HOME & HEART: Horse Pucky

Beginner

I was raised in the country, and I can tell a cow pie from a horse apple. And with our ever-expanding gardens, harvesting horse apples every spring is an earnest endeavor. Over the years, my husband Bob-O and I have perfected our garden-amendment techniques and our vegetables are all the better for it.

Shovel

When we lived near the Salmon River, our closest neighbor Sarah had a big black horse. She welcomed our manure fetish, as she had more than she could use in her small garden. We would drive our pickup to her Indian Creek homestead with our shovels and gloves. It would take an hour or so to fill the bed with manure from the always-available big pile. After driving a mile and a half home, we would park the truck on our wide turnout. From there, we shoveled our treasure into our wheelbarrow, and ferried the load down a little dirt path to a four-foot-wide suspension bridge that Bob-O had built across the river, to our cabin on the other side. Bob-O would wheel the heavy loads to our very old Willys jeep, where we would shovel the manure into the back. We would drive it up the trail, through a small tributary, past the cabin, and on to the one open space in the forest where we gardened. Finally, we would shovel the manure into a pile to be added later to our garden plots. It took many trips to empty the truck. Eventually, Bob-O bought a garden cart (which I still use); we hitched it to the jeep like a trailer and cut the number of trips by half.

Now, on Camp Creek, we still use manure to enrich our clay soil. For 28 years, we have added the brown gold to our garden areas and tilled it in. When we started gardening at this house, we made an annual pilgrimage to the local 4-H rabbit husbandry teacher’s house. His name, oddly enough, was Bob Schultz. He would call us in the spring and say, “Bob Schultze, this is Bob Schultz—and I have a load of crap for you.”

The poop that piled up under his rabbit cages was only shoveled out by us—once a year, and it was a big mounded pickup load. With our wheelbarrow and shovels, we would descend on his backyard hutches and fill our ‘barrow and his. We got pretty good at heaving the ‘barrows up onto the lip of the bed and tipping them to empty them. At home, we could just rake the poop out into a pile using a McLeod (a firefighting tool that is a hoe and rake on steroids). I liked to rescue the red worms we found in the poop and put them into the worm bed I made from our old bathtub, out under the apple tree.

Bob Schultz got old and quit teaching rabbit husbandry, so we switched back to horse manure. Lucky for us, our county is chock-full of horse-loving cowhands. And for us, the best part is that not all of them garden, but all of them are glad to get rid of the nugget piles that build up by their stables. We really like it when the pile is steaming—that means it’s already starting to compost. The scooping and shoveling and dumping we do just aerates the manure, speeding the composting process along.

Scoop

We prefer horse apples to cow pies—the apples come in nuggets, not splats, and are much easier to shovel, spread, and till in. We are not young anymore. Now, we only get manure from ranchers who have tractors to load it for us. Bob-O’s 5-by-8-foot dump trailer has been built up with wooden rails to provide about a 4-foot-tall bed. While the manure is free, Bob-O always slips the rancher some money for the loading. It is so worth it to us.

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