Country Living Series

Friday, May 3, 2013

Of tractors and gardens

We've been doing a tremendous amount of work in the garden lately.

A lot of this work involves moving large amounts of heavy things: gravel, tractor tires, compost... And, since Don and I aren't getting any younger, we're unashamedly making use of our neighbor's tractor. I can't even begin to describe how much time this has saved -- as well as pulled muscles.

Nearly every day, the girls and I go out and spread some more billboard tarps, then I bucket some gravel on them while the girls rake and shovel it around until it's roughly even. We'll "prettify" things later. Right now we have to get the infrastructure in place.

Here the girls choose a tarp...

...and carry it out to the garden.

Gust of wind!

That's why we're anchoring the tarps with gravel.

More tarps.

More spreading across the ground for weed control.

Don came out to enjoy the sunshine and help spread tarps and shovel gravel.

It seems like things are going slow, but we're definitely making progress! If you could see the waist-high weeds that were in this space last summer, you'll understand why we're going through all this work.

Meanwhile, the girls and I had moved these enormously heavy tractor tire halves (destined for strawberries) aside in order to put gravel on the tarps. Now it was time to move them back.

Here's where they're going, right next to one of the raised strawberry beds.

Originally I was going to slice the vinyl down to bare ground in order to allow proper drainage... but then Don suggested it may not be necessary because the gravel will provide suitable drainage and the tire is deep enough for the strawberry roots.

It's the same principle as putting a bit of gravel at the bottom of a flower pot and then putting the pot on a tray. The gravel ensures drainage, and the "tray" (the tarp, in this case) just funnels the water away. So I back-filled the tire centers with travel to support the hardware cloth.

I like putting hardware cloth on the bottoms of the tires to keep voles from tunneling up.

Anchored down with compost, the voles shouldn't be able to come up from the bottom.

And now for the hard part: I had to trundle composted manure in the garden cart from the compost pile to the garden. This is harder than it sounds. Not only is compost heavy (it's still wet from spring rains), but the good stuff is buried at the bottom of this seemingly bottomless mound of barn waste.

It would take at least seven or eight cartloads of compost to fill one of those enormous tire halves. Essentially, an all-day project since forking the manure into the cart takes about half an hour (because I have to push the top uncomposted waste aside in order to reach the composted stuff at the bottom). My back ached at the mere thought.

Ah, but I hadn't figured on the tractor. Don, bless his heart, did something we'd been needing to do for years anyway: turn the compost pile. He revved up and started pushing.

It literally took him ten minutes to do what would have taken me weeks to do by hand. What a blessing tractors are!

Almost finished. Can you see all that beautiful black gold that had been hidden at the bottom?

The chickens, of course, though we had done this solely for their benefit.

Ah, but the blessings of the tractor weren't finished yet. Don offered to scoop up and move the compost for me. YES!!

It took two scoops to fill that tire half... in only fifteen minutes or so. By hand, I'm estimating it would have taken four hours of back-breaking work.

Then I took over the tractor and started shunting and spreading more gravel.

But then it occurred to me. Before I had to return the tractor, what if we used it to fill yet more tractor tires? For we had two tires yet uncut.

So Don, good sport that he is, took the Saws-All and got busy. We tie the tire halves together so they won't flop open uncontrollably as he cuts his way around the circumference. These tires weigh upwards of 300 lbs., and have 150-lb. halves flopping down on us wouldn't be fun.

Ready to move. And how did we move it?

With the tractor!

In short order we had the first two tire halves down.

And then the second.

And then -- you guessed it -- he used the tractor to fill them with compost.

Altogether today Don filled six tractor tire halves and I moved at least twelve or fifteen loads of gravel. With a total of about one solid hour of tractor work (not counting ancillary work), that tractor has saved us untold hours of hard hard physical labor. God bless tractors as well as the friends who let us use them!

We have lots and lots of work left to do to get the garden into full capacity, complete with weed control and deer-proofing. Without the tractor, it would take weeks longer than it is.


  1. Why did you choose this tire method rather than straw bale gardening?
    Also, I know cow manure only has 2% Nitrogen but isn't 100% composted manure still too hot to plant in?

    1. Straw bales eventually decompose. I'm looking to make the garden as permanent and maintenance-free as possible.

      I've been growing in pure compost for quite awhile without a problem. Corn, especially, loves it since it's a heavy feeder.

      - Patrice

  2. "God bless tractors" & the friends who let you borrow them?

    1. Yes yes! I was remiss. I've added it to the text.

      - Patrice

  3. Hi Patrice, I have a question for you. I'm wanting to put in raised beds for my garden and since we have gophers, I wanted to put hardware cloth at the bottom. My husband was worried about whether anything toxic had been used to make the hardware cloth that could get into the soil, for example a coating or solder. Do you have any information on whether that would be a problem? Thanks - Pamela

  4. Now that's a good day's work!

    Just Me

  5. Looks like a lot of work just to feed the local deer herd. Hope the work you did on the fences does the job.


  6. I sincerely hope you are compensating the owner of the tractor for the wear and tear....give him something to help pay for filters and hoses and tires and other maintainanace....

    1. Absolutely we are. We also buy the diesel.

      - Patrice