Belly Acre farm update

I’ve spent much of my time this spring and summer working on a garden plot I call Belly Acre farm. It’s been largely an experiment to see if I can raise enough food to justify the outlay of time and resources.

Overall the experiment has been a success. There have been some lessons learned, but I’ve still managed to get a lot of fresh vegetables from a relatively small area with a manageable workload.

Among the lessons I learned, or rather relearned, is that there is no such thing as a part-time farmer. Nature grows full-time. Back in the spring, after planting most of my beans, peas, corn, and tomatoes, I failed to visit BAF for a week because of other activities. Then it rained for several consecutive days. When I could get back into the garden, the grass had a 10-day head start, and it never let up. Things had grown up so much that I couldn’t remove much of it without hurting my crops. In fact, I uprooted several healthy plants trying to pull weeds from my rows.

I tried everything I could, including a flame weeder and newspapers between the rows, but once I fell behind my garden looked overgrown for the whole season. After a little research on the Internet, I found that studies have shown that most of my crops should yield just fine because they were far enough along before the weeds took hold. The place would just look untidy.

My mother, who lives on the property, was mortified. The garden is near the road, and neighbors teased her about my grassy plot. She hinted repeatedly about cleaning out the garden, though I finally convinced her I couldn’t do much without killing off the vegetables she was enjoying. At every opportunity, she would tell me about trips to my Uncle Ray’s garden, where “there isn’t a blade of grass or a weed anywhere.”

Several times she suggested taking the mower out, “to at least make it look better.” I told her it wouldn’t make much difference to the garden, and it risked tearing up the mower on the rough ground or catching our crops by accident. She agreed, but I could tell she didn’t like it.

When I arrived at the garden the next morning, my 79-year-old mother was already out there, with her old push mower, trying to mow off the grass and weeds. The mower kept choking as the blade bit into the furrows. I reminded her that we had talked about this the day before, and there was no use in her hurting herself and tearing up the mower just to satisfy some gabby neighbors. Defeated for the time being, she put the mower away. I spent the morning trying to pull the most visible grass, uprooting some additional crops in the process, but willing to admit sometimes appearances do matter after all.

Mom finally gave up the attempt to get me to “clean that grass out,” concluding that I’m just not the farmer my Dad was. The garden was always meticulously weeded when under his care. Of course, he didn’t live 15 miles away, and he had a tiller. I’ve done this year without powered equipment, other than the propane torch used for flame weeding. (Note: flame weeding works great on many types of weeds, grass not being among them, I’ve discovered.)

I suggested putting up a fence along the road to shield the public view, and my nephew added that we could get his cousin the artist to paint a perfectly weeded garden facing the road. That might be a better investment for next year than a tiller.

As I’m putting in my fall crops, so far I’ve been able to keep ahead of the grass and other weeds. So as the season progresses, nature willing, the garden will gradually look more presentable.

Please keep that in mind if you drive down Mayberry Road past Belly Acre Farm, and don’t say anything to Mom about all the grass.

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