Monday, February 18, 2008

Hot cow pies

So I've decided to try gardening not just in the middle of summer, which is the (fairly) safe time for transplanted Californians to attempt to grow green things outside here in Boulder, Colorado. Mid-summer is exhilerating actually, what with thunder storms, hail, wind and generally awfully hot weather. You can plant things and generally expect them to grow reasonably well.
Here in the middle of February, Boulder is not so ultra friendly to such an enterprise. Last night it got down to 16. Last week we had wind gusts topping out around 80 mph.
And I want to plant seeds.
So, I ordered seeds for really tough plants such as True Siberian Kale and New Zealand Spinach and some kind of turnip, all of which I actually will eat if they do in fact grow. Russ and I have attended a couple of lectures on the subject of how to actually grow things now, and I bought rebar to pound into the ground and schedule 40 electrical conduit, which I cut into sections and forced over the rebar stakes, and 6 mil. greenhouse plastic to put over the top of the electrical conduit hoops. We already had the big rocks needed to keep the plastic from blowing into the next county.
Next I needed something to keep things above freezing all night inside my little "hoop house". Some folks string up old-style Christmas lights inside their's and I think that's a good idea, except that Christmas lights use Electricity and that's bad for our outrageous carbon footprint, so, I'm trying something very old-fashioned and apparently developed into a fine art by the French. Actually I'm trying a variation on the theme.
Here's what I did:
First, I dug a hole about 15 inches deep in my garden just North of my hoop house.
Then I filled a wheelbarrow with straw that I conveniently had on site and took that to the garden.
Next, I grabbed a chair and a short step-ladder and put one on either side of our back fence, which while not too high, is unfortunately topped with barbed wire. Taking a pitchfork with me, I climbed over the fence and went for hunting for manure. This is easy this time of year because we have a good-sized herd of lady cows and their little calves (initially we just had obviously pregnant cows, and then the inevitable keeps happening) out tromping around the open-space behind us.
So, back to me and my pitch-fork. Cow pies in convenient locations, most of them not frozen to the ground. It works best if you position the fork just behind a patty and jab forward so the thing doesn't break apart.... Anyway, take cow pies to fence and sling them over so that they land in that hole just north of the hoop house.
Climb back over the fence. Add straw and some dirt on top of the cow pies. Throw in some snow. Go back over the fence for more pies. Repeat until the whole business rises about a foot above ground level and cap off with dirt. Extend hoop house plastic over the mound so that the whole business is nice and cozy.
Why do this? Because in theory anyway, composting manure heats up. Of course my little tiny pile might not have enough thermal mass, but then again, it might. And if it does, I've made myself a little tiny "hot bed" and it might actually help keep things nice and cozy in the hoop house at night. If not, I'll have a lovely little pile of compost for the garden eventually.
Win, win, yes?