Whitesburg KY
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Tiller has mind of its own



The wind chill never got above 26 on Wednesday, March 6, and the ambient temperature never quite made it up to freezing, but that didn’t stop my brother, Andy, from tackling the garden. In fact, I’m pretty sure the temp was still in the upper teens and there was a skiff of snow on the ground when he went outside at sunrise, came back in and declared that the ground was frozen so hard he could get it cleaned off without getting his boots muddy.

I went out on the porch and promptly told him that it was way too cold and windy for me to get out there and that I didn’t think I could stand it long enough to even watch him for more than a minute or two. However, Andy zipped up his coat, pulled the hood over his head, put on warm gloves and grabbed the rake.

By 11:00 a.m., he had rendered over 400 feet of mostly corn and a few okra stalks, along with a former jungle of dead melon and pumpkin vines, into four big burn piles and the garden was starting to look like a golf course fairway. Any dead residue left on it would simply till into the soil for fertilizer.

At that point, the surface was still frozen hard and we figured that, even if the sun eventually softened it up, it would still be too wet to plow.

We had errands to run in town, came back home, grabbed some lunch and Andy announced that he was going to see what the garden soil looked like. Before I even realized what he was up to, my brother had found a hoe, dug into the soil in several places and pronounced the garden dry enough to plow after all. Apparently the cold brisk wind we’d had all morning was working far better than we’d thought it was.

“I’m going to hitch up the mule and find out, for sure,” he said.

“Hitching up the mule” is Charlie Brown Road vernacular for pumping up the tires, filling the gas tank and cranking the motor on my old 1980s vintage Troybilt Horse, rear-tine, roto-tiller. The tiller has a mind of its own and rarely does anything you tell it to do. If you want to get any work out of it, you have to understand its nature and adjust or compromise your own behavior to match the tiller’s. In other words, it is oftentimes as proverbially stubborn as a mule.

An hour later Andy and the mule had a 6’x75’ pea patch ready to plant. While he went about arranging and staking down the growing hoops we had used on last year’s amazing crop of fall beans, I began doing something that I’m absolutely sure I had never before attempted. I dropped pea seeds with gloves on.

And, yes, it is as difficult as it sounds.

As previously reported here, I had already planted four 10-gallon containers of bush type snow peas on Valentine’s Day. If they survive the upcoming blizzard I’m expecting sometime in the next six weeks, that would have been more than enough peas for Loretta and me but, as Andy pointed out, that early crop didn’t really count as serious gardening because it didn’t involve raking, burning and tilling.

Besides that, it only involved one variety. Since variety is the spice of life, we decided to try three more.

The main garden is now seeded with a variety I’ve never tried from Baker’s Creek catalogue called Green Wonders that is supposed to be the largest snow pea ever and grows on vines that reach eight feet. Andy showed up with Mammoth Melting Sugar snow pea seeds and I had acquired a quarter pound of Sugar Snap seeds at Southern States. We now have 80 rows of pea seeds in the garden.

All three of the main garden varieties are big viners that require trellising, but we figure the peas will be ready to harvest before we need our growing hoops for the beans we plan to grow on them. We are also counting on the coming snow to simply make the vines more determined to make a crop that we have no idea what we’ll do with. I’m simply hoping that my neighbors enjoy garden fresh peas as well as we do.

In the meantime, the mule is back in the barn and I’ll be shopping for some Yukon Gold seed potatoes. We plan on planting them if the blizzard doesn’t hit when Andy is back on Charlie Brown during the third week of March. The blizzard may hit then, in which case the ‘taters may have to wait until April.

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