March 3, 2012
One thing that I have come to know is that farmers love to share their knowledge. This doesn’t mean that they will tell you all their trade secrets, but if you show them that you are interested in the farming trade, you’ll be surprised at just how much a farmer will tell you.
It use to be that the only farmer I would take time to talk to was my dear, old dad. Of course, out of respect, I would listen to his words of wisdom. I didn’t always agree with his philosophy but I would listen and ponder and keep most of my young-maturing ideas to myself.
Over the year, when I took a stab at gardening, I would recall a thing or two that my dad had taught me and put it into practice. Most of the knowledge was good plain ol’ common sense, after all, farmers have a lot of it (sense) after years and years of trial and error.
If my gardening failed it was not because of my dad’s words of wisdom, but more of my own failure to carry through with what was required of cultivating a good gardening.
How many of you, have had the ‘big idea’ to grow a garden? So very ambitious from the start, plotting the garden, sowing the seeds, watering and waiting.
First, the excitement of the sprouting seeds keeps us content to come back for another look, but by the time the weeds are taller and more numerous than, let’s say the bean plants, our interest has faded. It’s summer, it hot, and who want to pull weeds when you can sit by the lake and read a book. I often choose that opinion, telling myself that I would come back in the evening when it was cooler. Most time, I would not. So summer went by, and the plants produced a mediocre crop despite the knee-high weeds.
What you would expect Dad's garden to look like. Weed free.
I remember one year, I had planted a garden up at the family farm where I grew up. It was suitable in size, in that it included a sample of most crops from radishes to tomatoes; broccoli and carrots; and cabbage and beans. Everything came up and grew along with the weeds. I was a busy mom at the time and gardening (mainly weeding) was not high on my list of things to do most days.
I had planted the garden and expected it to grow on its own without my help. I neglected to weed the garden plot. It was pretty hard to tell that anything edible was growing in there and by mid-summer my dad had vowed that he would not till me a plot the following year
- What my first garden looked like that summer! Weeds, weeds, weeds!
One afternoon during that summer, I was wandering through the weedy garden looking for some collectible produce. Just when I was about to give up finding anything worth picking, (only finding greens beans with seeds protruding through the sides, radishes the size of turnips, and yellow cucumbers swelled like footballs), I found cabbages the size of basketballs!
Alleluia! I put two hands around one of the monster cabbages and tried to pull it out of the ground. I pulled and pulled. (Remember the childhood story, The Tale of the Turnip, when the farmer and his wife who had to get help from the boy, the girl, the dog, the cat and the mouse to pull out the turnip!) Yup, that was me, (minus the help). Ha-ha!
Once I got the long tap root out of the ground, I lugged that beast down to the farmhouse porch to show my dad.
“Look dad, look what I grew!”, I said, thinking he would be impressed with my green thumb (weed thumb, more like it!). He smiled and chuckled.
“Where’d ya find that, in the weed patch”, he said with a grin.
“That’s right, I think the weeds helped it grow this big”, I said smiling.
We laughed and joked about the weed patch producing anything worth eating.
I often wondered how much the weeds helped those cabbages grow. My dad will never agree with what I”m about to say about those good for nothing weeds. My dad despises weeds. He hates to see one weed growing in his vegetable garden or berry patch. The weed, which includes many types, is a resilient plant. It has grown for hundreds of years and has adapted to many climate changes, diseases and insects. It is what seed growers call, resistant, resistant to most environmental-type weed killers. The weed as we know it, germinates, grows, goes to seed and reproduces itself year after year. It has a purpose like most living things. It has a strong root system to support itself, but more importantly, it help keep moisture in the soil and helps keep the soil from eroding. And, many insect love the sweet nectar and pollen from the weed flowers.
So, why do I think those cabbages grew to the size of basketballs without my help, well maybe it was…the weeds! Sorry, Dad.
Tale of the Turnip
Well, I think as those young cabbages grew, the weeds grew a little faster. The weeds helped support the growing cabbage, helping to retain the moisture it needed (’cause I wasn’t watering) and eventually, provided shade for the cabbage in the heat of the summer. (They are a cool-weather crop). I also think that the insects, cabbage moth and cabbage loppers, had so many other choices of things (weeds) to eat that they didn’t bother to make their way down through the weeds to find the cabbage.
