Trench Rows

Reader Contribution by Phil Nichols
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While contemplating my first garden, on our newly minted homestead, those many years ago—I remember wondering just what I might be able to grow in this dry, sandy, rock infested section of ground that we now called home.

I had been a devotee of the Rodale Press for many years prior to our move to Missouri and knew that I’d need a soil test to figure out how to go about amending our poor thin soil. Question was—where the heck do you go to get a soil test. Back in that day, before computers took over the world, you had ask around to find things out. Well I did and discovered that you could get a soil sample bag and box at the University of Missouri extension office located in the Courthouse about 18 miles west of us. So I trucked on over one afternoon and introduced myself to the extension agent. Sure enough a kit was available.

First you filled out the paperwork telling the extension folks what your intended use for the ground was—row crops, hay, truck garden etc… Then had to dig out a number of divots from different sites in the garden, mix them together, pour them into the plastic bag, seal it, put the whole thing in the box and mail the concoction off to the University Ag Dept. where it would be tested.

Some weeks later a letter arrived from Mizzou. I expected to see a formula for pounds of lime, fertilizer and other amendments necessary to put my garden to rights. I was somewhat taken aback by the words at the head of the analysis “Devoid of organic matter.”  i.e. this dirt was so poor it would hardly grown a decent crop of weeds. Groan!

Thus started over 35 years of poop scooping in neighbor’s barns, intensive mulching with whatever I could come by and lots of trial and error discovering what would grow and what wouldn’t.

Last year, I purchased some very pricey heirloom Bradford watermelon seeds from a group of Bradford descendants down in Georgia who are attempting to bring back this legendary delight. Watermelon is purported to grow well in sandy ground so I thought I’d give it a try. My intent being to harvest enough seeds to plant an entire melon patch this year. But that’s a story for a later edition.

Several reviews, critical of the germination and success of the Bradford seeds I’d purchased, convinced me to heed carefully the advice of the new generation of Bradfords who have been successfully growing the melons for a number of years. One of the instructions was to dig a hole in the top of the raised circle I hoed up and fill it with good composted manure. The melons did well in this atmosphere and a light bulb went on in my head.

Around the middle of March I was finally able to get into this year’s garden with the near-new Troy Super Pony I’d picked up at an auction a year or three back (its “counter-turning” rear tines make it the best tiller I’ve ever laid hands on for fighting rocks.  Front tine tillers beat you to death in our rocky ground and when the “forward-turning” rear tines of Super Pony’s giant cousin the Horse dig into a big rock it will drag you from one end of the garden to the other before you can let go.)

My melon experience last season had given me an idea. Once I’d raked out the area and run a string line I employed the edge of my hoe to make a shallow straight row; then came the fun part—hoeing out a 66’ long x 6” deep x the width of my hoe trench.

Late last fall and into the winter I’d pick up ten bags of compost or manure whenever I caught it on sale. I hitched up my old garden wagon (the one the tree fell on) to my ancient repurposed craftsman garden mower/tractor and hauled half a dozen bags from my stash down to the garden.

The task would have been easier if I’d put a tarp over the perforated plastic bags when I stored them and kept the contents dry. Alas, it is said here in the hills—PO folks gots PO ways.

At any rate I got the soupy glop spread out into the trench and raked a light cap of native soil back over it. Once again using the corner of my hoe I made a shallow planting trench and went to work.

I’ll keep you posted on the results. And stay tuned for chapter III of Let’s Talk Income

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