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Crazy ideas for crazy garden farmers

From GENE LOGSDON

I wonder if a book titled A Guide To Insane Farming would sell, especially when, upon opening the book, the reader would encounter descriptions of how farming is actually done today. But what I’m talking about at the moment are ideas that really are off the grid, outside the box, beyond normalcy, agronomic lunacy. Or to assume a more positive attitude, ideas like maybe the earth moves around the sun which by golly turned out to be true.

For years I have watched agronomic lunacy take place in our yard but, blinded by my cultural attitudes, I did not pay much attention to it. When I perform the yearly ritual of The Shelling of the Pole Beans at planting time, I sit out under a shade tree and shell out last year’s Kentucky Wonders, still in pods in a paper sack where they spent the winter. Cracking and stripping open the dry pods means that a few beans pop out into the lawn round about me. Never mind, I’ve got plenty and am in too big a hurry to retrieve these fugitives.

Usually within the next week or so, rain falls, and then I am quite surprised to find that the fugitive seeds have taken root and are merrily growing right in the lawn grass. (I hope you can see them in the photo accompanying this essay.) I am way too busy sweating my life away hoeing in the garden to think twice about what the yard beans are telling me. Maybe beans don’t need planting and hoeing. Just throw them out on the lawn, like Jack’s beanstalk. If in my sweaty work of churning up soil I do think about the yard beans, I shrug and remind myself that they won’t do well growing in the shade and that the grass will overtake them anyway.

But what if I threw them on grass out in a sunny part of the lawn? What if I strung them out in a row on top of the grass rather than just scattering them hither and yon? If it didn’t rain enough to sprout them, I could always sprinkle the grass. Everybody’s always watering their lawns anyway. Then, when the beans came up, what if I erected some kind of trellis for them to climb on? They would outpace the grass for sure. And why wouldn’t they grow just fine in the sod? A hundred thousand weeds will surely grow there tall and healthy if allowed to.

The idea is not without precedent in the lunatic world of real farming. Soybeans are sometimes planted by dropping them from airplanes. Usually a crop so planted does not make a stand good enough for the crucial demands of commercial profit farming, so the practice is not as popular as it once was. But it always amused me that when beans were flown on, usually in wheat stubble, some of them landed in the roadside ditches around the field, and if rain fell, they came up almost as well as the ones in the field. Of course they were not allowed to grow in the ditches because roadside grasses, like lawn grasses, have only one purpose in life, to be mowed.

I will have to wait until next year to do a serious test of lawn beans. I invite you to spend the intervening time, contemplating with me the idea that, just as the earth continues to go around the sun, not vice versa, perhaps pole beans, and who knows what else, can be grown without seed bed preparation and hoeing. I will put up something for this year’s yard beans to climb on and let you know what happens if I can talk Carol into allowing a bit of wild helter-skelter vine growth right in the middle of our front yard.

In the meantime, think about how ironical it is that I have spent years preaching about the advantages of pasture farming, about grazing livestock and chickens and forgetting about doing so much soil tillage. All the time, right before my eyes, nature was trying to tell me that just maybe we don’t always have to till gardens either.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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