressed.

dsc04125I spent Sunday lay down the last lasagna bed and treating the ones already in place with the manure. Then I strew the rest of the manure on the top of the soil of the bed that runs around the perimeter of the yard. Everyone tells me that chicken manure is so hot that it can burn roots to death if applied too heavily. But I have no idea how much manure it takes to create too much heat. So, I’ve hedged my bet. I let the manure sit on the top of the soil, bathed it in a bit of hose water, and will hope that it breaks down slowly over the coming weeks. On the lasagna beds, however, I applied it liberally, since I have not yet planted anything and I really want to generate heat.

The suspense will kill me. One month from today, I plan on inserting the first fava bean and borlotti bean seeds in the bed that gets the most sun. Will the bed have begun to decompose? Will it germinate no matter what stage of decomposition the bed has reached, as the Lasagna lady promises? Have I added enough water to bake it? Or is it too dry?

Time will tell.