The Zen of Fertilizing–Five Ways to Maintain Your Calm While Shoveling Manure

by on December 11th, 2010
Share Button

According to gardening lore, there is only one real fertilizer–manure. It doesn’t matter if it’s cow, horse, or turkey, as long as it came out of the south end of a critter. A lot of us swear by it, but just as many gardeners (if not more) hate shoveling the stuff. If you’re a gardener who’s never done it before, it’s a smelly, back-breaking garden chore that is disgusting enough to put any plant lover in a stinky (pun intended) mood. Unless, of course, said gardener knows, “The Zen of Fertilizing–5 Ways to Maintain Your Calm While Shoveling Manure.”

1. Put Vicks VapoRub under your nose. Seriously. I learned this trick from a farmer. Or maybe from an EMT who handled several fatalities. The smell of death … the smell of manure … they’re almost one and the same. At any rate, Vicks contains 5.2% camphor, 1.2% eucalyptus oil, 2.8% menthol, and a bunch of other scientific names that are too honking long to put in here. The first three, however, have a way of overpowering the sense of smell. Very helpful for maintaining that Zen calm.

2. Shovel with the wind.
It seems elementary (as opposed to alimentary), but in its dried state manure contains not only chunks of natural fertilizer, but dust as well. To loosely paraphrase a Zen principle, “You can learn a lot by watching.” Look at the trees and flowers to see what’s happening. You want the movement to be as close as possible to the Zen principle of “stillness.” Even if there’s just a slight breeze, it’s enough to blow manure dust up your nose and into your eyes. Therefore, when you start, be sure to shovel with the wind, not into it.

3. Unload the manure in the early morning or evening. The air will feel cooler and calmer, allowing you to maintain patience and a good attitude. In addition, the smell won’t be as strong, and there’ll be less wind to blow cow patty dust into your face.

4. Use a neckerchief. Yippe-ki-yi-yay, Pardner, those cowboys didn’t wear a neckerchief for nothing. Pulled up over your mouth and nose, it prevents dust from being inhaled. But, if you’d rather not wear one, a clean neckerchief in your pocket works great for wiping your face–without putting dust in your eyes–and helps you, as a manure wrangler, in maintaining a sense of tranquility.

5. Resist the non zen-like urge to throw a shovelful at someone. Yes, the stuff is semi-dry, and yes, it would be fun to throw a chunk at your spouse/partner, who is helping you unload it into the garden. However, unless she/he is a student of Zen and is able to live in only the moment, there will be full-fledged retaliation long afterward. Especially if your spouse/partner is a woman, is in the grocery store two hours later and a chunk of cow chip falls from her hair. At the checkout aisle. In front of the checker.

In conclusion, although shoveling manure into the garden isn’t a fun task, you can experience the Zen of fertilizing by using Vicks VapoRub under your nose, shoveling with the wind, unloading the manure in early morning or evening, using a handkerchief to wipe your face, and resisting the urge to throw cow chips at your spouse/partner. Having shoveled plenty of the stuff myself, I can testify to the value of these five ways to maintain your calm while shoveling manure.

Kelvin Leibold and Tom Olsen, “Value of Manure Nutrients,” Iowa State University Extension and Research.
Vicks VapoRub Topical Cream Package Information,

Other articles by this contributor.

Gardening Tips for Seniors
Gardening Superstitions: Good Luck Superstitions About Hawthorn and Linden Trees
Creative Ways to Plant Cosmos

Prev Article: »
Next Article: «

Related Articles