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20 tons of Dust

September 11, 2018
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Thinking about, managing, and handling large volumes of things that most people are happy to spend as little time as possible dealing with comprises much of farming, e.g. poop, dirt, and... dust.  Manure is pretty easy on my farm most of the year because I disperse my animals across the whole farm and rotate them from spot to spot. I don't allow the livestock to congregate in the same place day after day because that creates problems associated with manure concentration - parasites, nitrogen leaching into waterways, nutrient excesses in the soil at the gathering spot, etc. Spreading livestock around naturally leads to them spreading their own manure. It can go without saying dirt is everywhere on farms - it gets exposed by rooting pigs, stuck to tires, boots, and clothes, moved around for planting trees or building retaining walls. It gets in kids' hair and eyes. Mud clings to the sides of pigs and smears across farmer's pants when they rub past or try to scratch on the nearest upright (my leg). I fret about tracking it into the house and about losing it when the stream freshens in the spring and slices at its banks. Dirt is a constant companion... But rock dust? 1000 lifetimes worth of dust arrived the other day, and I had to pay good money to get it even in the face of deeply red budget for September.

I bought a dump truck load of limestone rock powder because I believe it will do good for my pastures, my animals, and ultimately the end consumers of my produce. New York is a relatively high rainfall place, which means over decades and centuries many minerals gradually leach out of the soil, both into the subsoil and away into the streams and oceans. Minerals in the subsoil can be recovered with taprooted plants and good grazing management. Minerals lost to sea must be replaced by importing them from somewhere else, in this case a quarry. Our worn down hillsides have lost many minerals to time and previous owners not returning everything they took. I cannot rely exclusively on plants pulling from subsoils to remineralize the top soil.

My particular soils are quite deficient in calcium, which is one of the central building blocks of healthy plants and healthy animals. I've known for a long time that I ought to be amending my land with limestone (good source of calcium), and that doing so would both increase the volume of grass I can grow per acre as well as improve the quality of the grass that grows. It truly is a win-win for the plants and animals that spring from a given patch of land when the minerals are brought into balance. But it's a hard thing to spend money on because the returns won't be visible for at least 12 months with the way I'm applying it, and actually probably longer than that - like 18+ months if I'm honest about it. We've long been understocked on animals for the amount of land we have and therefore haven't felt a sense of urgency about getting the fertility of our pastures dialed in perfectly. But our herd is growing year by year, and if we don't start planning and preparing for the future before we know it we'll run short on grass.

So I bought a dump truck of lime dust. Lime dust is a byproduct of quarrying stone for concrete and other construction projects. It is a good clean, source of organic-approved (encouraged!) soil improvement. Most of the cost for farms to get it is in the trucking. The load arrived at the absolute last possible minute to get it where I want it. So much rain fell that had it come even a few hours later the truck would have been stuck in the mud with spinning wheels trying to dump in its designated spot. Once the dust was out of the truck I used the tractor to push it into the pig hoop where it will soak under the bedding all winter and get spread next year mixed in with composted woodchips, mulch hay, and hog manure. I expect it will make for absolutely marvelous compost and the pastures will explode with beautiful growth everywhere I put it. 

-Edmund

Photo Credit - Edmund Brown

Edmund Brown

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