Walking through the farmers market last week, I remembered my own brave attempt at organic gardening. I had read a book titled “Homesteading on Five Acres” and got the bug. Owning a farm was the perfect counterpoint to my management-consulting job. Work with people weekdays and plants on weekends. Yin and yang.
Months of searching unearthed an old dairy farm and I jumped at it. For a man, the driving motivation behind refurbishing an old farmhouse and planting a huge vegetable garden and orchard is tools. Power tools. Big ones.
The beauty is there are no arguments with the wife. I pointed point to the large hay barn, swept my arm across the overgrown vista and said, “I’m going to Sears. Don’t wait up.” Most women aren’t up on tools so it never occurred to her that I didn’t really need that power lathe.
I did, however, need a riding tractor. A guy on a riding tractor on a half-acre has “wuss” stenciled on his forehead. With 3 plus acres, guys will nod their heads. “Yup, need a tractor for a farm. Lucky devil.”
The first job was cleaning up. I borrowed a dump truck from a friend. We took seven loads of trash to the town dump: boots, bottles, rusted metal tools, old rotted shirts, Jimmy Hoffa, small motors and barbed wire.
The second job was plowing a vegetable garden. I bought the big Troy-Bilt Rear-Tine Rototiller with a 305cc engine, four forward speeds and a power takeoff, the model that can turn a cement parking lot into topsoil in two passes. I tilled a 20-foot-by-40-foot garden on one side of the large barn. Then, in case we went to war and I had to feed the entire town of Andover, I tilled a 50-foot-by-100-foot garden on the opposite side.
This was my first garden. I ordered everything the Burpee seed catalog said would grow in Massachusetts. I had early corn, mid-corn, late corn, popcorn and Indian corn for decoration/ I grew every vegetable known to man and a few I suspect had escaped from Burpee genetic experiments gone bad. I had beans and melons, spaghetti squash, tomatoes, potatoes and all the salad greens except arugula, which the East Coast hadn’t heard about yet. Anything you’ve ever eaten, I was growing that first year.
There was a learning curve. Some of the things I grew I didn’t like. Some plants, like honeydew melons, succumbed to vine borers because I wasn’t using pesticides. Then there were Spanish peanuts. Yep, a 50-foot row of Spanish peanuts thrived in the Massachusetts climate. Learning: if you weed a 50-foot row all summer and get a 39-cent can of Spanish peanuts, modify next year’s plan.
There were too many zucchinis. Not much you can do about that. I have experimented and one zucchini plant will produce too many zucchinis. If we had been at war then, I would have donated them to the military to drop on Whoeverstan.
The big disappointment was the kids who nixed their opportunity to relive the great American pioneer days. Pleas that “weeding is what made this country strong” fell on small but deaf ears.
The biggest success was the Great Pumpkin. I raked a few Big Max pumpkin seeds into a three-foot hillock at the end of the garden. We grew a huge pumpkin that weighed 155 pounds! I later discovered the hillock was really an old manure pile.
Two weeks later on the front page of the Andover newspaper was a large picture of my three children, sitting astride Big Max. The caption read, “The Philipp children grew this …” I couldn’t bring myself to read further. That pumpkin was to be my street cred in the farming community.
Three adults rolled the pumpkin to the front of the big barn for Halloween display. Three days later it was gone — stolen. I told the police to look for a guy with a front-end loader.
While the garden was successful, the most reliable harvest I got was every spring when the frost heaved up another bumper crop of boots and bottles.