Now, any farmer would probably tell you that this is hog-wash, but I know something, (um like, common sense, maybe?), helped those cabbages grow. Ha-ha, have I convinced you yet?
My dad would say it was the fertile soil or it was just plain luck. It was the ideal growing conditions, cool summer weather and average rainfall. To all my dad’s availing sense, he would be right. It was NOT by the help of the weeds that those cabbages grow so big.
So why did the man, who despises weeds, let my garden go to the weeds that summer?
I’m sure it was a struggle for him to not go in that garden and pull the weeds. He must have put a blind eye to that plot on top of the hill just to the right of his strawberry field. I know he saw it everyday.
If he had pulled the weeds for me, what would have happened? Crops would have produced and would have needed harvesting. He would have had to call me to say…”the beans need picking, the cukes will be too big tomorrow, or the cabbage moth is laying eggs on your cabbages.” I would have come, from my home a half a mile down away, and collected the vegetables and would have been proud of what my garden produced. And what would I have learned about gardening? Nothing.
My dad told me later on, that he had been in the weed patch quite regularly and had seen how nice those cabbages were growing. If I hadn’t come back to get them, he was going to bring them home to mother. He knew what he was doing all the time.
Fast forward twenty years…. I have returned to the practices of gardening. I must say, I am much better at it (gardening) now then I was 20 years ago. The difference is, back then I wanted a garden just for the novelty that it would grow vegetables. Today, I grow vegetables because I WANT to grow my own food and I WANT it to feed me. It has a purpose and an end result that is of importance. It plays into my ability to be self-sufficient. It feeds into my love for the land, and into my love of knowing I can produce the food that we eat.
One thing for sure, I have a long way to go before I know what my dad knows about gardening. It is a learning process every time I open a packet of seeds. No two growing situations or growing seasons are the same when it come to Mother Nature. That is the challenge I love, or hate when a mid-July hailstorm ruins your garden.
Today, my gardens are not filled with weeds. There may be a few that get ahead of me but for the most part I take pride in a well-managed garden. My garden is my art work. It changes shape and color from day-to-day. Gardening is not work if you love what you do. It is the job that gives back to you in the cold winter months when you can go into cold storage and grab a couple of potatoes and carrots to make dinner with.
Farmers are a wealth of knowledge
There is still so much to learn from what farmers know. In a way, they have paved the roads for many of us wanta-be-farmers. They have been through the trials and tribulation. They all have valuable stories to tell. Where would we be without them. They have been the source of our food for hundreds of years. We can’t let them be a thing of the past.
One thing my dad said recently is, (in regards to his children taking over the farm), “I want to be needed.” Farmers want to share what they know. They want others to be enthusiastic about farming. Who is going to promote the life of farming, but a farmer.
New farmers growing crops with hoop houses.
Today there is a growing interesting in farming, and it’s not just from the younger generation wanting to work the land. Many people are thinking about where their food comes from and how they can incorporate this idea into their retirement years.
Dad says, “retirement is when they put you in the ground.”
It’s true, if you retire from your life long career and don’t have a daily purpose, your body and mind is going to stop. You need something to do to keep you active and to keep you thinking.
Recently, at a New Farmers Workshop, there were more people over forty in the room then there where younger people. Collectively, these people were there to learn ways to be self-sufficient and find ways to make a little income to get them through those so-called retirement years. Now, farming is not for everyone. You have to want to do the work and love what you do.
winter storage crops
That brings me to where I am today. Five years ago, I wanted a garden to have fresh vegetable, today, I want to plan a garden that will produce year round. One that will feed Jamie and I, and one that will create some income. So dad, thanks for sharing your wisdom, it has encouraged me to go in a new direction. You are a smart man and I learn every time we talk about growing things. Hopefully, someday I’ll have my own farming stories to share with those who ask questions like… ‘how do you grow cabbages the size of basketballs?”.
Hey Mister, how'd ya grow those cabbages so big?!