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The Village Idiot

They Don't Work Like They Used Too!

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(7/2011) "My arms aching, back's breaking, legs aching neck And this whole ruddy ship is a huge creaking wreck."

Whoa, for a second there I thought Capín Robert of Abney Park was working alongside us in the garden. But no, Iím just hearing his distinct voice singing "Aether Shanty" in my head as the rototiller roars and bucks its churning path over and through the sun-baked brick-hard clods left by the plow and disks. A column of gnats swirls directly above the tiller motor, one of hundreds of shifting congregations I can see across the acre reflecting the sinking sun. For some reason the gnats hover above the motor from one end of my 100-foot row line to the other. I lose them as I spin the tiller about and start down the other side of the line. Three passes with the tiller and I stop to rake a raised row so Dear Wife can begin planting the "past due" tomato and pepper sets.

Four rows raked and planted, thatís 1,200 feet of bucking tiller, clods and pebbles in our shoes, arms aching from fighting the tiller and pulling the rake, backs throbbing from bending to plant seeds and seedlings. Soaked with sweat, we struggle to load the tiller into the van and pause for a sip of switchel (a mix of honey and cider vinegar added to cold water to cut the dust from ones throat and recharge a pooped body, or so the 17th and 18th century farmers claimed. Iím thinking of trying it with a shot of bourbon as Brook Elliott recommends.) Wiping sweat from our brows, we begin carrying water to the rows in 2-gallon watering cans. We stagger as we move along the lumpy paths. We be tired. But we be gardening!

I donít expect much from this yearís efforts. Anything we harvest will be a bonus. Mostly I want to get the ground ready for next year, learn the lay of it, how the sun moves across it, the water runs off or pools on it. So far, my original plans have been dashed completely. The area Iíd thought would serve to grow 300 feet of asparagus is in shade until 11 each morning and is in shade again at 7 in the evening. Not a good spot for sun loving veggies! I thought raspberries might work there, but now Iím thinking we can plant lilies there. Thousands of lilies! Well, dozens to start with. Yeah, I could sit among lilies and doze. It is so quiet on that piece of ground.

The garden section nearest the house is in the shade of the structure by 7 PM. I hadnít expected that, but it works for the tomatoes weíve planted as we try to water them most evenings. Carrying water in the shade is more pleasant than lugging it under a late afternoon sun. The end of day shade doesnít bother the tomatoes either. They need the break after a day above 90F and full sun beating down on them. Maybe theyíd appreciate a shot of switchel. Minus the bourbon?

We first churned the acreís soil on the side farthest from the house, the future asparagus bed, before we found it lost to shade. I tilled three 100-foot rows and Wanda planted potatoes. While we figured the spuds would be a bust, I did look up from the last row and scanning the acre, realized we could manage this piece of ground! Iíd had serious doubts about our (my) being up to the task. Taking it in small bites, rototilling early in the morning and late in the evening seems to be the best way to work the ground. Learning to use the tiller properly helps. I donít have to pulverize the soil as deeply as the tines can dig. All I have to do is run it shallowly over the ground to uproot weeds, or work it a little deeper so we can rake raised rows together. None of the ground needs as deeply tilled as Iím used to doing on smaller plots. I can actually zip along a 100-foot row in less time than it used to take me to deep till 30 feet of garden.

Another lesson learned about gardening on the acre is the equipment we used this year and what weíll have to acquire in the future. Obviously, gardening is different from farming. We might have gotten an earlier start on the garden if Iíd have hit it with the little 6 hp rototiller instead of waiting for the 150 hp farm tractor to arrive with plows and disks. HA! Iíd still be trying to cut through five years of sod that Marty turned over in less than an afternoon. I had little choice but to wait until the ground could be plowed and Marty had no choice but to plow it when weather, soil and the main farm needs allowed!

The ground has been turned, now I need to get it worked over with the tiller and cover cropped before the season ends. A doable task, if a daunting one. DW and I went to look at equipment capable of aiding us in our efforts. Sheewooeee! $2,500 for a BCS tractor with an 18" pull behind rototiller!

Okay, thatís the future! Actually, the BCS tractor I want (with a 33" rototiller) would cost closer to $5,000. DW says weíll be selling a lot of veggies off that ground before we spend $2,500, let alone $5,000. Women! It ainít like I want a farm tractor with AC and a stereo system!

This whole market garden idea is not working out as I had planned, as if anything I plan ever manifests itself as I envision it! While the acre looks like it will produce some decent beans (if nothing else this year) the tiny garden we have on Grandfather Coolís farmett has done fairly well. Or the garlic has anyhow.

Of the 770 cloves planted, it looks like weíll harvest 765 bulbs. The best 200 Iíll hold back as seed garlic for this fallís planting. The rest I have buyers for, and people Iíve promised some as gifts.

The Mad One recently set me to peeling and mashing several cloves I brought her from a test dig while she readied a pile of shish kabobs for the grill. I mashed the cloves with sea salt, made a slurry of them with sunflower oil. The Mad One added that to yogurt, cucumber and dill weed. Mixed them together, added a bit of water and made the first cold soup Iíve ever eaten. Iím hooked! I could have pigged out on the soup and skipped the bobs! She told me she was done with store-bought garlic. As long as I have real garlic, sheís buying it from me! The trouble is I donít know if I can give up any of our garlic for money!

Everything we grow may well prove too precious to let go for mere money. Friendship is another matter. That trumps money!

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.