The Smell of Garden Fertilizer


They say that the sense of smell is the strongest trigger of memories. I have to agree with that. A couple of days ago Finley brought over a jag of composted chicken manure and dumped it in the center of our garden for me to spread out. He came back after that deed was done and tilled the garden to incorporate the “fertilizer” into the soil. It has been two days now and the lingering odor still is causing flashbacks to cleaning out our chicken houses as a kid.

Actually, we had 3 chicken houses. The oldest one was of a traditional design of a single space with two rows of windows on the south side for winter sun exposure. The roof line sloped to the north with the roost being along this north side. This roost consisted of about 6 spaced 2 by 2 inch lumber that ran the entire length of the building. By the way, a roost is a device that the chickens sit on at night to sleep. We kept the old hens in this building. Our “new” chicken house was the old funeral parlor from town. It had a small square room by the front door that used to be the reception/office of the funeral home. The rest of the building was where we kept the pullets and the layers. The roost in this building was not sloped 2 by 2’s as in the old building but was of a box design consisting of hardware wire (1 inch by 2 inch openings) that stood 3 feet high and about 10 feet deep from the front to the back of the roost. The 3rd house was a brooder house where we raised the baby chicks.

A spring job was to clean out the chicken houses, especially under the roosts. If you never had the “pleasure” of cleaning out a chicken house you probably don’t know what ammonia smells like. You would spread straw across the main floor periodically throughout the entire year, especially during the winter months when the condensation in the building would be higher and cause the straw to become wet and get packed down by the trodding chickens. I broke more than one pitchfork prying this mat apart and carrying it out to the manure spreader. The droppings under the roost didn’t get packed down like the straw but the ammonia content was enough to cause you to ask your maker to give you the strength not to lose your last meal. If the chickens that roosted on the rim of the cistern (see “Turning the Chickens” post) had gathered with these other chickens, the cleaning job would have been impossible to complete.

It’s a good thing I have this memory as Dad accidentally burned down the first two mentioned chicken houses along with the cob shed and the hog house. And did I mention that the barn roof was smoking but the fire department managed to save the barn, the house and the garage. If I remember right, I was in college at the time and he was the one that inherited the job of spring cleaning. Who’da thunk the smell of “manure” could bring back a memory.

Keep your fork


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