Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective

Nutrient Management or Manure 101

 We are in class to learn how to fertilize a field, with the correct amount of nutrients.  Given the fields’ history of fertilization, soil analysis, manure analysis, animal type and amount of time that has passed, I can tell you how much Nitrogen-N, Phosphate-P, Potash-K (N-P-K), lime and other trace minerals you may need.  It is known as Maryland's Nutrient Management (NM) Regulations.  Because we live in Maryland, we must submit a NM plan that outlines our use and applications of fertilizer and manures for the coming year based on the yield goals we have for a particular crop.

 It is all part of cleaning and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.  The Chesapeake is a body of water that has some of the best blue crabs, oysters and rockfish (striped bass) you will ever eat.  That would also include a crab cake, made using the back fin or lump portion of the crab.  .  A  crab cake is a seasonal delicacy that has no equal in the culinary world, the soft sweet taste of meat with just a touch of spice and a binder to keep it all together.  I am a born and bred Baltimorean, so I was born with blue crab genes.  Eating crabs was a summer treat for us growing up and it was always a big party with lots of people.  It was a “Right of Passage” when you got old enough to drink beer with the crabs.  You really do not get the full taste of crabs until you have a cold beer to wash down the salty, fiery seasoning that is used when steaming the crab.

In Baltimore, you grow up with crabs.  First, you are fed crabmeat because you are too young to pick the crab.  Then you get to an age where if you do not learn to pick crabs you do not eat crabmeat.  Then you learn how to go “crabbin Hun”!  Crabbing is the act of harvesting crabs from the bay and its tributaries.  This activity comes in many forms, tie a chicken leg on a string and hang it off a pier, throw a trap into the water with beef lips or run a five hundred foot line with meat tied at six-foot intervals.  

With the string, you wait to feel a tug, which is an indication that a crab is on the line.  You slowly raise the chicken leg until you can just barely see the crab.  If you are skilled enough, you have a wire net in the water ready to scoop the delicacy off the line. If not, someone else does the net for you.  With the trap, you just wait a bunch of hours, go back, pull it up, and take the crabs out.  The preferred method for us is the trout-line setup.  If you do trout-line or string the start time is always the same.  You are up at four in the morning and out the door to get things setup in the water. 

When we asked why so early it was always the same answer, "The crabs cannot see you if it is dark out.  If they do not see you on the surface, you have a better chance of catching the crab".  Even back then, I questioned "If the crab could not see us what made them think we would see the crab".  It did not matter who you went with either.  Friends, family or charter; it was always the same time, get up at four o’clock in the morning and head out to the water.  Add to that crabbing is not without its perils.  Crabs do have claws, with pinchers and survival instincts, which means at some point you may be obliged to  give blood to the harvest. 

At the end of the day, the smell of "Old Bay" seasoning mixed with beer and apple cider vinegar steaming the crabs’ makes it all worth it.  It is that smell, the taste and knowing you have caught the crabs that makes it special.    

Given our history and taste for crab, you start to see this class and certification have greater meaning for us than just meeting a State requirement.  It fits within our ecological practices and allows us to apply proper amounts of fertilizer to our fields thus saving money and maximizing yields.  The only problem is we have to pass the exam in order to receive certification.

So we must learn how to tell how much manure is in a field, given the type of animal (cow, pig, chicken etc), the average weight of the animal, how many hours, if any, they are indoors and what bedding was used, versus outdoors and how long they have been on a particular piece of land.    We will never use this information because of how we currently use our chickens.  They are outside all day and are moved to new clean areas frequently.  You need soil and manure analyses, historical data on previous fertilizing, and past nutrient analysis in order to determine how much N-P-K are currently available in your soil and how much of each you may need to meet yield goals. Suffice it to say, I feel like I am back in school and the old test anxieties are rearing their ugly heads. 

We will learn how to write a complete nutrient management plan, calculating how much N-P-K is needed on our soil for next year’s growing season.  We have learned the proper techniques for getting soil and manure samples and how to submit them for analysis along with what type of analysis protocol is warranted.   We have homework, homework!  

As complicated, as this stuff seems, it is an integral part in saving scarce resources and ultimately the farmer really benefits from not over-spending on nutrients.  Therefore, we are putting our noses to the grindstone to become a Maryland Certified Operator.  This means we can write our own nutrient management plan and not have to pay to have it done.  Therefore, if you ever want to know how much animal manure you have out in your field, I know the formula to tell you how to calculate the amount.  Household pets excluded.

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