Wednesday, April 18, 2012

(DF) GARDEN DAY RAMBLINGS (part 2) ....... machine age farming, or not

While I was working in the garden over the weekend, and considering the "weeds" I talked about in part one of this post, my thoughts managed to wander a bit farther astray, to the consideration of how the garden got in such a mess in the first place. My father (if he were still alive) would not be happy with my considerations but, like it or not, things are what they are.

At this point, I will pause from my ramblings to give a little background, as this post actually begins many years ago. My father was the first "machine age farmer" in the family, buying a tractor when he was a young man and tractors were not common place. His father, on the other hand, was quite an excellent farmer but not at all a "machine age farmer". He worked with a team of draft horses for as long as he was able to farm. My grandparents always had a wonderful, rather large garden which was plowed using the team and cultivated using garden hoes, and sometimes, grandchildren. It was in that garden, by the way, that I learned to plow with horses, but that is a tale for another time.

Enough background for now, so it's back to the ramblings and the garden at hand. My place was purchased from my parents who acquired it about forty years ago and lived here for a few years. When they bought the property, the garden was already here, though it had not been worked enough years to be fully established (such things take time and work). However, it was a reasonably good garden and quickly became quite productive. There were a few small patches of Johnson grass scattered here and there which had to be kept in check, but nothing serious, just a minor annoyance. Then dad got a good deal on a garden tiller, which he was convinced would cut garden time in half and up production.

Early in the spring, I was set to the task of working up the garden with said garden tiller. The garden was normally plowed with a tractor, but this was supposed to be a better machine for the job. After about a half day of hard work, the garden was worked up, my hands and arms were numb from the vibration and my nerves were jangled from the incessant roar of the engine. This was, as I say, early in the spring and at planting time, we covered the surface with compost and I tilled it in. It looked great. The perfectly straight rows were laid off, a bit farther apart than usual, to accommodate the tiller, and the garden was planted. By the time the garden seeds had sprouted and grown large enough to be worked, the entire garden (no longer small patches) was showing a good stand of Johnson grass. Back to the garden with the tiller, and soon it all looked good again. This theme was repeated continually through the summer until the first hard freeze killed everything in the garden.

Springtime came around and this time, the garden looked more like a hay meadow. More tilling and something that resembled a garden was made, but with more effort than the previous year. Within five years, my mother had made a small kitchen garden near the back door which she refused to allow the tiller near.

Please don't misunderstand, I am not really against all farm machines under all circumstances. In some types of soil, garden tillers are quite effective, and depending on the physical condition of the gardener, they are sometimes necessary. Though I don't own a tiller, I do own an old, rusty tractor which works well and I use for many things here on the farm. In fact, the garden has been plowed with it several times in the interest of working the soil deep enough to make it possible to reclaim it as a garden (it had not been used as a garden for quite a few years because of the Johnson grass). Plowing with a tractor is preferable to using a tiller, in my opinion, though the plow will move things around a bit. One plant item in particular, the day lilies at the south end of the garden (which figure heavily into a future post), are no longer just at the south end, thanks to roots being carried by the plow. Now they are along the west side, at the north end and scattered here and there in the middle.

My preference for working the garden up with a shovel and hoe are not only considerations of weeds and such. There are always considerations of fuel and repair parts. There are even environmental considerations. There is also the fact that my gardening method of deeply dug beds, doesn't work well with machines. But for me, there is also the rather large and important consideration of peacefully working the soil, as it has been worked for thousands of years, with the sounds of nature and tools working the earth, and the smells of fresh, damp garden dirt. Besides, it lets my mind wander much better than working with machines.

For those who ARE "machine age farmers", there is nothing wrong with that. This IS the machine age, after all. I am just really grateful that there is still room in this fast paced machine world for those of us who choose a less mechanized way.

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