Life on the farm has started to settle into a rhythm of late. When I rumble down the gravel drive and park my now-dusty red pickup, I sign in and generally head to the greenhouse to water the flats of seedlings. If it hasn’t rained recently, I’ll follow that up with watering fields #3 and #5, where the bulk of the early vegetables are planted.
After that, I’m likely to follow Dave and the tractor hauling bags of potatoes out to the field, girding my loins — or, rather, my knees — for extended sessions of planting.
Dave has planted many, many pounds of potato seed each year, with ever-increasing yields on the many varieties he takes to market. He is rightfully proud of his success in growing spuds, and he likes to remind me — with a smile that I find myself returning — that these potatoes pay my wages.
As far as I’m concerned, the bruised shins, aching knees and back, and increasing layers of sunburn are a small price to pay for doing work that on the surface is repetitive and dull — but that actually offers me an extended lesson on reading the soil, the weather, the water situation, and much more. Because when I’m on my hands and knees, clawing holes in the dirt with my gloved hand, I’m noticing the varying degrees of tilth in the plots, seeing what weeds persistently pop up, chasing earthworms back into the cooler depths, and even occasionally looking up and seeing the beauty of the day.
Sure, when I stand up, my knees are wobbly and my head a little woozy, but though my back aches at the end of the day, I do feel as though I’ve completed a satisfying round of very important and invigorating work. (I can even say this knowing that I’ll be doing more this week — we’re only about 2/3 through the 1200+ lbs of potato seed.)
So perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that after a week of planting potatoes, I would spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon off helping my friend Jen get our garden started — with more potatoes.
My friend Keith and I had dropped off a truckload of compost for Jen to spread across the tilled plot on the Friday before, and she marked out the beds as we had plotted them on paper. I showed up on a windy, grey afternoon, with seeds in hand, ready to help her get started on this year’s experiment.
I had found Dave’s row-marking technique — two metal stakes linked with a hefty length of rope — to be so effective that I made my own row-marker to use on this garden. And as Jen pulled weeds, I marked rows and planted potatoes.
It didn’t take long to plant three rows of Purple Viking potatoes and three rows of Red Gold — nearly the rest of what I had bought for the year. And after that, we moved on to plant roots (carrots, radishes, turnips, salsify, rutabaga) and greens (lettuce, pac choi, broccoli raab), as well as a patch of hull-less oats for me.
After about two and a half hours of work, we had made a good start on this year’s garden — plus had a good visit while we worked (one of the joys of gardening with others) and sat down for an icy cold drink afterward.
There’s more work to do — there always is — both in this new garden and at the farm, including planting more potatoes. But it’s good to celebrate these small details along the way.