Bells Bend (Part 2)

I finally got a job, and it’s right up my alley.  I’m managing four new biodynamic gardens in the Bell’s Bend neighborhood, near Nashville.  A tight-knit group of conscientious folks have banded together in an effort to keep their community rural and clean, and their next step is to feed themselves.  We’re going to grow a few acres of vegetables.

The first farm is at George’s, and this is where you can see whooping cranes.  Two of less than 400 of the known wild ones make their nest on his farm.  The soil is plowed, and we’ve put on horn manure and barrel compost, along with compost tea.  20 tons of biodynamic compost sit next to it, and this will fertilize half of an acre of potatoes and onions. We call it the “Whooping Crane Garden”.

George’s niece, Ellen, lives in the old family farmhouse nearby, and really wants a garden, too.  The soil looks great, except for one problem – Johnson grass.  I begged off; it would be too much to take on a garden infested by this pesky weed.  She protested, implored, and prevailed.  I agreed to grow watermelons on black plastic there, along with a berry patch.  It will be on a quarter of an acre and is affectionately called “Ellen’s Melons”.

The main community garden is at Tom and Brenda’s Sulfur Creek Farm.  It is an acre divided into two sections.  We’re planning a garden shed, too.  But I have my head buried in the soil.

Glynn brought many dump truck loads of halfway-rotted manure and bedding to the site.  Other neighbors donated more finished manure composts.  I put biodynamic preparations in it at once.  Bill donated a pile of five-year-old chips that were well on the way to becoming humus.  I decided to mix it all up.

Tom’s tractor is small, without power steering.  I am slowly making the compost piles when neighbor Zach brings a load of old manure from next door, which I had amended with preparations about a month earlier.  I get off the tractor to thank him.  “That medicine really seemed to help the manure rot,” he said.  I offered to put some in the fresh pile he had made.  But I couldn’t visit. I had way more work to do than time to do it.  While I was back on the tractor, imagine my surprise, and joy, when he comes back, unasked, with a big backhoe.  He saved me four hours of work, if not six.

The next morning, after putting preparations in over 100 tons of compost (plus Zach’s new pile), we had a meeting.  George is the only farmer in the gang, and we both agreed it was the day to chisel plow the garden.  We have to expose the Bermuda grass to some freezing weather.  So we talked awhile, and George simply gets up and leaves.  When he comes by with the tractor I help him hook it up and he is off.  After plowing lengthwise, we decide to hit it crossways, too.

Besides 100 tons of compost, I also needed a fence to keep the deer out. We took the property line fence down between Tom and George, and built the deer fence around both fields, with the line going right through the garden. Many neighbors donated posts and helped build the fence, and a sign at the garden entrance reads, “Good neighbors make good fences.”

Joe is disappointed we aren’t growing on his land.  Glynn offers manure, so we’ll plow and plant a corn patch there.  We stir more horn manure and put it out with more compost tea.  I want our vegetables to grow in a live soil humus, so there is a lot of focus on compost and tea right now.

What a community spirit! These folks all know each other and help each other out.  Before their project, Tom, George, Zach and many of the neighbors didn’t know each other very well. I spent time visiting folks and shooting the breeze at the local diner. Long lasting friendships were kindled, and the community building is extremely rewarding for everyone involved, although nobody thinks I’ll be able to grow anything in those fields of Bermuda grass. Jim’s taking pictures to document the garden, Kathleen is taking notes and organizing, and Eric and Louisa are ready to help hoe and harvest.

With daylight slipping fast, I get ready to drive the tractor to a different farm.  I don’t really have time, but I need to make compost over there.  Devinder pulls up, and I’m too busy to visit.  Next thing you know we are in his truck, getting a trailer, pulling the tractor to the other farm, and I finish the piles by 6:30.  Everyone wants to help.  We’ll see who’s out there when the rows of cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes need picking.

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