28 September 2017

"Muck farm" explained

During a picnic lunch at a friend's farm, mention was made of a neighbor of theirs who operated a "muck farm."  I had previously only heard the term used with regard to cleaning out a stable, so I had to learn more about muck:
In the terminology of North American agriculture, muck is a soil made up primarily of humus from drained swampland. It is known as black soil in The Fens of eastern England, where it was originally mainly fen and bog. It is used there, as in the United States, for growing specialty crops such as onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes...

Muck farming on drained bogs is an important part of agriculture in New York, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, where mostly vegetables are grown. American "muckers" often have roots from the Netherlands or Eastern Europe, where their ancestors practiced a similar type of farming. The soils are deep, dark colored, and friable, often underlain by marl, or marly clay...

Muck farming is controversial, because the drainage of wetlands destroys wildlife habitats and results in a variety of environmental problems. It is unlikely that any more will be created in the United States, because of environmental regulations. It is prone to problems, such as being very light and usually windbreaks must be provided to keep it from blowing away when dry. It also can catch fire and burn underground for months. Oxidation also removes a portion of the soil each year, so it becomes progressively shallower. Some muck land has been reclaimed for wildlife preserves.
And here's the etymology:
From Middle English mok, muk, from Old Norse myki, mykr (“dung”) (compare Icelandic mykja), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)meug (“slick, slippery”), *meuk (compare Welsh mign (“swamp”), Latin mūcus (“snot”), mucere (“to be moldy or musty”), Latvian mukls (“swampy”), Albanian myk (“mould”), Ancient Greek mýxa 'mucus, lamp wick', mýkes 'fungus'), from *(s)meug, meuk 'to slip'. More at meek.
Apparently the distinction from peat is based on the level of decomposition: peat = slightly decomposed organic material, vs. muck = highly decomposed.

Reposted from 2015 to insert the photo from this year's National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition (via a gallery in The Atlantic).  Credit: Joost Boerman.  


  1. I live by a former muck farm. It doesn't have a pretty history.

    Lake Apopka

    1. Thank you for providing the attached article -- very informative and, actually terrifying.

      And thank you, Minnesotastan, for posting this item. It is just another instance of how the people of this planet are being harmed by injudicious use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The planet will survive, but the people may not.... (and some forms of wildlife, animals, birds and insects will die off as well).

  2. I guess you could call this muckraking journalism.

  3. Indeed. Much of northern Indiana and Illinois were part of the Great Kankakee Swamp before we drained it after the civil war. Less than one percent of the original swampland remains. The Great Black Swamp was also drained around that time.

    1. Interesting, and potentially blogworthy when I get caught up on my summer chores. Tx, Dan.

  4. This would be an appropriate time for the north-of-England* phrase: 'Where there's muck, there's brass,' referring to the idea that money can be made from other people's waste.

    * It might be popular world-over but I haven't heard it from anywhere else.

    1. Interesting because my reflex association of "brass" is with the idiomatic phrase "not worth a brass farthing", which essentially means "worthless."

      But a quick search reveals that brass was used to make pound coins (and the bimetallic Euro) -


      tx, andrew.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...