Thanks to marriage and my more than full time job with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Tyler, I’m having to make lots of decisions about priorities and time management. When I was single, the answers were easier. I’d just get up earlier than the chickens for writing and computer work while using daylight mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays for myriads of other outdoor chores.
It’s no secret that I’ve always tried to cultivate and manage far more acreage than humanly possible. As my Cajun wife puts it, “Why must you own fifty acres?” My answer: “Because I can’t own fifty million acres!” This is Texas after all. Owning your own land is everything to me. As a visually oriented horticulturist, conservationist, and environmentalist, I naturally want to help carve, shape, and nurture every inch that I can see.
It also doesn’t help that I’m a truck farmer at heart that has always wanted to produce everything that I eat. Most gardeners belong to one of two camps; those that focus on pretty things to look at, and those that only grow it if they can eat it. I’ve long been a resident of both camps.
I’m the only one in my immediate family that grows vegetables. And for most of my life I’ve had to put up with annual chastisement of either producing too much of something or too little of something. And unbelievably, it’s always ready at an inconvenient time for those that I’m providing it too. In my mother’s words “You always wait for the worst possible time to pick and bring this to me.” Like vegetables can control when they are ready… Now, there’s a new vegetable consuming female in my life saying the exact same thing!
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. I grow the stuff because I love to; heck I need to. If you don’t want it, toss it over the fence to the cows or the chickens. Growing stuff to eat, or otherwise, is part of my DNA. In addition to small raised “kitchen garden” beds of herbs and specialty crops behind the house, I also grow a sizeable row crop garden that I maintain with a tractor and tiller.
I grow my “big” garden next to my old farmhouse in the same patch where my grandfather grew his garden. As it’s far too large to mulch, I cultivate it with a tiller on the back of a small Ford tractor before I plant it. I band fertilizer down each row for every crop using either lawn fertilizer, chicken litter, or Arbor Gate’s organic fertilizer. I then throw up my rows with a homemade “sweep” that I put together years ago for my former bulb farm. If I’m planting a few rows and I’m feeling well, I open up a small furrow for the seeds with my hoe. If I’m planting a number of rows and feeling sluggish, I use a middle buster plow behind the tractor to open my furrows. Vegetables that I plant in long rows include my black crowder, cream, and purple hull peas along with my Sweet G-90 corn.
Other vegetables are planted in “hills” by skipping a about a yard and planting multiple seeds in a hole to be thinned to two plants later. These include cucumbers, yellow squash, and okra.
The plants I plant from transplants such as tomatoes and peppers get planted in “hills” spaced out about three feet on the rows then watered in with a water soluble fertilizer such as Miracle Grow or Peter’s 20-20-20.
During the fall, headed into our wet season, I always plant on high, raised rows, for increased drainage. However, during the summer when we normally have droughts, I plant in a furrow below the soil level to catch water and take advantage of deeper soil moister. This mainly applies to Southern peas.
After making a furrow with either my middle buster plow or with a pull behind plow blade on my front-tine Merry Tiller, I pre-irrigate the furrow by running water down it. This generally takes about 20 minutes, depending on how dry it is. I then sprinkle the pea seed down the row and just barely cover the seed with soil, using my hoe. I always plant thick allowing me to thin instead of replanting any areas that don’t come up. Many times I thin using a pair of scissors.
I irrigate by running water down furrows made just outside the rows just like my Pappaw did. I use the water hose and a cheap timer on the faucet. Thanks to my gently sloping garden, it takes exactly 15 minutes for water to run down each row. I alternate irrigating down one side of each row then come back the other way irrigating the other side. Furrow irrigation isn’t as ideal as drip irrigation but requires few supplies and is certainly more efficient and produces fewer diseases than overhead irrigation. It’s worked well for centuries.
And then there’s the picking…lots of picking, and shelling, and shucking, etc. Growing fresh produce isn’t all that hard, however it does require knowledge of what, when, and how to plant combined with a healthy dose of time and hard work. Thankfully I was raised by parents and grandparents that taught me hard work was rewarding.
Sadly, time and hard work aren’t as easy to come by in my life anymore. My days are more than full and my body has gone from an electric squirrel to a road kill squirrel. I’m running out of parts to fix!
I hate to give it up, but this year will probably be my last vegetable garden until I retire and have more tortoise time (and bionic parts) to dedicate to this hare raising experience. The dogs will miss running raccoons out of the corn and my family will miss fresh corn on the cob, but there are always armadillos and farmers markets. It was a good run. –Greg