Heirloom Gardens: Super Big Dig

Just a little garden.

After playing in the Ranch Community Garden on Saturday, I trotted up to Denver to spend another Sunday afternoon with Heirloom Gardens digging over a plot. It is a brand new plot and a mere 19,000 square feet. The call had gone out some time ago for everybody to show up, bring a friend, and bring extra tools. There were between 20 and 25 people, including at least a few shanghaied significant others, and the pile of available tools made it clear that I wasn’t the only one to borrow extras from friends that couldn’t be there in person. The dig was scheduled for four hours, and it took the entire time.

Our society has been industrial for a while now. Enough generations have passed that when the average person looks at a plot that is nearly half an acre in size, the assumption is that it needs to be handled with some sort of machinery. After all, we invent this stuff so that we don’t have to do physical labor, right? The newest, greatest, coolest gadget is one more labor-saving device. Maps were invented and refined so that we didn’t have to keep the geography of an area in our head and gave us the ability to share that information with others without having to actually walk through the area to learn it. Now we have GPS units that tell us where to go so we don’t even have to read the maps ourselves. I don’t own a GPS unit yet, but I will when I start getting serious about hiking. It makes sense to have one for safety. As

Tools to spare

awesome as they are, however, there is a lot of information that a GPS unit can’t give me. If I’m out hiking and I run out of water, it can’t tell me about the spring right over the next ridge. If it starts raining out of nowhere, it can’t tell me there’s shelter 100 yards off the path to my right. Someone who has the geography of the place in their head could probably tell me both of those things.

We did have a little mechanical help with this plot. One rototiller. Other than that, we had rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, and muscle. Because I, and I am sure the rest of the volunteers can say this, spent four hours digging out weeds and removing rocks to ease the way for the tiller, I know that land in a way that I could never have understood it if I had instead spent the one hour or so that it might have taken to turn the land from the seat of a tractor. I don’t know what the weed is, but there is something growing there that has a surprisingly large and tenacious root considering that the above-ground part is totally non-woody. The area had clearly been either glacial or a river at one time considering that the rocks were almost all water-rounded. The bricks we dug up may indicate that it had also been a dumping ground during a construction project. I would have seen none of this even from the height of the seat of a lawn tractor.

Less than 25 people and four hours later. Impressive, isn’t it?

I work for a company, I imagine most people do, so I am used to having someone in charge of a project and lots of other people taking care of the various steps along the way. We had someone measuring and plotting each long row. Two people were in charge of the strings between the measured stakes showing us where to weed and spread the horse manure. They had to be moved when the tiller came through and replaced to delineate the beds when they’re ready to be planted. Some people were filling wheelbarrows with the manure for others to take out to each row and still others to rake out. Most of us were tackling the weeds and rocks. What I’m not used to is that once you were assigned a job, you were allowed to do it more or less in your own way. If you saw a job that needed to be done, you could switch over to that one because, well, it needed to be done. One person was in charge of timing when the weeders needed to move to the next row, and occasionally there was a request for more people to do a particular job. Other than that, things were done as the individual assigned to the job felt it should be done.

After the workday was done, it occurred to me that my New England family ties probably stood me in good stead. There is a decidedly independent streak in the people I was working with, and a willingness to work hard to be independent. This house had chickens, while the

So that’s what you do with canning jars outside of canning season. I’m tucking that away for future reference.

neighbors had a flock of ducks. It was also not an unfamiliar concept to be pulling as many rocks out of the ground as plants. I think I understand, now, why they use rocks as mulch out here. There are enough of them.

In the end, we didn’t quite finish the entire area. There was some compromise also on leaving the paths to be weedwhacked instead of dug over as is their preference. However, by the end of the weekend, I was really, really impressed with people. Between the number of beds we set on Saturday, and the massive amount of land we cleared for a garden on Sunday, it is amazing what we are able to do when we put down our gadgets and go do it.

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