Twelve Times is the Charm

It was April 2019 and my wife and I stood at the back field of the farm we bought. We knew we would need to “throw” in a garden fast with little or no planning. Most of our money and time would be spent on the complete renovation of the 1901 farm house that was on the property. We had no outbuildings except a dilapidated tractor shed and a well pump house in even worse condition. We were so involved with reno that we had no tillers, tractors, or even the most basic of garden tools. And we had to work our jobs, too.

For the garden site, we were looking at a 2-acre field that had been leased by a local farmer for 30 years, in addition to other acreage he worked on the property. We changed the lease to cut out this space, told him we were good to go, and then reality set in. How are we going to do this? And fast?

So, off to the web we go, with a list of questions:

  1. How are we going to control weeds?
  2. How are we going to provide irrigation?
  3. Do we go north-south or east-west?
  4. What do we want to plant and preserve?

Folks, these are not 10-minute questions with 10-minute answers. We were about to begin a series of 11 oops and oh-no’s that would span two years. These mistakes would be costly, frustrating, and often make me wish we had bought a condo at the beach instead.

I will not bore you with every method we tried in two years of larger scale gardening with just two people to do the work. I will tell you it involved a self-propelled tiller affectionately known as mistake #1. It involved landscaping fabric which I regretfully refer to as stupid mistake #2. It involved design flaws, wide rows, narrow rows, long rows, short rows – you name it we tried it. Tomatoes were fun – posts, no posts, cages, no cages, stings, no strings. Over and over, we tried different methods we heard about or read about. And over and over we were disappointed. Why?

Well, to better understand the 11 failed methods you have to understand the farmer-to-be. I am somewhat of an efficiency expert. I own my own technology company so I automatically assumed that a well-designed application and passable input of data such as plant varieties, schedules, fertilizer and water sources would be enough to get us started. Boy, was I wrong! It is a long jump from good planning to great execution. About 2 acres long!

Secondly, I have always been a person that despised physical labor. That’s why I went into computers. I remember when I was a boy visiting my grandparents near Wilmington NC many years ago. I was helping my grandmother pick butter beans. It was hot and buggy out there and I wanted some AC and sweet tea right away. I thought, there has got to be a better way than this.

So, the conversation went like something like this….

Me: Grandma, why don’t we just pull these bushes up and take them in the house to pick the beans off them?

Grandma (patiently and lovingly): Well, if you do that, you will only get one run of beans, and these bushes will continue to bear for a while.

Me (aghast but still hoping): Well, that’s simple, just plant four times more beans!

Grandma (exasperated and less lovingly): Boy, if you would just spend as much time working as you do trying to figure out how not to work, you might be something someday.

Fast-forward to 2019. Same boy, now in his early sixties, trying to do the same thing. Work a large garden with little or no labor. By now you’re howling with laughter at me, how could I be so stupid? Come on now, you’ve done something like that too!

All 11 failed attempts over 2 years had the concept of reducing labor by better weed control and easier harvesting. If a you-tuber ever mentioned it, we implemented it. And nothing worked. We have ‘devil’ weeds. I thought since the commercial farmer had to control weeds for 30 years, he had pretty much exterminated them.

Nope, I found out that growing sweet potatoes and soy beans commercially doesn’t help you at all when you want to garden. In fact, I was convinced that the stuff he used for weed control caused mutant, zombie weeds with the uncanny power to deflect a hoe, laugh at a tiller, and mess up my computer-smooth hands.

You may be asking what was the 12th solution that was the charm. Sorry, you will need to wait for that one in a later post on the site. Shameless teaser, I know. But I will tell it is working and it still involves any and all attempts to reduce labor. Shame on me!