Now that April is here, everything is picking up speed for the growing season. The seedlings in the greenhouse are growing lush in some cases and slightly more delicately in others, and it’s time to start planting, whether by seed or by seedling.
That means, it’s time for some serious physical labor.
Once the soil started to dry out two weeks ago — with sunshine and warmer weather aiding in the process — I started some heavy duty (for me) work at the farm. It started with cleanup: Dave wanted me to clear out the seedbeds in field #3 to prepare for tilling and the first seedlings, and I cleaned out all four beds of leftover kohlrabi, leeks, beets, and other rotting goodies. Before that day ended, we cleaned out a couple rows of stubborn kale plants in field #2 — truly a back-aching effort.
Feeling the pinch of the sciatic nerve and some serious aches and pains after that day’s work, I headed home for stretches, relaxation, and either a solid dose of ibuprofen or a drink. The next day, I had a bit of a respite as we pruned grapevines, but I was pleased to note that even before we started work, my back felt a good deal better than the day before.
Once the weekend arrived, though, the physical labor piled back on again. I had agreed to work with my friend Jen to create a large garden at her place this year — partly to get her started gardening and partly to have a large place for my own crops. She had plenty of room and a couple of weedy patches that had evidently served as garden space before, but we needed to clear out the brush and the weed trees first.
At first, it wasn’t much out of the ordinary. Bending over to scrape up brush or to pull dried weeds, carrying bundles of dead organic matter to a brush piled, I felt slight pulls in my back, but nothing too horrendous. Then we turned our attention to those accursed weed trees. Jen’s in-laws tackled the larger ones with tow chain and then tractor, but we also labored to dig up and yank out the smaller ones. That — and a tumble or two onto my rear end when the release came unexpectedly — definitely left me sore.
So what did I do? I headed to garden #2 and dug trenches to plant potatoes, then sowed seeds for beets, peas, lettuce, radishes, and pac choi. Yes, after that, I headed home, did my stretches, nursed my back a little — and then went out dancing that night.
The next day, I took grapevines to the Farm and bent over for two hours planting, backfilling, watering, and mulching them. At least by this point, my back muscles were becoming more accustomed to the work, and the pauses and stretches that I included in the work helped me to avoid having my muscles bunch up too much.
“No rest for the wicked,” they say, and I must be a terrible person because I went from hard work all weekend to three days of planting seedlings back at Dave’s farm. This allowed me to kneel or sit while I planted, but even so, I ached at the end of each day (though a little less every day). By the end of my three-day work week, I had planted seedlings from about a dozen flats of kohlrabi, two flats of turnips, four flats of radishes, and perhaps half a dozen of pac choi, filling field #5 and the better part of field #3.
Each day it feels like I’m getting a little stronger — or at least balancing the physical labor with better stretches or more sensible breathers. Each evening I have less significant back pain (or any other pain: neck, shoulder, arm, hand, wrist, thigh, calf, foot, you get the picture) and rely less on either pain relievers or a relaxing drink. I’m nowhere near ripped and perfectly toned — but on the other hand, I’m not the cream puff I thought I was. It’s satisfying to know that if I can pace myself and adapt my movements to what works best for me, I can work hard and get quite a bit done without feeling completely wiped out or racked up in pain at the end of it all.
It’s early in the season yet, and there’s plenty more physical work to be done. I’ll be juggling increased hours at the farm, a day and a half of baking and delivery, work in three gardens, and heaven only knows what else, so I don’t expect to put my feet up and relax my way through summer. But so far, I’m meeting the challenge and finding a way to adapt to a more physical way of life.
That may turn out to be my proudest achievement this entire year.