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Fertilizer SUCKS!
12 August 2007

Farming SUCKS!  Sometimes the pictures look fun and the idea of being outside every day can be enticing but don't be fooled, farming SUCKS!  Every time I finish a project there are two more that need to be done.  Every time I fix one thing, two more things break.  Every time I need a sunny day it's raining.  Every time I need rain it's sunny!  It doesn't matter if I'm sick or tired or busy, the weeds still grow, the fence still breaks, the fertilizer still needs spreading and the coffee still need picking.  In an attempt to share all this joy, here is one of many examples of exactly why FARMING SUCKS!

Spreading fertilizer really SUCKS!

Bags Every year we remove thousands of pounds of coffee from our coffee trees.  That's a good thing because all those pounds of coffee can be sold.  We also prune thousands of pounds of branches off the trees every year.  That's not so good because we have to spend even more time chipping up all those branches just to get rid of them, but proper pruning helps keep the trees healthy and productive.  Most of the nutrients contained in the pruned branches go back into the ground but not all.  The nutrients contained in the coffee we harvest is gone forever.  Between the coffee and the pruning there are a lot of nutrients that need to be replaced every year.  Soil can't sustain that production forever.  Since we want to maintain healthy soil that means we have to add a lot of fertilizer to make up the difference.  Thousands and thousands of pounds of fertilizer.

To make matters even worse, we live on a volcano.  That means our soil all came from lava rock which is often acidic.  The volcano also produces acid rain.  It's not normally enough acid to be noticeable but over time all that acid builds up in the soil.  Coffee likes slightly acidic soil but only slightly.  To raise the soil's pH we have to add lime.  Thousands and thousands of pounds of lime.

Report Every year I send soil samples to the university.  The soil is analyzed and a report is generated by learned professors.  This year's report recommends that I add 6000 pounds of lime per acre split into five applications per year.  That's just the lime, the report also recommends several thousand pounds of fertilizer per acre also split into in five applications per year.  That's 10 times per year they want me to add lime and fertilizer.  I don't know what professors developed this report but I don't see any of them volunteering to help.

Applying fertilizer isn't easy.  Adding too much fertilizer at once and you'll shock or burn the trees.  Go too long between fertilizing and you'll stress the trees.  Too much rain, the fertilizer washes away.  Too much sun, the fertilizer disappears into the air.  Too close to the trunk and you can burn the tree.  Too far away and the roots can't reach it.  And my personal favorite: add fertilizer and a huge growth of weeds will soon follow.

Snow Ordering fertilizer is a challenge too.  The fertilizer I use comes in 50 pound bags in powdered or granular form.  Granular fertilizer is much easier to handle and much more effective than fertilizer straight from the cow.  There are only a few places on the island that sell fertilizer in the types and quantities I need.  Those places are often out and can take weeks or even months to deliver what I ordered.  Fertilizer ain't cheap either.  It currently costs about $15 for a 50 pound bag.  I order anywhere from 40-100 bags at a time, several times per year.

Once the fertilizer arrives, the driver and I unload it all, one bag at a time, into a huge pile in the greenhouse (because the fertilizer needs to be stored some place dry and the barn is usually too crowded).  The next challenge is to get all that fertilizer onto the fields.  I've tried several different methods but always seem to end up doing it by hand.  That means walking up and down each row, carrying a bucket full of heavy fertilizer and throwing it out one handful at a time.

You may be tempted to think of those little handheld seed spreaders you can buy at your local nursery for spreading seed and fertilizer across your lawn.  When we first moved here I found one of those things in a pile of junk under the house.  It was an extra large one and only needed minor repairs so I fixed it up and gave it a try.  It SUCKED!  Imagine spinning the little handle and think of how long it takes to empty one load.  Now imagine simply grabbing a handful at a time and throwing it.  If I sat there and spun the little handle it would take me all day to do one row.  It's much faster to march down the row, throwing out fertilizer just as fast as I can go.

Your next thought might be one of those large push spreaders.  Tried it.  It sucked.  Far too many rocks, far too many hills, far too much work.  Walking and throwing is still easier.

Ok, how about a fancy electric one that mounts to the ATV?  Tried it.  Still sucked.  It broke after two bags.  I don't know what the thing was designed for but it certainly wasn't for spreading fertilizer on a farm.  $165 down the drain.

Spreader The next step was a larger model that can be pulled behind the diesel mower.  Sucked, sucked, sucked!  Again, I don't know what it was designed for but it certainly doesn't work very well for spreading fertilizer on a farm.  The handle that starts and stops the flow of fertilizer is impossible to reach while sitting on the mower.  Duh!  What kind of a moron designed that?!  Luckily my father was visiting and he found an old piece of aluminum that he used to fabricate a handle extension.  His handle worked great, that's how it should have been designed in the first place.  What my father couldn't fix was the fact that the spreader is way too top heavy.  With a load full of fertilizer the tiniest little bump will dump the entire spreader right over.  Apparently it's only designed for use on farms that don't have any bumps.  It's also designed for fertilizer that is teflon coated.  Any other fertilizer will get stuck in the hopper and next thing you know you've driven all the way down the row without a bit of fertilizer coming out of the SUCKY SPREADER.

Real farmers use giant PTO spreaders on the three point hitch of their giant tractors. I wish I could be like a real farmer.  Unfortunately coffee has this annoying tendency for the limbs to bend over and hang out in the rows.  Driving my full-sized tractor down the rows will rip any of these hanging limbs right off the trees, along with all their precious coffee.  With patience and care I can get my smaller mower down the rows but getting the full sized tractor down the row causes so much damage that I only do it when I have to.  So, once again, I am back to spreading fertilizer by hand.

It's not so bad though.  It's a little rough on the hands and gets your clothes, shoes, hands, hair, face and lungs all covered in fertilizer dust.  But it's great exercise!  And once you've spent a few days spreading fertilizer by hand then it's quite nice to spend a little time behind the computer writing about how much FARMING SUCKS!


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