Worth the Wait.

9.29 a.m. I’m sitting in a car. Waiting. As patiently as I can. Outside the well-cut hedges of Sean, a man the local farmer says “messes with sheep”. I’m supposed to be meeting Little Dave at 9.30 to load up a trailer of valuable sheep manure for our muck pens. Maybe the arrangements aren’t as solid as I had believed. Maybe I was mistaken – I hate it when that happens!

There’s a smart looking Alsatian hound keeping a sentry’s eye on me from behind a house window. He may be barking too, but I can’t hear it.

At ground level there’s a rough-house wind blowing. A flock of daffodils, like the hopefuls in an early chorus line audition are throwing shapes and wobbling. On the opposite verge is a fat, glossy and definitely disinterested woodpigeon: the poet inside me has him as the casting director:

“Don’t call us, we’ll call you!”

Image result for daffodil images

I’ve exchanged text messages with the Plantation Owner’s Wife. Nothing new at her end.

Ten minutes later I’m still waiting. Definitely less patient. Looks like this is the third annoying thing – and it is still so early. A day of things-going-wrong maybe? First it was the alarm clock going off at half past stupid. I don’t remember setting it but accept that it must have been me: habit most likely. Secondly there’s the ridiculously loud tapping of the kamikaze blue tit throwing himself at the back bedroom window. Why does he (it is almost certainly a male – do that? Protecting a territory against the reflection that he thinks is a rival?

Just as I’m about to up-sticks and leave the sheep rancher and Little Dave arrive. Phew! It is wonderful that I have been given the opportunity to grab some of this rare resource: manure is droppings and bedding (in this case hay) mixed as opposed to just droppings. This anticipated treasure should fill the two freshly emptied compost bins and come in useful after a “cooking” spell. There’ll be up to forty barrow loads of the stuff, so I’m told.

But first we have to dig it out of the “lambing shed”. Filled with twenty ewes. No lambs.

Image result for Ewe Sheep

“I had my mate’s two tups over,” Sean explains, slowly.

“Looks like they was only here for the grub!”

We scrape aside the recently added looser surface layers of hay. Drive the forks into the solid foot and a half of packed, padded down “good stuff” below. It is not easy work and soon our jackets are laid aside. The dozen or so white geese penned in next door are let out and it gets suddenly quieter.The ewes keep getting underfoot, but they also have a calming effect. The skilfully backed in trailer takes just over an hour to fill. Then it’s back to the site, where there is a wonderful surprise for me when I arrive ahead of the 4X4 towing he laden trailer: the Plantation Owner’s Wife has been industrious and got the early potatoes planted.

She’s roped in to transfer the off-loaded manure to the plot. We have the use of two barrows and get a system going. Little Dave gamely staying on to lend a much-appreciated hand. Again this is solid hard work, especially as our plot is as far away from the central roadway as it is possible to get. But we get our backs into it.

The looser hay goes down first, dowsed with water. A handful of compost activating chicken pellets scattered on it, then subsequent layers added. Bit by bit the heap by the notice-board shrinks – I’ve lost count of the number of barrow loads at thirty – until we are driven to adapt an inclined plane system to get the barrows high enough.

It’s rare to be able to get sheep manure, but it is recommended. It’s not as bulky or as plentiful as horse or cattle manure (sheep droppings are so much tinier of course) but contains 0.8% Nitrogen, 0.4% phosphorus and 0.5% potassium so compares favourably*. My grandfather was known for collecting sheep droppings from the pasture, tying them into a hessian sack, submerging the sack in a water butt and using the “tea” produced to feed his crops.

Three hours after I started digging in the sheep pen we have the heaps packed and retained. We pull recycled black plastic sheeting over each of the heaps to help the processes get off to a good start. I’m planning to add worms from the back-garden wormery (it needs emptying anyway) to boost the rotting down.

Too hungry to wait – and, frankly, too knackered to cook – we retire, after a wash’n’brush up to a favourite garden centre eatery. There are times when only chips will do!


* Horse manure is 0.6% Nitrogen, 0.6% phosphorus and 0.4% potassium; cattle manure is 0.6% Nitrogen, 0.3% phosphorus and 0.5% potassium.


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