Muck (soil)

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Onion fields near Elba, New York, part of Torrey Farms, showing black dirt and windbreaks.

The word Muck has very much usage in the English Language, referring in some cases to agricultural soil, in others to dirt in general and to animal dung in particular. Origins probably from Norse, Danish and Proto-Germanic roots referring to cow dung.[1][2]

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. Holland Marsh, north of Toronto, Ontario, is the site of the Muck Crops Research Station, a part of the University of Guelph.

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. The muckland of Torrey Farms of Elba, New York, which covers the counties of Orleans, Niagara, and Genesee, is thought to be the largest continuous section of muckland in the world.[3]

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 the fact that it is 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.

Slang usage[edit]

  • In Northern English slang the phrase "Where there's muck there's brass" means "Where there's dirt some money can made". [4]
  • In British slang "Mucking Out" the animals on a farm means removing their old straw and excretia. [5]
  • In British slang to "Muck Around" means to behave in a silly or careless way [6] and a "muck-up" means a mistake or mess.[7]


In popular culture[edit]

  • A famous catch phrase of the British gay comedian Larry Grayson was "Look at the muck on 'ere!"

See also[edit]

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